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Go or no-go? The power of mindset

Before committing to a decision on scene, consider your justification for the choice and the feasibility of success, then identify possible solutions and alternatives


“We must be deliberate and calculated in all aspects of our profession,” writes Freeman.

Photo/Jason Coleman-Cobb

This article originally appeared in the FireRescue1 Digital Edition “Go/no-go: Decision-making on the fireground.” Download your copy and find additional resources here.

By Dr. Reginald Freeman

Regardless of the time of day or the day of the week, we are repeatedly faced with the responsibility of making decisions that impact life safety. Some of these instances are easier to navigate than others, as we know that no two emergencies are the same. There could be similar circumstances or even the same type of structure, but our actions are driven by the threats that present themselves or the threats that are possible.

In these highly stressful situations, we must slow down and reference our prior experience and training in order to make informed decisions. Our mindset must be clear and free of ambiguity.

What has helped me cultivate a healthy mindset while “everything is on the line” is conducting a simple go/no-go assessment, with five elements that I consider in my decision-making process:

  1. Assess your justification
  2. Deem the feasibility
  3. Find the right solution
  4. Identify alternatives
  5. Select the right alternative

We must be deliberate and calculated in all aspects of our profession, and these five elements help us do that.

Assess your justification: Justification involves being able to intelligently explain why you made the decision. If there is any aspect of you not being able to justify why you did what you did or if you do not feel comfortable in explaining the reasoning to any audience, then the situation should be considered a no-go. Always remember to consider root causes and core factors as to why you are there. That will assist you in making a rationale decision.

Deem the feasibility: When considering feasibility, you must first ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this task or part of the mission doable without compromising safety?
  • Will it contribute to incident stabilization?
  • Do we have all the members and resources on scene that we need to accomplish the mission?

Find the right solution: Once it has been determined that the task(s) is feasible and there is justification to move forward, communicate with anyone and everyone necessary to find the right solution.

A golden rule that all leaders should remember is that just because you can do something does not mean that you should. In other words, although you can make the ultimate decision because you are the highest-ranking officer on scene does not mean that you, exclusively, should be the decider. Other members on scene may be more knowledgeable on a subject or more qualified to render options. Thus, finding the right solution must include finding the right people to surround yourself with, coupled with having the right equipment and resources.

Identify alternatives: We are exposed to various risks at every step of the incident. Through proper preparation, there shouldn’t be anything that could throw us off track. We must be prepared for every scenario and identify alternatives throughout the incident. At a minimum, we should have plan A, B and C ready to implement as necessary. When we have options, we have more flexibility and increase the probability of making the right decision.

Select the right alternative: With the alternatives identified, we must carefully analyze which one will best meet our needs for the situation at hand when the situation calls for a backup plan.


“It is critical that all members practice crew resource management, and that every person on location of the working incident should feel comfortable in speaking up on any issue, even after the decision is made to GO,” writes Freeman.

Photo/Jason Coleman-Cobb

While we are assessing go/no-go decisions it is important to not lose sight of the goals. There must be a clear understanding of the demands for the incident, and we must always consider the big picture. Nothing can replace realistic goals and expectations. Obviously, we have standard operating procedures and guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) that help us make critical decisions, which is why it is imperative that we trust the process. Having alternatives or contingency plans is key to minimizing anxiety and stress when command and control decisions are being made. Data is important, but we can never underestimate nor should we undervalue the human element of our instincts and gut feelings. The key is to not make emotionally charged decisions that can or will make the emergency worse. Demonstrating passion is something that can motivate members during an emergency; however, it must be done in a controlled manner.

It is critical that all members practice crew resource management, and that every person on location of the working incident should feel comfortable in speaking up on any issue, even after the decision is made to GO. The more that the entire team communicates, the better the results. Great communication is the hallmark of a great team.

A simple process for successful outcomes

Your mindset is everything when you have to make a go/no-go decision. Take the time to evaluate the justification of the decision, if it is defensible or not, along with the feasibility of the outcome or targeted goals, followed by finding the right solution. After finding the right solution, we must have alternatives or contingencies identified along with, lastly, choosing the right alternative.

Following these easy steps through this assessment will assist you with having the right mindset to make life-saving decisions.

About the Author

Dr. Reginald Freeman serves as chief risk officer for the HAI Group, based in Cheshire, Connecticut. Chief Freeman previously served as fire chief for the city of Oakland (California) Fire Department, fire chief for the Hartford (Connecticut) Fire Department and fire chief for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. He is a member of the board of directors for the NFPA and director of training for the Caribbean Association of Fire Chiefs. In addition to serving as an adjust professor for multiple higher learning institutions, Chief Freeman is a fellow for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and has a doctorate in emergency and protective services.