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Edison may have quoted "I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work." In our line of work we must succeed the first time and it’s usually “trial by fire”. How we can always be successful is that we learn from both our failures and successes.

Recently my company was dispatched to a chimney fire. It was the typical M.O. We arrived on scene to discover fire in the smokestack and the homeowner stating it was the first time they burned this season. A team made the roof and proceeded to drop the baggies of dry chem down to break up the chemical chain reaction. It was a stubborn fire based on the configuration of the three stacks and how they came together. After some time we had it knocked out and even called a chimney sweep in, just to ensure the emergency was resolved. The scene was cleared and we returned to quarters. The rig was washed and gear put back into service. Just as I sat down to have a cup of coffee the tones were dropped and the dreaded words "return to the last" were spoken. Needless to say a few, well, words I won't print here were said, as I almost choked on my sip of hot joe. Dispatch then came across and advised it was in the attic. "How?” I kept thinking, “We were so thorough”. The box was struck and expecting fire, I looked for the plume of a working attic fire. Admitting you were wrong, made a mistake and even worse failed your customer is tough to swallow.

The key to any shortcoming is the learning that is achieved. What we take away contributes to Recognition Primed Decision Making. The simplest definition of RPDM, we make decisions based on what we have seen before. Whether our tactics are right or wrong, we do what we have seen and what we have done before. How we perceive the situation and RPDM. First we must experience a situation. This can be traced back to the very first time you stepped onto the rig. What did you perceive and witness the other crew members doing? Do you still exhibit those influences? Your first exposure to any situation will shape how you react until another force changes that reaction. You react to the experience which is the recognition or what you do next. This recognition has several by-products. The first being expectancies. Followed by clues, a plausible goal then finally the actions, or what you do next. The sum of all these by-products guides your course of action. Think of this is as conditioning. Once in a class the Instructor had us perform an exercise. Every time he would raise his left hand we were to say “yolk”. He did this 15 to 20 times over the course of a minute and a half. The last time he did it he asked “what is the white part of the egg called?’ 90% of the class yelled out “yolk”. He conditioned us to say yolk, that when he wanted a response from us he could have us give him the response he wanted, not our own. What if the nozzle Firefighter pulled the 1.75 every time they arrived on scene, then when the 2.5 was needed would they know to pull it? RPDM is being able to have the experience to recognize the situation, formulate a plan, have a goal then implement the actions. This trait is what is bestowed upon our Company Officer.

As the First Due Officer your performance, hence the performance of your crew lies within your ability to use your primed decisions to affect a positive outcome. Our failures become our successes. For the case above, going back and owning our shortcomings on what we thought was a bread and butter chimney fire, will lead to our success on the next one. A few tactical moves will be made differently, Recognition Primed Decision Making. “I have seen this before, this is what worked, this is what didn’t and how do I apply all of it to what is in front of me?” Take away something from every run, most importantly, when your performance and the outcome was not the expected one.

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Comment by Christopher Huston on January 9, 2012 at 4:57pm
Chief Halton, thanks for reading my post and adding great resource information. See ya in Indy!

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