The start of football season brings out the talking heads and sports commentators who spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the mental skillset necessary to play the position of quarterback at a high level; making it sound like the most difficult job on earth. While admittedly I have no desire to stand in front of a snarling 350 pound lineman trying to make my body intimate friends with the grass, I do think that the situational awareness necessary for rapid decision making under center presents some interesting parallels to fire scene size-up. With a pass play called, quarterbacks go to the line of scrimmage and see a defensive formation that may give an accurate representation of the opposition’s intentions or may be deceptive. At the snap, he has a few short seconds to read the scene and hopefully be able to locate and connect with his primary receiver. If covered, he then has to check down and look for his secondary or tertiary outlet. He has to avoid getting tunnel vision as the defense converges and move, bob, and weave while continuing to look down field; big picture and small, refining his tactics based on what he sees.
The first arriving fire officer on a residential structure fire faces similar challenges. What “formation” is the fire showing and is it deceptive or obvious. In just a few seconds, the officer needs to evaluate the construction, occupancy, exposures; read the smoke and extent of the fire conditions present on all those. He can then audible his strategy and the associated tactics. The firefighters under him have a similar complex job to do looking at primary and secondary escape routes and continually evaluating the effect that the fire is having on the structural integrity of the building so they too can check down and adjust their attack and team actions if necessary.
The similarities are obvious although the salary levels are not. The stakes on the correct decision making on the fire side are a little higher than a sack, incomplete pass or interception.