“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s third law of motion defines how two objects interact in regards to force. Apply this to our interaction with the fire and emergency environment. However trivial it may be, every action we take has a reaction. Our actions dictate the outcome on scene, positive or negative. Fireground performance or the actions we take, start well before the alarm. Training that includes decision-making, is a key component. Others include mental fitness, physical fitness, past experience and confidence. Most Firefighters are aware of Recognition Primed Decision Making, deciding based on experience. A simple definition of RPDM is “If I do this, then it will do that based on what I have seen or done before.” Firefighters must make decisions in a high stress, high risk, and ambiguous environment under time constraints. Getting everything perfect the first time is difficult to do. RPDM also serves as what I am going to call “The Rebound”, quickly adjusting and reacting to correct the decision that was not on point.
The Rebound – Just as a quickly recovered missed shot can keep you in the game, our actions while operating, should be no less. First-in companies must multi-task and make many decisions within a short time span.Sometimes not all tasks are accomplished, less then accurate decisions are made or the reactions you expected did not occur. What affects the team most is the inability to adjust or make a rebound. For every action we take, have an equal reaction as a rebound plan. Some plans are minimal, for example repositioning a tool. Other plans are coordinated with all on scene, shifting from interior to exterior operations. When do you know that the plan needs to change? Progress on the fire, sound of the tool and physical limitation are factors that should signal a shift in direction. The arrival of more companies or Officers will also influence if a shift is to be made.
Mental preparation for “the rebound”, taught through our drills on the training ground, serves to create decision-making patterns. Realistic training must be utilized using scenarios that your company will encounter. Adding variables to each evolution will aid in building decision-making skills. Slowly increasing the complexity over time will yield improvements in mental fitness, physical fitness, experience and confidence. An example used in the past:
“While drilling with recruits on our Mayday procedures I was acting as his partner. We were doing a primary search when I stayed back to become separated. Yelling to him what happened, this signaled to call a Mayday. The student did it exactly the way he had been taught and practiced, claiming the resources needed was air. He had been conditioned to a script rather then making a decision based on actual conditions. Not once did he mention he was seperated from his partner.”
Could this same scenario happen on the fireground? In an environment that is dynamic, hostile and filled with unknowns we must prepare to make decisions, react to those decisions while having other options. Training in real-time and with realistic scenarios increases our ability to make rapid decisions in actual events. Practicing to take the shot is essential to operating. Practicing the rebounds is just as important.