Drawn by Fire: Preparation Compensation

Fire chief screaming at firefighter

Commentary by Steve Robertson

SCREAMERS! We all have them…career, volunteer, it doesn’t matter they are everywhere. They do not discriminate based on race, gender, color, creed, or even time on the job. Who is this I speak of, you ask? They take the smallest of incidents and, based on the size-up, have the entire response assignment thinking they are responding to Armageddon.

Why can’t some people control themselves prior to keying the radio mic? It happens because they’ve never developed what I call “speed of the game.”  What do I mean by that? Each person sees and reacts differently to situations. Some can take the most complex situation and, with a calm delivery, make it seem like a run-of-the-mill rubbish fire while others seem to have little control. How is this natural for some and not others?

I like to use the example of a college football player entering the National Football League (NFL). The player is a top draft prospect based on their college play yet in the NFL their first year is a struggle. In their second year they start to show improvement, but they are still not elite pro players. Then something happens. They start making plays, their level of play is elevated, and it seems as though someone flipped a switch. When asked what changed and why the improvements, the answer is often: “The game slowed down for me, I am able to see the field better.”

The fire service is not that different; it’s all about improving through sets and reps, practice if you will. The next big question is: How do I get more sets and reps if I don’t go to very many fires? The modern fire service and the younger generation of firefighters have a big advantage in this category in the form of the Internet. Literally in the palm of our hand you hold a computer with access to tons of fire videos and a site called YouTube. Everyone loves to post everything they do these days, and the fire service is no different. If you simply search for “prearrival house fire,” you will get access to literally thousands of videos.

Take some time to watch these videos, both good and bad, not for the sake of criticism but for knowledge and experience. Take time to understand the scene and ask yourself what your radio size-up would be on arrival. Then, actually verbalize what would you would say and what tone you would use to deliver it. This is the beginning of gaining sets and reps!  

A truism of experience is that you get it right after you needed it. You can’t schedule it or fake it, but you sure can train for it. If you don’t have a baseline of knowledge in your head and haven’t at least thought of the situation, then you are missing an opportunity to gain experience. Start priming your brain to make decisions at the “speed of the game.”

I encourage you to watch some videos, seek out experienced members for advice, and do some research on how to improve your decision-making process. Put in the sets and reps to prepare yourself for game day! If we all do this maybe the next time we transmit on the radio we won’t be the SCREAMER everyone is talking about. You have heard the old saying that as the first line goes, so goes the fire. You might even say the tone of the size-up sets the tone of the fire. A calm and well-delivered radio transmission from the first-arriving company will always drown out a screamer.


I also encourage you to research Dr. Gary Klein and his “Recognition Primed Decision Model.” It provides insight on how your experiences will assist you in your decision-making process.

Lt. Steve Robertson

Columbus Ohio Division of Fire 
Engine 18

Email: cfdrobertson@gmail.com

Facebook: Stretching for Success

Twitter: @cfdrobertson

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