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At the start of the Flawed Situational Awareness program I share a story about my early years as a company officer and subsequently as a command-level officer. Even in those days more than 30 years ago , I held a deep desire to learn from failure and catastrophe. I read every near-miss and casualty report I …. I recently sent out a message across my social media networks Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn about bravado being a barrier to situational awareness. The message, in case you missed it, read: Bravado: The purposeful ignorance of critical signs of danger coupled with a sense of invincibility.

Newark Ohio Fire Department 252 Woods Ave Working House Fire Incident Command with audio

A barrier to situational awareness. First responders sometimes confuse ….


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Complacency is a big deal for first responders because it impacts your situational awareness on multiple levels. In other words, I hope every responder desires …. There is an ongoing debate in the fire service.

On one end of the argument are those who believe the fire service is tactically too aggressive and purport this may be contributing to casualties. On the other side of the ….

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To capture clues and cues requires seeing or hearing them. At a structure fire, the visual clues and cues occupy a finite environment- the building and the space around the building.

I am nothing …. We develop and maintain situational awareness by being perceptive about what is happening around us. To be perceptive, we must pay attention to what is going on in our environment. It was discovered that emergency-scene decision-making relies heavily on experience, especially when the fireground commander is faced with a time-pressure situation. In RPD, the decision maker is assumed to generate a possible course of action in response to the emergency and then compare it to the constraints imposed by the emergency situation.

Command and control decision making at multiple alarm incidents (R0297)

The first course of action that is not rejected following the rapid comparison is then selected as an appropriate decision. The RPD decision-making model combines two ways of developing a decision; the first is recognizing which course of action makes sense and the second is evaluating the course of action through imagination to evaluate if the actions of the decision make sense.

For example, a FGC may initially order a pump crew to stretch a 45mm hand line into a fire. While the crew is performing the required task, the FGC commander begins a mental simulation where the line is stretched into the fire and an interior attack initiated. If in the mental simulation he visualizes the attack line having little to no effect because of the volume of fire, he will change his order and initiate plan B, where a 65 mm line is put into action.

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Fireground Command Decisions

RPD proposes that the FGC will make a fireground decision based on pattern matching as the current problem is compared to similar problems encountered in the past. The solution to the problem presents itself from past experience in how similar problems were previously solved. The difference between being an experienced or inexperienced fireground commander plays a major factor in the RPD decision-making process.

An experienced commander will be able to rapidly process the needed information to make an appropriate decision. The veteran FGC can take in and evaluate a large amount of information without experiencing information overload; conversely, a novice FGC will not be able to take in and process the same amount of information in the time necessary to make a critical command and control decision.

Fireground Command Decisions - Fire Engineering

Through experience, the FGC can evaluate the decision by imagining potential roadblocks that would prevent a successful outcome. The inexperienced FGC will need more time and more information to make a decision and may also lack the experienced needed to identify potential problems. Experience FGCs have developed a higher level of expectations on how the fire scene will progress.


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  • Using pattern matching, the FGC will be able to identify if the fire is fitting or not fitting within the prototypical response expected from the fire scene. If the events are not typical, the FGC must determine why not and possibly change his course of action to accommodate changes in the fire scene. The inexperience FGC will not have the mental bank of data to draw from to help identify when the sequence of events is not progressing according to expectation.