Fate favours the prepared. No matter the industry whether military, fire service, or business the difference between success and failure can be a short phone conversation, radio transmission, even seconds to make a decision that may mean life or death to people or companies. Leaders across all industries, especially environments of high stress and high consequence, rely on many things, attributes, skills, etc. to be successful.
Some may include their preparedness mindset, competency, resiliency, adaptability and the ability to change and morph with the threat. In the Marine Corps we called this ability to be flexible, adaptable and morph to out manoeuvre any enemy ‘Semper Gumby’. The statement was a tip of the hat to the Marine Corps motto Semper Fi, or always faithful. The whole idea is that leaders can be more adaptable the more prepared they are for the battle that lies ahead. Enhanced preparedness and awareness of your environments make it easier to be adaptable as you are certain of the tools and the resources available to you that influence the expected outcome.
Not asking the right questions during training or planning of these events leads to incomplete or flawed knowledge. Dr Richard Gassaway (2019), a leading expert in situational awareness described the top five situational awareness flaws as:
1) Personal Awareness
2) Team Awareness
3) Resource Awareness
4) Incident Awareness
5) Shared awareness
The ability to effectively and consistently conduct pre-fire planning in the ARFF environment can positively influence all of those situational awareness flaws and enhance fire ground success. Pre-Fire planning done right will address your personal awareness by increasing your own knowledge, skills and abilities. It will help you understand the same for your team as you identify strengths and weaknesses. Improving and identifying resources ahead of time (physical, fiscal and personnel) narrow your focus and improve decision making in high-stress environments. Incident awareness is improved by reviewing incident case studies, training, conducting airfield and aircraft familiarization, and planning for those events, while sharing the like among your team enhancing team shared awareness.
Components to good pre-fire/incident planning include: airfield and aircraft pre-fire planning, training and a collaborative mutual aid response.
Airfield pre-fire planning should include:
1) Areas with radio sensitivity or not radio use allowed
2) Hot brake areas
3) Ordnance loading areas
4) Flight line resources and flight line extinguisher locations
5) Hung gun locations
6) High power engine run areas
7) Arresting gear locations and pits
8) Underground hydrants or high-pressure hydrants
9) Crash gates
10) Perimeter road familiarization
11) Blind spots for air traffic control
12) Special project areas or high hazard areas
13) National security sensitive areas
14) Hangars and specialty fire protection such as high expansion foam, halogen agent and AFFF systems. And/or detection systems such as flame detectors, beam smokes, etc.
- In one situation early on in my career an F-16 hangar retrofitted with high expansion foam dispersed from high expansion fans above could flood the entire hangar in a matter of minutes. This system was a pre-action (water only) overhead closed head sprinkler system and a high Expansion foam (HEF) generator system with ultraviolet/infrared detectors that initiated the fire alarms as the first trip. The system was not designed properly and the sprinklers were taken out of service, making the detectors the primary trip with a 30 second delay before he HEF system went off. The only way to reset the system was to hold an emergency stop while the system was reset at another location. To say that pre-fire planning didn’t save multi-million-dollar aircraft multiple times is an understatement.
15) Specialty items of interest or infrastructure concerns.
- In one department I was at, we had a mutual aid agreement with a large municipality to provide for any NLA or large cargo aircraft incidents. They only had some local ARFF awareness so their main function would be to support water supply operations or assist with EMS or mass casualty events. One of the joint mutual aid collaborations was the identification that we as the ARFF entity used STORZ connections on our LDH hose and hydrants and our mutual aid partners were not compatible. We gave the municipality storz adapters for LDH hose on their first due engines to use during MA on the airfield and ensured all hydrants were retrofitted to have STORZ. This one item alone ensured we shared equipment and conducted multi-agency training on water supply to ensure effective fireground operations when needed.
While aircraft and airfield pre-fire planning are two critical pieces to enhance awareness and capabilities at all levels, the development of training programmes, mutual aid agreements, active preparedness and frequent exercise of airport mishap and response completes a comprehensive approach to readiness in the ARFF environment. Specialty situations must be identified through a comprehensive risk assessment that may address geographical limitations to response, access issues, crashes into structures, into other jurisdictions, water and matters of national security.
Planning, Training, Resources and partnership smatter. Standardized ICS interface, comms, operations and resources with a focus area in the following is needed:
- Planning and Training
- Personnel, equipment and apparatus staging
- Triage, treatment and transportation of patients
- Rehabilitation of emergency responders
- Helicopter landing zones
- Investigative and regulatory bodies (OSHA/NTSB/FBI/FAA/etc.)
- Mortuary affairs
- Media/public affairs
- Protective Actions
- Pre-identified responsibilities and plans for non-ARFF responders
Pre-fire planning is a known and basic task that must be performed in the ARFF environment. Just be comprehensive and don’t just check the box. Pre-fire planning significantly enhances your ability to process critical information under stress and give your cognitive slide deck more slides to play with. Preparedness and pre-fire planning of incident types, resources, training, partnerships, and individual and team knowledge, skills and abilities enhance situational awareness, operations and personnel safety. I hope you can use this as your starting point to evaluate your planning and preparedness.
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