Once you are inside a residence with a patient are you maintaining Zanshin, in other words, sizing up the surroundings and identifying any potential threats? Applying Zanshin entails identifying any danger signs and taking the steps necessary to eliminate any threats to fire fighter safety. For example, a patient seated next to an edged/pointed weapon, such as a pair of scissors, a knife, letter opener, screwdriver, sharp pencil, etc. Secure any of these items and move them away from the patient and other civilians who may be present. Are you familiar with the minimum reactionary gap/distance to keep between you and someone brandishing an edged weapon? The answer will most likely surprise you! Anything less than 21 feet and your odds of getting cut or stabbed are increased dramatically. To be prepared, always adhere to the principle that action is faster than reaction. Don’t get caught off guard with your hands in your pockets, back on your heels, oblivious to the clues of potential impending harm to you or your crew. Maintain Zanshin practice until you and your crew are safe in the apparatus and clear from the scene.
By introducing Zanshin practice as a related concept of situational awareness in the fire service world, it is my hope that fire fighters will take a moment to re-evaluate their own approach to fire fighter safety. Remember to employ Zanshin practice and always be thinking one step ahead in all situations. We’ve been taught to do just that on the fire ground, referring to this practice as forecasting – i.e. where is the fire in the building now and where will it most likely be in five minutes? Zanshin practice should at least begin with the information you are provided at dispatch. While en route to the dispatched location use this information to develop your state of awareness and plan for the potential problems that you forecast to encounter at the scene. Implementing Zanshin at the time of dispatch “prepares you for danger and allows readiness for action.”
For the advanced martial artist, Zanshin practice is an overarching goal one strives to achieve through rigorous training. Reactions to threats become automatic and come without thought. Over time these develop into wholly instinctual behaviors based on motor responses drilled into the body through years of intense, repetitive training. The same is true of fire fighter behavior on the fire ground. Many years of on-the-job experience develop into the ability to recognize various strategic cues and implement the necessary tactics to address them, based on repeated fire ground experiences. Just like the fire service, in Karate we expand and enrich our real-world experiences with practical, meaningful and effective training. In 26 years of training and competing I have found there are many frauds or imposters in the martial arts world. These types spend all their time talking about themselves and inflating their credentials and egos, but they don’t spend much time actually out on the dojo floor sweating and looking for the answers found in training. How many names in your own department just came to mind from this martial arts example of those who lack focused training but not inflated self-worth? My Karate teacher has been training in the martial arts for over 55 years and has a saying he always uses to address these very types of individuals, easily applicable to both the martial arts and the fire service. His motto is simple: ”Damatte Keiko!” or basically “Shut up and train!”