Enhancing Fireground Communications

In a previous article entitled "Communicating in the Wildland Interface," Rick Lynsky and I identified communication problems and solutions targeted at the equipment or the ways we use the equipment. Unfortunately equipment problems are probably only...

  1. 1. Current situation (this updates everyone's situational awareness)
    • Critical life safety information; ex: fire is making a run, LCES is compromised.
    • The overall strategy and tactics are made known.
    • Other; supervisor, trigger points / disengagement procedures.
    • Note: All crew members must communicate hazards they observe.
  2. The assignment
    • The assignment is described along with the intent (task, purpose, end-state).
    • Specific task or tasks to complete the assignment are discussed.
    • Hazards associated with the assignment are identified.
    • Contingency plans.
  3. How to make the assignment safe
    • Recognition of the hazards by all crewmembers.
    • Risk management; Should we be here? Can it be made safe?
    • Ways to mitigate the hazards. i.e. LCES, Downhill line guidelines.
    • Medevac plan.
  4. How to support the assignment
    • Safety support.
    • Logistical support.
    • Tools you need to accomplish the tactic/task.
  5. Questions/concerns?
    • Question: Does everyone know what we're doing and why?
    • Concerns: What are we overlooking?

Note: This list is not all-inclusive. You can download it below.

Preparation And Planning

Briefings take practice. It is not feasible for most people to read this article and then conduct the perfect 60-second briefing. Remember to brush up on your speaking and active listening skills beforehand. Incorporate the briefing into incidents, trainings, and station life. Ask for feedback of your briefings and coach others on theirs.

Another good habit to get into is to write it down. For the 60-second version that may consist of just "buzz" words (a sticky note pad can be used; keep them everywhere). For longer briefings a written format is likely essential for keeping your train of thought going. Longer briefings almost always have distractions and interruptions.

Debriefing your actions immediately after completing a crew assignment is a good way of "spot checking" how the flow of information is being assimilated. This can literally be done in 30 seconds, and it ensures everyone still understands why they are doing what they are doing. If requested actions still don't make sense, situational awareness is low and a more defined intent will need to be verbalized from above.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, speaking and listening skills are used every day: work to increase their effectiveness. Acknowledge all messages and require the same of others. Be aware that you and those you converse with may build up barriers to solid communications. You must work to keep these obstacles to a minimum. Strive to improve your situational awareness and look for every opportunity to increase it, the five-step briefing format will assist you with that. Everyone possesses the ability to initiate and maintain excellent communications which ultimately helps to identify and mitigate life-threatening situations.

QUINN MacLEOD, owner and lead instructor of  Integrated Fire Solutions, has been in the fire service since 1985 which includes 20 years on the line with the Parker, CO, Fire District. He is NWCG qualified as a wildfire Division Supervisor and holds an Associates Degree in Fire Science along with numerous state and national certifications, including Fire Officer and Fire Instructor. Quinn has delivered and received hundreds of briefings lasting from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. You can contact Quinn by e-mail at: quinnmacleod@msn.com.