Emotion – Don’t Get Carried Away

You have heard me saying before that “emotion has no place on the fireground” and it doesn’t.  While that may sound heartless to you, it is not.  I use the term “fireground” in the sense of the emergency scene, but every emergency scene has hazards inherent to the reason we were called in the first place.  Management of our emotions is necessary because if we were unable to do so, we would be unable to function appropriately.  Fear of death and injury is natural; those of us who have been successful in our jobs of delivering emergency service have learned to deal with those fears appropriately.

Emotion is defined as a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort, and is often accompanied by physiological changes.  Emotions influence behavior; strong emotions may even cause you to take actions that you might not normally perform.  For example, arriving at a well-involved home where survival of victims is not likely, you may, because of your emotional reaction, feel compelled to take actions that might be considered unreasonable if you were to step back and look at all the facts.

Let's say  we were studying this event where a number of firefighters were injured attempting a search in a small abandoned single family dwelling.  Fire was showing from multiple windows in multiple rooms.  The doors were all boarded and locked.  The rationale was that squatters might be inside.  However, a quick look at the two doors would have revealed they were all padlocked from the outside.  I will concede that this is why we search; however, the rooms were so well-off that survival was just not possible.  Had they gathered the facts (untenable conditions, doors padlocked from outside) they might have considered differently.  They may have opted to do VES in some rooms.  But the approach they took was based on emotion rather than on a calculated strategy.

My colleagues at Backstep Firefighter have established a list of where people were found in buildings considered abandoned or empty.  Again, emotion shouldn't be the issue.  If there may be people inside, we also must consider a safe and sane approach to how we are going to enter and search rather than just doing the "Backdraft" thing and charging through the flames.  Or checking our emotions may be telling us that something that seems unsafe is actually poses less risk if we stop for a second and process the situation.  That's what I want you to understand: This series is not at all to assume we don’t search “abandoned” or “empty” buildings.  What I want you to take away from this is we have to slow down our perception of the events and take into account the existing factors, then add them up into a decision.  Reacting to what we “think” we know is dangerous.  Reacting to what we “know we know” makes more sense.  But even then, what we may be certain of is only one perspective.  This is another reason why we work in teams.

Over the next few days we will be briefly discussing emotion and how it plays into emergency scene decision making.  As always, there is a lot more to the subject matter than I can convey in a blog, and I ask you to look into the subject matter and if you have some questions, ask them.  But while I am sharing this information with you partly as a result of my education as a leader and partly through my experience as an officer, there are people who have made their life’s ambition studying the subject, and I defer any observations to them.  If you have a contrary view, I ask for you to share it.  It is in doing so that we can grow and learn.

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