"Natural" Decision Making for Incident Commanders

After years of study, the academic world has identified numerous ways that individuals can make decisions. For the fire service, there are two ways in which we typically make decisions without consciously knowing it sometimes. The “Natural” (also...


An additional action that fireground commanders and company officers can take to increase RPD is utilizing the knowledge of others on the fireground. If we utilize our personnel on the fireground, we can largely expand the four situation assessments in which we can draw experience from and create a more effective solution. We have to remember that we made our initial decisions based on a snapshot in time upon our arrival.

As the fireground commander, we must continually reassess the strategy and tactics being utilized to maintain and re-establish realistic goals and objectives. We have to be cognizant of the cues we are getting from our company officers and understand how they fit into the situation.

An example of this would be a fire in a basement that has been extinguished and in the overhaul mode when the officer of a truck company advises they have smoke on the 3rd-floor bathroom. Immediately, your RPD should tell you that fire may have traveled up a pipe chase and could be in the attic. Next, we form the expectations of how the fire operations are going to go and what that looks like. If we identify something that is not looking or going as expected, then we have to adjust our assessment of the situation to reflect the more accurate situation. Failure to do this step is where fireground fatalities and injuries occur! Lastly, we identify the typical actions that need to be taken to solve the problem we are facing. This last point is important in that, as the fireground commander, we have to rely on our officers to utilize their experiences and education to implement the actions to meet our strategic and tactical goals.

Mental simulation is an important aspect in the continual re-evaluation for the fireground commander. Thinking through scenarios that range from handlines advancing quickly into a room, the number of personnel assigned to rescue operations, to the utilization of aerial and ground ladders in hope of saving the most lives and limiting the loss of the property. As long as the situation assessment and simulations conform to actual fireground operations, the stage for success is set. If however, the situation assessment or simulations are inaccurate with the current fireground operations, failure is almost ensured.

Understanding how you make decisions on the fireground will help you formulate more comprehensive strategies and realistic tactics. As the fireground commander, we must ensure that we have as much up-to-date information about the situation we are facing and continually evaluate that information to ensure the safety of our personnel and the effective outcome of our operation.        

JEFF JOHNSON has over 23 years of fire service experience and is a battalion chief with the Kansas City, MO, Fire Department assigned to Battalion 107 covering of the south side of the city. Johnson holds a masters in public administration and a bachelors of science in fire service. Jeff was a guest on one of the first Training & Tactics Talk podcasts on Firehouse.com.