Zanshin or Situational Awareness...What is your level?

     I would like to wecome ouse of training Blog guest writer Captain Brian Giles of the Lincoln, Nebrska fire Department.  This article corresponds with a Training and Tactics pod cast.        After 26 years of martial arts...


     I would like to wecome ouse of training Blog guest writer Captain Brian Giles of the Lincoln, Nebrska fire Department.  This article corresponds with a Training and Tactics pod cast.  
     After 26 years of martial arts training and 21 years of public safety service, I have come to the realization that most lessons within the dojo translate to the fire service. I often find myself comparing and analyzing these seemingly unrelated disciplines. Many of the basic concepts and practices of one can be utilized or adapted to numerous situations of the other. The focus of this article is on one aspect of traditional Karate training and how it applies to the fire service and fire fighter safety. Future articles will build on this initial concept and its practical application illustrating how martial arts training has impacted and enhanced my daily life and fire service career.
 
     In Karate training we talk about and practice the theory of Zanshin. Zanshin has a very direct effect on fire fighter safety and survival. Zanshin is a Japanese term, which loosely translates to “a state of total awareness; preparedness for danger; readiness for action.” At its most basic level it requires awareness of your surroundings and enemies, as well as preparation to react to them. Does this ring any bells for you as something we also do in the fire service? It should. On the fire ground we apply Zanshin practice in many ways – situational awareness, size-up, dynamic risk assessment, as well as an ongoing assessment of a building, its conditions, and fire involvement just to name a few applications. Why do we do this? Simple. We do these things on the fire ground because the building is our enemy and we want to maintain “a state of total awareness, preparedness for danger, and readiness for action!”
 
    Situational awareness has been hammered home for years in the fire service in the context of fire ground activities. The application of Zanshin, particularly in situational awareness, does not only occur on the fire ground. Instead, we will consider Zanshin and situational awareness and how it applies to our craft on those calls away from the fire ground. These are calls where we may tend to forget this practice and potentially suffer extreme consequences.
 
    A good example of this would be medical emergencies and the unknown risks we face each time we encounter patients or the public. Do you maintain situational awareness, or Zanshin, on your third chest pain call of the day? What about the numerous runs for a “man down/nature unknown”, which more often than not turn out to be a sleeping or intoxicated party? It is these calls where you will see fire fighters relaxing, or not maintaining good Zanshin practice. It is easy to fall into a comfort zone on a medical run and become a creature of habit, following your routine and protocols for that particular type of call. Zanshin practice is lowered as no “real” threats are perceived as being present; i.e. no building on fire which you are preparing to run into. When you arrive at a residence on an average medical call, with no known exigent circumstances, do you take the time to look at the location like you would if it were on fire? You should, as Zanshin practice teaches you to take note of several important elements that can prove vital to the safety of you and your crew.
 
    Where are the primary and secondary means of access and egress to the building? Look at the windows. Is anyone watching your approach from inside the residence? Are the windows fortified with burglar bars? Are there any signs of large or potentially dangerous dogs on scene? There are a myriad of potential threats to the safety and well-being of you and your crew each and every time you arrive at the scene of a call for service. The question is, are you staying sharp and focused, utilizing Zanshin practice to ensure your safety and the safety of your crew?
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