Rapid Critical Thinking Pt. 1 (The New Guy)

Being able to think quickly and make the right decisions is not something that every person is capable of doing. You can however prepare yourself to get better at these things. As first responders, we need to have this type of skill due to the circumstances we deal with daily. It’s just as important in civilian life as well, but maybe not as frequent. In this series of articles, we’ll go over a few points that will make you better prepared for what may be thrown your way.

The New Guy:

If you are new to emergency services, you may think that your superior officers have all the answers. Some officers, whether career or volunteer, are better than others. Despite a good officer who knows what they’re doing, they still count on you to know what you’re doing as well. If you don’t pay attention or train properly, when it comes to an actual emergency, your lack of skills will absolutely hinder an operation. You will have mentors to help you out, but you must absorb as much knowledge as possible within your first few years.

You don’t need to know everything, but you need to understand how things work and how to operate accordingly. Once you feel you understand the basics, your next step is to start thinking ahead as if you already know what your officer is going to assign to you.

For example: A simple run may be a car accident. Nobody pinned, maybe just some fluid and debris on the ground. When you get off the rig, you should already understand what needs to be done and know where everything is on the truck. Unless your officer asks you to do something different, this should be a fairly standard task.

A more critical example would be a structure fire. Understanding your assignment on the rig, or whatever position your officer tasks you with. Things can change rapidly, and in this case it’s important to listen in on radio traffic and any change in operation that either the incident commander or your officer makes. However, you need to be prepared for whatever job is assigned to you. You also need a good understanding of the SOP’s. Are you first due engine, truck, rescue, etc.? All of these examples are important.

How this relates to rapid critical thinking is the fact that everyone on the fireground will be tasked with some sort of decision making. By making decisions for yourself given the circumstances, you will make things easier for your crew, officers, and everyone up the chain of command. One important idea to consider is that even though we work as a team, we’re not simply just playing a sport. As first responders, our decisions and actions can also lead to catastrophic failure including injury or death. It’s your responsibility to make sure you stay on top of training and learn as much as you can so everyone can go home safe.

Here are some action items for the new guy to apply rapid critical thinking.

  1. Am I in immediate danger?

 Your inexperience might make you second guess this, but consider the following. If you somehow wind up alone and the situation doesn’t look good, then the answer is yes. Get out of the situation as best you can and find your crew or officer. If you can’t find your way out then call a mayday. If you’re with your crew, and the situation doesn’t look good, chances are they are going to leave the area as well. If there’s no immediate danger, move on to the next step.

  1. What is the current situation?

Understand your surroundings. Look for any exits in case you need one. You should also be paying attention to the conditions you’re dealing with, and make sure you communicate with your crew if you see something they don’t. Once you have a good understanding of your situation, move to the next step.

  1. What needs to be done?

Whatever your assignment is will be the answer to this question. Never change the plan unless an officer tells you otherwise. The worst thing you can do is go off on your own. Especially as a new firefighter. Once you’ve completed this action item, move to the next step.

  1. What’s next?

Wait for orders. Again, you don’t want to go on your own and start doing other things. Emergency situations can change in an instant. Stick with your crew and wait until you receive further orders from your officer. Once your next task is assigned, revert back to the first action item and go through the list.

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