Dr./Chief Gasaway Passionate about Situation Awareness

A man who feels a need to be a doctor, PHD type, and turns his dissertation into an emphatic message to the fire service, should be listened to, particularly when he titles his presentation, "50 Ways to Kill Your Brother".

Rich Gasaway, Fire Chief, Roseville Fire Dept, Roseville (MN) has been in the fire service for 30 years, 23 as a chief. But he does not hold himself up as the most experience fireground commander in the business. His claim to expertise lies in his doctoral research into "Understanding Fireground Command Situation Awareness", something he spent two years doing, and has collected data that gives him the expertise to make some authoritative statements.

Correct situational awareness for the fireground commander is Gasaway's mission. He has sliced, diced and completely analyzed data collected from scores of fireground commanders who have given him their identifiable and predictable human decision-making errors that in fact could lead to tragedy on the fire ground.

So, wouldn't you like to know if your fireground commander is going to screw up, or, if you are a fireground commander, what is going to cause YOU to screw up? Gasaway has a presentation that he is taking to the fire service, already at FDIC, Firehouse Expo, now at FRI, IAFC in Denver yesterday, and wherever he can find someone to listen.

His thesis suggests that the decision making environment on the fireground is at best confusing. There is a lot of stress on the commander. Situational Awareness is the key to a successful operation, or a failure.

The Gasaway Consulting Group will provide you with a printout of his whole presentation (for a fee, he is still paying off student loans), but here are some highlights.

Gasaway says there are three levels of situational awareness on the fireground, and if you are under the fireground commander, your trust is in this person who can do you harm or no harm.

The fireground commander needs to capture all cues and clues of the current situation, such as knowing what is going on now. Assessing that, the commander needs to completely assess the current situation. And then the commander needs to predict the future of the situation.

Gasaway says there are qualities you hope to find in your fireground commander such as tacit knowledge, that ability to conduct mental simulation or prediction of the incident, self confidence, and competent subject matter expertise, a "been there, done that" type of person.

So where does the "50 Ways" come into play? Without situational awareness in certain aspects, or perhaps all aspects, for the fireground commander, trouble can begin or end with any incident. Gasaway identified more then 50 "barriers" that challenge the fireground commander's situational awareness, to his detriment.

Among them are staffing issues, does he know who is coming, the quantity and quality of the responders?

Are the communications methods the quality he needs and is the data he is receiving complete or inaccurate? Will he have the assistance necessary to devote his sole attention to the incident? Is the commander multitasking, assuming multiple command roles? Is he poorly situated, located too close to the fire or in fact engaged in firefighting himself?

Gasaway wraps up his presentation with a list of best practices for the fire ground commander such as never miss communications from your most at risk companies; use a command aide/advisor team; set strategy and tactics based on staff/quantity, quality.

Poor situational awareness, Gasaway says, can still lead to good decision making if only by luck. And good situational awareness can produce bad results. But going into the incident fully in mind of the identifiable and predictable human decision-making errors, in understanding the fireground situation awareness will more often then not, send everyone home safely.

Chief/Dr. Gasaway's research on Fireground Command Decision Making: Understanding the Barriers Challenging Commander Situation Awareness can be found at his web site www.richgasaway.com He will be presenting his work at The 2008 British Fire Service College Research Symposium later this year.

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