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How to maintain situational awareness and stay safe on the fireground

These tips will help you stay alert and alive in the heat of action

Sponsored by G-Shock

By FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff

Firefighters face multiple threats, both visible and invisible, while on the fireground. In order to identify these threats and hazards and reduce the risk of endangering other firefighters and the public, firefighters must practice and build their situational awareness skills.


Maintaining a sense of situational awareness can improve your decision-making under pressure and allow you to better respond to your circumstances, whether that’s attacking the fire, saving a victim or driving to a fireground.

The following are tips to improve your sense of situational awareness.

Use the OODA Loop

The OODA loop is a system of decision-making created by John Boyd, an Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist. Its four steps are Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

The observe step has to do with what is commonly thought of as situational awareness, which is taking and noting observations. The orientation step is for placing observations in context and understanding the situation as a whole.

In the decision and action phases of the process, it’s important to remain calm and stay relaxed, especially because feelings and sense can be heightened in tense situations. Remaining calm on the fireground can help lower tension and overall stress, improving everyone’s ability to do his or her job.

Adhere to Objective/Subjective Measures

During training, firefighters can assess their situational awareness by testing themselves against objective and subjective measures.

Objective measures compare perception of the circumstances with reality during a simulation task designed to prepare for a specific environment or situation. The assessor asks you questions about your observations and impressions before, during and after the task. Afterward, the assessor critiques your perception and observations and provides more context about the task, helping your gain perspective and understanding of what is normal for a given situation.

Subjective measures assess your own situational awareness using simulation tasks. You note your observations and perceptions during the task and rate the quality of your observations afterward, with the help of hindsight.

In general, the idea is that you will be able to use solutions determined during training in future real-world scenarios.

Don’t Succumb to Tunnel Vision

One of the most dangerous things you can do on the fireground is get tunnel vision. When firefighters get nervous or stressed out, their attention narrows and they tend to concentrate only on what’s in from of them. In the fireground, not being aware of your peripherals can be deadly.

Practice staying relaxed and using more than just your eyes. You can learn a lot about a fire not just by what you see, but also what you hear. Position yourself so that your views are obstructed and practice your observation skills.


Constant communication with the rest of your team while on the fireground is vital for maintaining situational awareness. Firefighters can inform commanding or sector officers about what they or their crew are about to carry out. For example, if the glass of a window must be cleared for ventilation, that should be communicated so that crewmembers below can be made aware of the falling glass.

Situational awareness is especially important for firefighters, who must make quick decisions under high-pressure, high-stakes circumstances. By improving your sense of situational awareness, you can make better-informed decisions that help you stay alert and alive on the fireground.

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