Developing and Maintaining Fireground Command Situation Awareness - Part 2: Best Practices for Incident Commanders

Dr. Richard B. Gasaway explains how decisions made by commanders impact the safety of firefighters and the outcome of events on the fireground, a dynamic, complex decision-making environment critically dependent on situation awareness.Part 2 - Best...


Dr. Richard B. Gasaway explains how decisions made by commanders impact the safety of firefighters and the outcome of events on the fireground, a dynamic, complex decision-making environment critically dependent on situation awareness. Part 2 - Best Practices for Incident Commanders The...


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Dr. Richard B. Gasaway explains how decisions made by commanders impact the safety of firefighters and the outcome of events on the fireground, a dynamic, complex decision-making environment critically dependent on situation awareness.Part 2 - Best Practices for Incident Commanders

The decisions made by commanders impact the safety of firefighters and the outcome of the event. But commanders are human and subject to limitations and errors. The fireground is a dynamic, complex decision-making environment critically dependent on situation awareness.

There seem to be several identifiable factors that impact commander situation awareness. First is conducting incomplete size-ups and, more specifically, failing to read the smoke, failing to assess the deteriorating conditions of the structure and failing to conduct a realistic assessment of savable lives.

Second, commanders are underestimating the speed in which the incident is progressing. This can cause a commander to get behind in the incident and apply strategy and tactics that are not appropriate because the incident has progressed beyond the plan. Third, commanders are overestimating the abilities of their crews. This is happening for several reasons, including not having enough personnel assembled to get the job done and personnel who lack the training or experience to be efficient and effective at the assignments they are given.

Fourth, commanders are stressed from the pressure to be tactically aggressive. This pressure may come from the organization's culture or from upset customers who have unrealistic expectations of the fire department. This pressure to perform heroically may cause a commander to take high levels of risk, despite a high level of awareness of the current situation. Finally, commanders struggle because they focus on the wrong things or too many things.

The research I conducted (see part one of this article, November 2008) also identified the best practices commanders use to help them establish and maintain situation awareness. This resulted in 10 recommendations for fireground commanders.

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