10 Deadly Sins for Fireground Failures – Part 2

Please refer to 10 Deadly Sins for Fireground Failures Part 1 here.
So here we are, already through 5 of the “10 Deadly Sins of Fireground Failures” and we haven’t gotten to the juicy stuff yet. In our line of work, we need to conduct ourselves in the most professional manner. We are the men and women who are called upon to not only save a life, but to also do any job that is encompassed in the job description of a Jack-of-all-trades. Whether it be 3 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoon, we need to be as ready as possible. Some call it ‘Combat-Ready’ others call it just being a firefighter. But how many times has the scene fallen apart around you? How many calls have you been on where it got much worse before it got better?

second 5 deadly sins
Well, as we continue the 10 deadly sins, please keep this in mind. We are here to do no harm. We are called upon to make the situation better. We are bettering the scene, and ourselves by not committing any of the deadly sins. Sometimes we need to prepare beforehand for what could occur during an emergency, and that’s why we train. Train hard and train often. With that being said, let’s keep going.



 Anything can happen on a fireground. We need to be ready for everything, plus anything else that can get thrown at us. Without our training, we’re a carpenter without tools.dont practice until you get it When we started, each and every one of us took an oath to help and assist in any way possible. It doesn’t matter if it was to the community, your family, or to yourself. We need to strive to better ourselves so we can abide by that oath, and return home after every tour of duty. If we don’t prepare, we won’t be ready. If we aren’t ready, it’s our own fault. Don’t be ready for anything, ALWAYS BE READY FOR EVERYTHING.



The Brotherhood is one of the best aspects of our service. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we signed up for. Like every tool we have, it can have it’s advantages. One of the best advantages we have is the older members of our departments. Although some of them are tired, and over the excitement of running calls and screaming down the road, they are seasoned. They are a perfectly cooked steak that is waiting to be cut into. A seasoned veteran that spends their entire career gathering information is full of knowledge and know-how. Ask them. They know what they’re doing. All you have to do is ask an old salty dog what their biggest fire was. They will be sure to have a huge, ear to ear grin, as they speak about the scene of the most hectic, heavy fire they have seen in all their years. They need to be asked. Not only to get the experience from them and pass it on to the newest generation, but also to finalize their career.

Old firefighter

Whether volunteer or career, every firefighter goes through a series of phases. The beginning is when they are getting the very basic info (fire academy). Probation provides the means to get on-the-job experience, while still learning the job and how it works. The middle of the career is a slack period where the fireman betters him/herself and gets further education (either advanced fire/EMS classes or degrees). The hardest to cope with is the end of a career. The phase that occurs when the firefighter realizes they aren’t as young as they once were, and how they need to start passing it along to the new, young members. Before every Jake hangs up his helmet and coat for the last time, they need to reflect on their career. It provides excellent training to the membership, and finishes closing the doors to an invigorating line of work.



Along with experience, comes that hidden sense to detect what’s wrong and what’s right. Whether it’s in a fire, or on a vehicle accident on a highway. A firefighter must always have their head on a swivel, and detect the possibility of worsening conditions. There are many situations that could arise, but detecting them beforehand is much better than to have to deal with the consequences later.



This one is mainly for the IC. Inattention to detail for the sake of this article is in reference to having too many radio channels that need to be attended to, and not being able to hear/understand all radio traffic. Another portion of that would include the ever-so-frequent radio transmission that no one understands, and everyone on scene is looking at each other, scratching their head, with the “what did they just say?” look on their face. Hopefully it wasn’t a MAYDAY. Hopefully it wasn’t a, “We’re out of water” transmission.


All in all, every department is different and run by different people of the same title. Our main goal is to provide the best quality of care, in the worst imaginable of times. We all have the same end goal in mind. Stay safe, protect property, stabilize the incident, and make sure everyone goes home. Every single one of us can find something that needs to be fixed along our career path. For the tenth deadly sin, I ask that each of you look at yourself. Find at least one sin that you need to fix, that could potentially ruin a fireground’s production rate. Let’s all take the time, and better ourselves, before something happens that can have disastrous consequences. It’s awfully easy to arm-chair quarterback a fire on YouTube, but it’s all irrelevant if you can’t do the same for yourself. In the end, it makes you a better firefighter, and it gets you to take the time to provide some self-realization in what can be fixed. We can change a lot in the big picture, just by making small adjustments in our own lives. Stay salty.

– The “Irons”



10 Deadly Sins for Fireground Failures – Part I


More than once, each and every one of us have been on a fireground that was absolutely chaotic. Whether it be in a state of disarray from the get-go, or operations were going smoothly and control has been lost due to one reason or another. That is the question. Do you remember the last time you were on a fireground that everything went smoothly? Those are the ones that stick out in my mind more-so than the scenes that were complete chaos. A fireground with no problems is almost thought of as a unicorn. One that is always dreamed about, but is never seen. For the purpose of this article, we will use the word “never”, and think of it as “seldom,” or “hardly.”   We will also use the name Joe Schmoe as your brother in battle. Joe has the best intentions,  he doesn’t always do the right thing at the right time. Poor Joe. We all have one, it’s up to you to know who he is.


After a lot of thought and tribulations, I have compiled a list of 10 Deadly Sins that are reasons why there are failures on the scene of an emergency. Whether it be EMS, Fire, rescue, or TRT, if any of these items occur, there could be an absolute break down in progress.



How many times have we been on a fireground Tac-channel, and “Joe” is on scan?   Better yet, what about when he hadn’t changed over to fireground operations at all? We all want to smack that guy, just to get his head in the game, but it happens. Now, what if Joe was the OVM, and interior attack is screaming for vent? What if he needs to bump up the pressure on the line?  Joe better get his act together! How about the good ole’ fashioned battery chirp.  The one that comes at the absolute, most inconvenient time while operating at a scene? Yep, that breaks down communication because not only can you hear the annoying chirp, but so can everyone else on the fireground. Trust me, we are all looking to see who “that guy” is.


Whether career or volunteer, getting personnel to the scene is a logistical nightmare.  Volunteers can never predict how many bodies will respond, and career departments sometimes don’t have the funding, and are operating at minimal or under-staffing. It’s a double-edged sword. A good incident commander can overcome this by performing the correct job functions, at the correct time. Mutual aid can be considered, if not for the incident itself, but for back-filling your empty stations. At least get them coming. They can be cancelled later, if they aren’t needed. Luckily, manpower is one of the easiest sins to overcome. You’ll see why when we get to the rest of them.


Joe doesn’t need to wear his full PPE on this AFA activation. It’s always a false alarm. Does false alarm mean the same as unknown activation? Or should I say, does an unknown reason for activation constitute a false alarm?  Without going into tactics, I would bet most would say PPE, and investigate, investigate, investigate.   We all have our Joe’s, but this one should never happen if we strive to call ourselves professional firefighters.   If we were plumbers, wouldn’t we want to be the best damn plumbers out there? So we can get more clients, and make more money?  Well it’s the same for the fire service.   Go to work, DO YOUR JOB, and provide the highest level of customer service possible to get the job done correctly the first time.  And don’t go back to the scene later in the tour, just because of your own fault, Joe!




TOO. MANY. CHIEFS. (We all know what C.H.A.O.S. stands for…)

Now this one isn’t going to make me popular with the white hats, but it’s not always their fault. A leader can be anyone in the organization, from the bottom to the top. It takes that one special person to pick up the reigns and plow the way. With that being said, sometimes we don’t need idea-creators. We need workers. We need the collective coordination of ideas to come from ONE person, on ONE radio frequency, at ONE time. The confusion doesn’t usually come from having too many tasks, but rather, having too many people giving their own personal opinion about what should be going on at any given time. Too many plans at once is much worse than in a coordinated effort (Plan A, Plan B, Plan C…). This way, there’s no arguing, and no personal agendas that are left unfulfilled. Both of which create poor attitudes, impatient subordinates, and grudge-matches. And Heaven help me if I say the term “micro-manager.” I’ll leave it at that. So for the sake of keeping the scene running as smooth as possible, and the sanity of the members operating, remember why our officers are where they are. They are leaders. Not any Joe Schmoe can just jump in and take the helm. Let them lead. And on the other hand, let everyone do their respective job, and don’t jump in unless it’s not being accomplished.



I combined these two because most of the time, they go hand-in-hand.  Let’s go back to bashing on Joe for a little while.  Joe just started with the department and it’s his first real fire.  Eager, and ready to work, he gets off the truck with his mask donned.  While grabbing his tools, pulling his line, and running to the front door, what does he see?  Our buddy Joe Schmoe sees absolutely nothing but a foggy lens, and an outline of a front door that he thinks he’s kneeling in front of, awaiting orders from his boss.  His boss is conducting a 360 and securing utilities.  Joe gets excited and goes inside to fight the beast.  Joe is currently spiraling downhill into the depths of the unknown.  Joe never read the smoke, never got a size up of the building, never received orders from his Engine Boss, and never even knew the house wasn’t on fire to begin with.  I’m not here to preach why freelancing is bad. We all know what happens. Joe continues to act out, and we all sit here and talk about him.




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The Fire Officer No-Win Scenario

Should candidate Fire Officers be required to face a Kobayashi Maru style exercise?

For the Trekkies out there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For everyone else; The Kobayashi Maru, also known as the No-Win scenario, is a fictional test given to cadets attending Starfleet Academy in the popular science-fiction series, Star Trek.

The exercise involves a realistic simulator that mimics the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. The cadet is acting as Captain of the Starship and is tested on his/her decision-making abilities undernowinscenarios1 pressure situations.

The Kobayashi Maru is the name of a Fuel Carrier with 300 crew-members aboard. The Carrier is sending a distress signal after sustaining heavy damage from hitting a mine in the Klingon Neutral Zone. The cadet has the ability to save the crew of the Kobayashi Maru, but in order to achieve that they have break a treaty, which triggers the arrival of three Klingon warships. It’s a “No-Win” scenario because it’s programmed-design makes it impossible for the cadet to simultaneously rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru while avoiding a skirmish with the Klingons and still get out alive. The cadet has the moral dilemma of breaking an interstellar treaty with a hostile force to save the 300-person crew at their own possible demise or sit and watch them perish from the safety of their ship. Either way, people die and it’s not possible for there to be a positive outcome.

The idea of the exercise is to provide prospective Starfleet Captains with a scenario that is designed to have no winnable solution. In essence, you are expected to fail but it allows you to decide, or at least have some control over, exactly how you fail. The objective is to subject the cadet to a stressful scenario that will test their ability to process life and death moral dilemmas. The end result of the test is irrelevant. The test itself is intended to judge the character of the prospective Captain who would be expected to make these difficult decisions if promoted. In this case, it’s the thought behind the Captacrew copyin’s decision that holds the most weight, and frankly, there isn’t a defined passing or failing thought process. It’s a pure judgment of character.

Captain Kirk didn’t believe in the “No-Win” scenario. He actually had to cheat the test by reprogramming it in order to win during his third attempt.

Should Fire Officers be required to face a “No-Win” scenario before becoming certified or labeled qualified? I think they should. The Kobayashi Maru is a solid way to measure one’s decision-making abilities when faced with a barrage of obstacles.

In 2008 I had the privilege of taking Fire Officer II at the Connecticut(CT) Fire Academy (CFA) located on the backside of Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. I say privilege because I’ve previously attended fire certification classes at TEEX and likewise Alabama Fire College(AFC); I can say without question that Connecticut runs a very progressive Fire Academy and I feel as if the curriculum is light-years ahead of their counterparts. Not to say TEECT fire academyX and AFC are bad schools by any stretch, the education I received at both was top notch and the instructors were incredibly knowledgeable. However with that said, at the end of CFA’s Fire Officer II class was a simulated practical that mimicked the intention of a Kobayashi Maru.

As I recall, one of the scenarios was a 2 or 3 story brick nursing home that had been renovated a few times. There were water supply issues, rescue challenges, manpower and mutual delays, as well as bizarre construction features. It didn’t matter what decision I made, there was always an obstacle or a reactionary problem from my command decisions. It was nerve-racking to say the least and my mind was racing a mile a minute. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get ahead of the scenario. It was frustrating and pushed the limits of my incident command abilities as well as my emotional intelligence.

CFA’s Kobayashi Maru had a panel of 3-5 well-experienced and knowledgeable Chiefs, hand-picked, from a few of the larger cities in the area. It was an intimidating group for this young up-and-comer and you knew you were on stage. The panel would constantly question my thought process but never elude to whether I was doing well or failing miserably. After making a command decision, all five heads would turn down towards their notepads and they would begin writing feverishly. The large screen in front of me projected the simulation. This was only a simulated incident, but you could definitely feel the heat.

I realized years later while completing my Bachelors degree that Connecticut’s Kobayashi Maru style exercise was meant to test my resolve and my ability to make appropriate decisions under pressure. Decisions that I was required to reasonably justify in front of a panel okeep-calm-and-kobayashi-maruf experts. I am thankful to have had that experience and I’ve never forgotten it. It was clearly evident that the Connecticut Fire Academy takes the task of training it’s Fire Officers very seriously and rightly so.

I’m not sure if the CFA still provides Kobayashi Maru style simulated incident command practical evaluations, but I hope they do, it was valuable and eye opening.

I firmly believe it should be a requirement for Fire Officer candidates to undergo a Kobayashi Maru in order to evaluate their ability to make decisions appropriate for the situation. It also provides valuable educational insight if they are ever faced with an incident of that magnitude. The practical itself, although a test, turned into an incredibly valuable learning experience.

I firmly believe that having to demonstrate your ability to lead a rapidly evolving and risky incident prior to becoming a fire officer is imperative to upholding the responsibility of possibly having to lead people to their potential, even if unintended, deaths. Your thought process and decision making abilities should be put in the hot seat and scrutinized. It’s an awful large responsibility and a heavy weight to carry if you think about it too much.

Of course and as always, aside from the Kobayashi Maru, general on the job experience and performance evaluations of prospective leaders will develop the necessary skills that successfully lead firefighters into battle. Over the course of working shift together, everyone gets the general sense of how you process information. Firefighters should be able to anticipate the decisions of their leaders most of the time.

The way most of us learn to command an incident is by taking ques from the white helmets we work for. Firefighters soak up experience throughout their careers which helps prepare them to face Kobayashi Maru type incidents. But shouldn’t that experience be put to the test before they are faced with making those decisions?

Does you’re State, academy, or department require a Kobayashi Maru?

Definition: Kobayashi means “small forest.” Maru is a common suffix for Japanese seafaring vessels. Maru by itself means “circle”.

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