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Be aware of the fireground situation

The less situational awareness firefighters have the higher their risk of injury


On the fireground, there are many hazards that are present and need to be accounted for. These hazards can be visibly in front of us or hidden inside a structure or concealed by other items. Many times we are able to identify them and provide control measures to reduce their exposure and susceptibility to the firefighter.

A key phrase that now exists in the fire service is situational awareness. Being aware of your surroundings with respect to what is going on around you, helps in providing a safer work environment.

When you are not aware of the surroundings, tunnel vision sets in. Tunnel vision is easy to acquire as our focus becomes fixated on the most prevalent item or what we perceive to be the most important item.

This may be attacking the fire, getting to a victim in the window, or driving to the incident and wanting to get there as fast as possible. Either way, having tunnel vision will help create little dominos that will start to line up leading to a much bigger problem — becoming handicapped on the fire ground.    

Importance of communication
One way of maintaining awareness of your surroundings is to communicate your actions on the fireground to all personnel. This can be done by informing commanding or the sector officer of what actions you or your crew are about to undertake.

For example, if a window is to be cleared of the glass for ventilation, then that action would be communicated to command so that the glass will not fall upon fire personnel working below. When there is an absence of communication, small problems start to multiply producing bigger problems.

Another action item is to look below or above to see who is working or standing there. The responsibility of safety falls upon everybody and includes looking out for other people. In this video, you will see an accident occur where a firefighter sustains an injury due to a falling window.

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The firefighter on the ladder does not exhibit tunnel as he is finishing a task of ventilating a window. The window comes from higher up the structure where other crews could have been working. We do not know if there were crews working up there.

If there was a crew on the third story clearing a window, this is where communication and observation come into play — communication of the action to command so that all personnel can be made aware and observation of who is working below so that there is a clear path for the "just in case" moment.

The firefighter who suffered the injury as a result of the accident was fortunate that it did not cause more serious injuries. This accident could have easily turned out for the worse with the firefighter becoming literally handicapped.

Being aware of your surroundings or maintaining situational awareness will help decrease the domino effect making the fireground a handicap-free zone.   

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