The Importance Of Firefighter Situational Awareness

By: The Emergent Team

Firefighters serve in one of the most dangerous occupations, surrounded by hazards which are not always easy to detect. Missing information about an incident can have disastrous consequences. This is why situational awareness is such an essential aspect of how firefighters respond in an emergency situation. Let’s take a closer look at situational awareness, its importance to first responders, and the technologies that are making it easier and more accessible.

What is Situational Awareness in Firefighting?

Firefighter situational awareness can be defined as the ability to identify and process the most important elements of an incident in real time in order to make informed decisions. It is the mental picture a firefighter forms to understand the environment, predict future events, and take effective action.

Primary Steps of Firefighter Situational Awareness

Effective situational awareness can be essentially condensed into five steps.

1.    Observe: The first step involves scanning for visual, auditory, and other sensory cues at the fire scene. This includes identifying potential risks and accurately understanding the present situation.
2.    Assess: This step involves forming a mental model of the situation from the cues gathered during the observation phase. It helps in understanding the nature, intensity, and potential behavior of the fire. The key difference here is that assessment considers the situation as a whole, as opposed to simply the factors that are immediately observable.
3.    Anticipate: Based on the mental model from the previous step, firefighters should predict what could happen next if there's no intervention. This could involve forecasting the potential spread of the fire, the structural stability of the scene, and more. This allows fire crews to be better prepared for any number of potential outcomes.
4.    Prepare: Use your predictions to prepare your team for effective action. This could involve devising strategies, assigning roles, or determining the next course of action in order to respond to your predictions.
5.    Act: After deciding, the next step is to put those decisions into action. This could involve initiating a rescue operation, fire control measures, or any other necessary steps. 

Throughout this process, it is important that your team remains in sync so that these steps will be carried out in a safe and efficient manner. Communication is the glue that holds this process together. Without it, fire crews may have excellent situational awareness of the incident itself but not of their own team, which can have disastrous consequences.

Tips for Maintaining Situational Awareness in Firefighting

Maintaining high levels of situational awareness requires continuous effort, training, and adherence to certain principles. Here are some tips: 

Effective Communication: Open, clear, and concise communication is vital. All team members should share their observations and understandings to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Regular Training: Firefighters should undergo regular training to sharpen their ability to quickly perceive, understand, and predict fire dynamics.

Use of Technology: Modern incident command boards provide real-time insight into how operations are being carried out. Some ICBs, such as the solution offered by Emergent, also automatically track call data which reduces cognitive demand on incident commanders and allows them to focus more of their attention on the incident itself.

How Technology is Enabling Greater Situational Awareness for Firefighters

Changing and developing technology has begun to change how firefighters respond to emergency situations. These advancements are helping to make situational awareness easier and emergency response safer.  

Emergent has become the industry standard for fire and EMS software, transforming the way fire departments operate and manage their resources. Its innovative Incident Command Board, for instance, significantly reduces the cognitive load on incident commanders by automatically tracking and recording all relevant data during an emergency. It allows responders to focus on the critical task at hand without worrying about the nitty-gritty of data recording and tracking.

Technological advancements, particularly those provided by industry leaders like Emergent, are playing an important role in the development of situational awareness for firefighters. By reducing cognitive load and automatically tracking data, technology is tangibly making the jobs of first responders easier and safer. As we move forward, we can anticipate even more innovative solutions that will continue to make situational awareness easier and more natural for first responders.

Ready to explore how Emergent's solution can help your department enable greater situational awareness? Reach out to our team today.

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