Why Candidates Fail Simulation Exercises

Eleven ways to learn from the mistakes of others during the simulation test.


  The emergency scene simulation, also called the fire simulation, the fireground simulation, the tactical exercise, the tactical problem or some other similar name, can be one of the most challenging portions of a fire service promotional examination assessment center. More and more fire...


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5. Lack of time management, organizational and planning skills. You will only have a set amount of time to effectively command and control the incident. If time runs out and you have failed to do key items such as establish a rapid intervention crew, have sufficient resources in staging and provide for the accountability of your personnel, etc., when you are faced with the firefighter down/trapped/missing scenario, you’re going to more than likely fail the simulation and have to test again next time. Luckily, the failure will occur in the testing process and not real life.

6. Poor listening, oral or written communication skills. During your simulation, there may be written documentation to complete, such as a tactical worksheet. Even if nothing is presented or required, you’re going to need to track your personnel and resources. As for oral communications, that is one of the key areas you will be graded on during the simulation. Make sure you provide clear, concise communications, make sure you keep your cool and do not yell or scream when they start turning up the heat, and make sure you are able to hear and comprehend the multitude of directions you may be receiving, so you don’t miss that “Mayday” call when the dispatcher is advising you of such, and you’re already in the middle of dealing with someone asking direction in person.

7. Lack of command presence. Face it, command presence is critical to ensure your credibility and demonstrate to the raters, and everyone you are commanding in real life, that you are in control. This also includes inadequate or inappropriate requesting of resources and/or personnel. When you pull up to a high-rise building with fire on the 10th floor, there is a good chance you’re going to need more resources than your department may even have, let alone your entire county or region may have available. However, the last thing the raters want to hear when you pull up is “Send us everything you’ve got!” That doesn’t show much command presence, nor is it the appropriate way to order resources.

Help out the dispatchers by sequentially and systematically ordering resources as to not overload them and to make sure you get what you need. “Start a second alarm, and when you’re done with that, start a third alarm.” That alone will keep them busy for about five to 10 minutes, if not more, especially if it requires mutual aid. Then, a few minutes later, “Start me a four alarm and when you’re done with that, start me a fifth alarm.” Or, send me the 20 closest engine companies, the five closest truck companies and the five closest chief officers.”

8. Lack of understanding of “how to run an incident.” This is easier said than done, but it is common to see candidates who have never really planned out or prepared in advance how they would actually fight that residential structure fire, that high-rise fire or that wildland fire. Granted, every fire may be different than the next, but there are still certain things that must be done in a certain order when possible, such as RECEO (rescue, exposures, confinement, extinguishment, overhaul) with ventilation and salvage taking place as needed. If you have a better acronym to ensure you’re covering the bases, use it. The key is planning in advance of just how you will fight a fire in a certain type of building or situation long before it occurs, but being flexible enough to modify your strategy and tactics as needed.

9. Inability to anticipate and then handle “issues” they may be faced with. These may include:

• Firefighter(s) down, trapped or missing

• Multiple patients

• In-your-face bystanders, who could include the media, city officials, family members or the public in general

• General problems that may arise, all requiring immediate action, such as exposure fires or separate incidents

Don’t expect the simulation to be easy; just when you think you’re cruising along just smoking the simulation, they’re going to throw you a curve ball and you better be able to hit the home run. When you get the firefighter down situation, you had better have at least one rapid intervention crew in place as well as resources in staging. When you get the media in your face, you had better have a public information officer to assign them to or tactfully have them stand to the side awaiting the arrival of the public information officer. For a working fire at the room-and-contents level, it’s always nice to have at least one apparatus in staging unassigned. At a fire beyond a room and contents, I would suggest a full-alarm assignment, just to give you some flexibility if needed, especially if something bad happens. If you think you only need one extra apparatus, you probably should think of ordering an alarm (typically two engines, one truck and one chief) as you can always turn them around or cancel them if you don’t need them.