Today Chief Richard Gasaway, PhD (Ret.) joins me to take a deeper look into what it means to be situationally aware. We answer what situational awareness is, what challenges we face with developing and maintaining situational awareness and discuss what are some of the most common barriers that impact awareness are… tune in and download it to your brain!
HOW TO FIND CHIEF GASAWAY
Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, CSP
Fire Chief (ret.)
Speaker, Author, Podcaster,
Helping individuals and teams
understand human factors, reduce
the impact of situational awareness
barriers and improve decision
making under stress.
Author of 6 safety books, including:
How smart workers use situational awareness to improve safety.
Situational Awareness Matters
HERE’S THE SHOW TRANSCRIPT
All right. Welcome back to mindset radio. I’m your host Jeff Banman. Today. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I am bringing in the well chief, if you don’t mind, I’ll say the man, the myth, the legend around situational awareness. That’s a, that’s a big setup. Hey, you know, I mean, it’s a big show. We gotta like step it out there, but today with me, chief Gasaway
Chief, thanks for joining me. I really appreciate you taking the time. We kinda did this on a little bit of short notice and you know, as I shared with you before the show this month, we’re really kind of unpacking and getting into those aspects of mental acuity, that aspect of situational awareness, of self awareness, and really kind of pulling the curtain back on why we do what we do when we do it. What causes us to see what we see what interrupts our decision making cycle and how do we improve it? And so I really appreciate you taking the time. It’s cutting some time out of your busy schedule to join me. Right.
Appreciate the the invitation. Jeff. It’s quite an honor and I’m really, really excited about having our conversation.
Yeah, I mean I think, you know, this is the, this is the cool thing I like about the show and the way that we go. It’s, it is, you know, whether we’re bringing somebody out of a law enforcement community out of the military or the fire service, you know, these things we’re gonna talk about today are kind of applicable to all, right. They, we, we all deal with them. We all find ourselves in these high stress, highly complex, highly diverse environments. And, you know, I think part of the charter now is, and we have a culture chief. I you, you tell me. I actually, I’m kind of excited about the shift in the community cause I feel like we have a culture now that wants to understand why we’re doing this.
But it’s, it’s getting, it’s getting, it’s getting better. I, you know, one of the, one of the books I wrote was that was kind of like the compilation of my dissertation. And there are some people who buy that book and say, man, I really dig. I really dig the science in the book about the why behind it. And then I get some other people that say, if I knew this was a book about science, I would have never bought it. How dare you trick me into, into learning science? Yeah. My, my, my background or, you know, my research is cognitive neuroscience. So I’m teaching what I’m teaching, I’m teaching the, the science about how we think and make decisions. And I try to do that in really friendly ways and fun ways. But there are, there are some that really dig that. I mean, really dig it. I mean, like they’re nerdy about it and, and, and then there’s some that just are objectionable to it. And, and, you know, I, I try to find a happy middle, you know, I can’t go full nerd with the nerds when I’m teaching a class cause everybody else will be rolling their eyes. But yeah, but then I can’t, I can’t just set aside all the science either because it’s, you know, it’s the foundation of how to explain why we do the things we do or don’t do. Yeah,
Yeah, yeah. I, you know, yes. I’ve been excited cause I, well, here’s what I feel like it’s over the last decade, decade half, maybe two, we have come to a place now where science is very, V has become very validating for a lot of our work. And we’ve crossed, I feel like we’ve crossed through the threshold of the, you know, this is snake oil kind of stuff. Right? I mean, that’s, you know, I grew up in that environment where, you know, nobody, nobody wanted to hear it. Right. And it was very you know very ad hoc or very slang terminology used to kind of describe some things. But what’s interesting to me when I look back at, you know, the guys that taught me how to be a fireman back in the 90s, you know, these guys are been Firemans to sixties and seventies. The things that they said are now scientifically evident need of scientific evidence today. Which I really like in a lot of ways. And
There’s also some science refuting some of the things that I was taught early as a firefighter. And there are some people who are very resist of, of that because, Hey, it’s worked for me for 20 years and I believed in it and I’ve done it and it’s turned out okay. But then you get science-based evidence, like from the NIST and UL research that’s shows some things that are different and it, you know, and they’re, they’re using, they’re using very sophisticated monitoring equipment to show these changes in he, in, in movement of air and such. And are still some people that have just, you know, just holding their breath and turn them blue in the face because, you know, and like, who knew who needs all that science? You know, I’m just gonna do what I’ve always done. And, and, and I, and I, and I, I kind of re relate to what they’re saying, but part of me just says it’s so sad to have people attacking, these are these researchers who are showing scientifically in some ways validating some of the things that we’ve been taught and in some ways refuting some of the things that we’ve been taught.
And I guess if the science validates what you believe in, then you’re like, rah rah for it. But if the science refutes what you’ve believed in, well then those researchers are a bunch of idiots.
Yeah. I love, I love being disproven, you know, in a theory. Yeah, you’re right. I mean, I think that’s the, for those of us that get into it, those of us to kind of unpack it, it’s like, I don’t know, but we’re going to find, you know, I mean, this is, this is my theory, this is what I think and we’re going to figure it out. And if it disproves it, then awesome. Right. Then I think that’s, I think that’s the, it’s hard. You know, there’s, we’ve had a couple of guests on the show and we’ve kind of talked about the rigidity of, of people and our communities right over time. I mean, it’s just, it’s a, unfortunately it’s a model of culture. You know, when I rewrote the math equation for what a mindset looks like you know, and I say we’re always solving for our C3, which is our creativity, our comfort and our confidence.
The key factor in all of that is our level of openness and, you know, people kind of step back from that. I’m like, but that’s measurable. Like I can actually, you know, assess that. We can run through that. We can find how open you are to experience, to new knowledge, to learning and to growing, et cetera. You know, through an evidentiary process. But that’s really to, to me, the key, and I don’t know from, I know in the fire service law enforcement community, I mean, I think you’re seeing kind of those, those sex or you for you. Well, those groups kind of pull apart from each other. You know, you’ve got the old school rooted in as the way we’ve always done it thought versus a larger group. Now I feel like that’s growing. That’s saying, okay, but why? You know, and I think that’s part of the generational too thing too. You know, these kids have, they’ve been able to go to Google their whole life or ask Siri you know, they’ve been, they’ve been in the world of Y where we for a long time. Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s shifting.
You know, it, it, I guess it remains to be seen as to how fast that shifts. You know, there was, there’s a, there’s a great book that I had read that was written in the 60s. I’ve got the name of it just escaped me, but it talks about
How, how so
New paradigms are created. It’ll, it’ll, it’ll come to me in the course of the conversation. But in a talks about how people, it through the course of millennia have resisted new ideas when they come about, you know, and they give some examples of, you know, ideas that came about, you know, in the 17 hundreds that, you know, people resisted and, and you know, and then eventually it, it takes hold and becomes, you know, the new the new paradigm or the new way of thinking and it kind of re, you know, works its way into replacing the old way of thinking. And then, then as you look back, the old way looks so antiquated and out of date that you makes you wonder why, why did anybody ever do it that way? You think about how we used to like fight on the battlefield in the civil war, you know, we lined up, we lined up 300 long and the first row shot across the field to the first row and who didn’t fall down, reloaded, moved to the back and reloaded in the second row, stepped up. And you look at warfare today, you know, and how we, how we fight today compared to then thinking why did, how, how did anybody back then ever think that was a good idea at the lineup a hundred yards out.
Exactly. Where was, where was the private going? Hey eyes, this is a stupid plan.
Yeah. Here’s a rock we could get behind a tree. A tree.
Yeah. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to, I’d like to use that thing over there cause I think it might provide some [inaudible].
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It might reflect the bowler, you know, and they all stand up and fight with honor kid,
Right? Yeah. No, but that’s, but you know what, you just nailed it right there, right. It’s this, it’s this, this culture of, you know, the, I think you just hits up on the head there, you know, it’s honorable to stand there and sacrifice yourself or do it this way that we’ve always done it. And, you know, I think the hurdle is doing it more effectively, doing it more scientifically, doing it in new ways can be perceived as soft or, you know, maybe we’re not going, you know, ah, ah, you know, I don’t know. And because I’m a, I mean, I’m,
It is seen as is that you’re, you’re more, you’re, you’re tougher if you do it the harder way and you’re softer if you do it the easier way because there’s a better way that’s come about, you know? And, and, and I think we’re, we’re making the turn.
I don’t know that that’s what [inaudible] I mean, you’ve got a tick no, no, absolutely no, we need to talk about, but, but, but I think it’s all part of it because what at least needs do here is, so let’s talk, let’s talk about kind of cognitive development. Let’s talk about situation. Warn us. Let’s, you know, cause there’s you and I go through incident after incident after incident across the multiple spectrums and looking at where a lack of situational awareness or a lack of awareness in general, self-awareness, situational awareness, you know these, these points impact our ability to make decisions and then drive actions that ultimately lead us down a path that maybe we don’t want to go down or leads us into a path of trouble if I would say so. So let’s talk, let’s talk situation one is, let’s get into the nitty gritty of it. You know, and I know you teach a variety of programs, but like why, why do you see this as such a significant point? Like what’s your, what’s your take on it? A couple perspectives on it. One it’s not, it’s not
Part, at least for firefighters, it’s not, it’s not part of any curriculum that is out there for that or that is required to get trained and certified as a firefighter. You know, even if you take a the 1001 and ya, and you get one of the big publishers books, there might be four or five single sentence mentions of situational awareness, but not nothing in the form of a comprehensive enough lesson to really do anyone any good. And that’s the first problem is it’s not, it’s not part of the foundational learning too. There are a lot of people that misunderstand what it is and, and how, how you develop it. And three, there are a lot of people that think they’re better at it than that, you know? No. One of the things I say is that, you know, you can, you can have terrible, terrible situational awareness, horrible situational awareness and still make a great decision.
We call that lucky and out and out there in the world, there are a lot of people locking their way into successful outcomes. All the while thinking they have a skillset and they, what they really just have is a, is a run of law, you know, and, and they don’t, they’re not, they’re unaware of how unaware they actually were in the moment that they lucked their way into success. And, and, and that’s scares me. You know, most of the incidents that I work with in departments I work with in interviews that I conduct are the people who happen to be on the sharp end of an outcome when, when the lock brand out and, and you know, for a variety of reasons they couldn’t see it coming. And you know, that and that, that’s my tagline. Help, help, help individuals and teams see the bad things coming in time in time to prevent the bad outcome.
And a lot of times they don’t see it coming in time and then the outcome occurs and then they say, wow, I had fond situational awareness. But they’re looking at it after the fact and not in the, in the, I don’t think anybody in the moment, very few people in the moment will realize their situational awareness is being impacted. Yeah. Most of the time they think it’s solid and then something happens and then after the fact they look back as data comes in after the fact that they’re able to see all the things that they didn’t realize or didn’t know or thought it was this. But it was actually that. And you know, I know we’re not to the point of the big takeaways yet, but I’ll give you one of the big early here. I’m flawed. Situational awareness is never a root cause.
Never. It is only a simple, it’s only a symptom. You know, no one dies of chest pains. Yup. They, they, they die of a, from a blocked artery. No one dies from flawed awareness. They die from the, what caused the awareness to be flawed. Font awareness is just the symptom. It’s just the chest pain. You have to dig deeper to find out or what was it? I, well, I wasn’t paying attention when that happened. While you were paying attention to some things, maybe not what you should have been, but something had captured and held your attention at the moment. You wished it was on something else. So let’s try to figure out what that was and why that happened. You know, where were you distracted? Where did you have split attention? Were you interrupted? Was your mind drifting? You know, there’s, there’s a lot of ways in awareness goes sideways.
They want 100%. I mean, and then, you know, physiological effects. And am I managing it? Am I, you know, am I generally, you know, an excitable human being? Like, am I, am I implementing key strategies to keep myself, I mean, this is, I’ve always said, you know, fear and, you know, body, body experiences, fear and excitement, exact same as the same biological function. Fear and excitement and, but fear is really just nothing more than a projection into the future of an outcome that we don’t want. Right. And so I think a lot of times, a lot of my work has been around how do I get somebody hyper present to what’s actually occurring right now? Cause this is the information I need that’s happening right now, not how I perceive it or how I think it should be or has someone has told me it should be like the dispatcher. Right. I mean I think that’s a big cluster we deal with in any of the emergency response community is we’re trusting information that’s coming from some citizens somewhere. You know what I mean? Who isn’t trained, who isn’t developed, who doesn’t know how to give accurate information and who is seeing their own world through their own eyes relay through to somebody that’s not anywhere near the incident. Then given to us is we’re in routes screaming down the road, you know, trying to set up for what we might do. Yeah,
All of that is fraught with problems. But one of the things that that contributes to making that even more challenging is that we, when we as responders are receiving that information from dispatchers mentally, we can be fooled into believing that we’re being given facts from a person of authority and all the dispatcher is the by which the caller’s information is getting passed on through. You know, I often say the dispatchers have situational awareness too of the call that they’re sending you to. Their situational awareness comes from the color, whatever the caller says forms the awareness in the mind of the dispatcher. The dispatcher then tries to create something called shared awareness by sharing what there is in their mind, their understanding of the call with those responding in the field and to say that with a level of confidence and authority and then the people in the field believe that what the dispatcher told them is true and accurate.
And really what the dispatcher told them is simply the dispatchers imagined reality. Totally off somebody else’s perception of an event that you know that may or may not be off of a lay off of a lay callers observation, which they might have set told the truth. They might not have lead sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose, multiple callers say multiple different things. The dispatcher has to try to figure out which one is telling me the truth. And so they’re making a credibility judgment of the caller or callers, you know, language barriers can cause you know the dispatcher frustration, there’s all kinds of, and then if you add in a call taker and B, you know call taker who then transfers information to a dispatcher. Well now you’ve got like the game of telephone going on cause you got the original caller to the call taker, the call taker who then documents onto a computer and you can only type so fast and you can only listen and comprehend and put so much onto that computer screen.
So some of what the caller is saying isn’t going to get transcribed and forwarded on to the dispatcher. So the dispatcher will have missing information that, that the, the the CEO. Then later on when they played the nine one one tape at, they’ll say, well the caller told this. Nobody told us that. Well you find out the call taker didn’t document it but they were VE. They were busy documenting. It’s not like they were eating Bon bons, they were busy processing the call. But the color goes faster than the, than the call taker can comprehend the information. And that information is just quickly shuffled out of short term memory and lost. And you know, I’ve had call takers, swear to me, they never said that, but until they played the tape back and then I went, Oh my God, they said that. How did I not hear them say that? Well, if you’re busy thinking about something else they’ve said, you will filter out what they’re saying in the moment because your mind is on something else that they’ve already [inaudible].
I mean, that’s, you know, this is the interesting thing. I was sharing with you a little bit beforehand. When I was at the agency and we did this entire research pile to kind of dissect stress, right? To assess stress on the human system at multiple levels, inaction, right in the course of action. And so we ended up dividing them into three primary groups. They were direct stressors, things we deal with, the time, things that may disrupt our mission or disrupt our intent, whatever may be going on. The indirect stressors, things that will impede our progress or, you know, interfere with our mission to kind of come out of the blue. And then the third pocket is what I always called, like kind of like the satellite or the peripheral stressors radio traffic, things that, things that have no bearing on the outcome, no bearing on our course of action.
You know, no bearing on the event itself. But in the study we did, in looking at it, we found that where the greatest drop of awareness, decision making and, and performance when a satellite Tresor from the peripheral stressors were at their peak, you know, and so it’s injury cause it causes that distraction, right? It takes our attention, like you’re saying, away from the what we’re focused on to something else, you know, that could be, you know, radio traffic room, another engine that could be, you know, one of the units responding gets in a car accident. Well, you know, I can’t do anything about that and it doesn’t stop the fire or it doesn’t stop the emergency from happening. And I have no bearing on that now. But my, my, my, both my mental capacity and sometimes my emotional capacity gets hung up in that place. And so now like I’ve got that, that’s split awareness point where my brains, you know, trying to sit in two different locations at the same time. So it’s all good.
Yeah, that’d be the, you talk about that, that, that peripheral stressor. So I’ll ask you a question and I don’t know what your is going to be, but I hope I know what your answer’s going to be. Have you ever been in an environment that is so noisy? You can’t think?
Okay. So, so then take a firefighter and put them in the presence of a chainsaw running. Could that chainsaw creates so much noise, even if they got headset on, could it create so much noise that they can’t think? Well, if you can’t think you can’t process, you can’t comprehend the, the direct yeah, yeah. The, the, the ones closest to you around you. It literally can impact your ability to process and understand what’s happening around you simply because you’re in an environment that is noisy and a lot of people that are in noisy environments, what they strive to do is get somewhere quiet where they can think. But you know, it’s not always possible. You know, if you’re working by a chainsaw shorter, you know, turn the chainsaw off so you can think, but you can’t always do that. Even like a police officer responding to a call you know, they got the siren on and they’re, and they’re in there trying to comprehend either dispatch traffic or MDT traffic. All the while with the siren on that just, that siren is enough that could, could impact their ability to comprehend and process. Now what some do unknowingly and uncontrollably is their, their brain will filter out the silence noise. Yeah. You know, so, so that the, either it’s either gets diminished or it gets silenced completely.
Yeah. I mean, go ahead. No, I was just going to say that’s, I think that’s, I think you’re, you’re exactly right. I mean, that’s one of the, like in, in development, right, in stepping up our game, it’s, we have those systems available to us, but those are things that you have to kind of understand the science behind how you leverage that. Right. How you auditory exclusion is not a bad thing when used effectively. Right. you know, it enables you to use your brain and the body are designed to segment out and give you the ability to focus your attention where you need it. The question is, have you created yourself in a place where you can do that effectively or not? You know what I mean? It’s like, okay, recognizing the sirens going, sirens going fine, but there’s radio traffic coming in my attention now, you know, is the radio traffic versus, you know, whatever else.
And then, you know, you’ve got to add driving into the mix too. I mean, that’s, you know, there’s, it’s chaos. It’s definitely we’re, we’re not w we’ve got a lot stacked against our ability to, to see what so is, I would say like see what’s actually happening. What are, what are some of the ways that you, you go about looking at this, how do you, how do you teach people to, to begin to really be able to, to function at a different level when it comes to their situational awareness when it comes to paying attention?
Well, I think the first component of it is making sure they understand what situational awareness is. If I were to ask 10 lay people a LA, I’ll call a person, somebody who hasn’t had a deep dive and situational awareness training, what it means, they’re likely to say, well, it means I got to pay attention or I got to keep my head on a swivel. I always gotta be looking around and [inaudible] and all of that is true, but that’s only the first part of situational awareness. That only helps in what is called the perception level of awareness. You know, when you keep in your head on a swivel, you’re looking around, you’re being perceptive of your environment, which is good. I mean you definitely want to be paying attention. So it’s, it’s, it’s nothing to be ignored or to be diminished, but it’s only, it’s only the first part.
It’s kind of like saying, the drive my car, all I need is my keys. No, you have to do a few more things besides just half car keys in your hand and, and, but, but, but you still, it’s important. You’ve got to have the keys, right. So you know, so you know, step one, understanding how to be perceptive of the environment, how to pay attention, what to pay attention to, how your attention can be drawn toward things that are loud, bright, moving proximal movement. And these are primal triggers that try to veer your attention and perception away. And so one, understanding what perception is and some of the ways to get tripped up in perception and then how to take what we perceive and understand it. You know, it’s one thing to see it, it’s another thing to understand it. It’s one thing to hear it.
It’s another thing to understand it. Do you think that you can take two people, put them in, in a quiet room, face to face, across the table from each other and they can miscommunicate now add stress changing conditions, noise lights, multiple auditory inputs muffled radios through SCBA face pieces. Sometimes people talking too fast. It’s one thing to perceive it. It’s another thing to be able to comprehend it and know the meaning of what is coming at you. In the, I think of, I think if perception, the way I describe it as perception is gathering up a bunch of jigsaw puzzle pieces, eyes gather some ears, gathered some nose, mouth, skin. They all gather a big jigsaw puzzle pieces, send them into the brain. Then the jigsaw puzzle has to get assembled there. You know, there’s some point where the brain takes what we see, adds it to what we hear and feel and taste and smell and put all those pieces together to form one coherent understanding or to comprehend really what is happening based on the input from all the senses and benchmark it against history and you know, previous experience and learning and everything else that can way you were raised.
Yeah. Sorry. Yeah, yep, yep. So yeah. No, so like when somebody is trying to understand, you know, I always encourage them to adopt a mindset of being inquisitive instead of being assumptive. [inaudible]. So to be inquisitive would say like to have your mental puzzle put together and then look at the puzzle in your mind and say, what does this mean? What’s the deeper meaning of what I’m seeing, the deeper meaning of what I’m hearing is what I’m seeing aligned with what I’m hearing. If it isn’t aligned, why is it not aligned? Why am I seeing this? But hearing that and so to, to be inquisitive and to ask these kinds of questions, but then to force yourself to answer them as well. And it asks a question like, is this what I expected? So this is where you bring in your past experiences, your biases, you know, cause we bring expectations to the table.
We bring expectations from what dispatch tells us we’re going to be seeing when we get there. And that can cause you to actually see what dispatch told you was going to be happening. Even if it isn’t happening, you’re literally hallucinating a reality. And, and I have people in my program say, no, no, no, that would never happen to me. Ranch. This is all psychobabble theory. You know, and I, I appreciate the fact that you learned all this in a book, but it would never happen to me. Fail. And I gotta, I gotta sit there in a program and try to convince responders that they can hallucinate, reverse hallucinate, go deaf. The auditory exclusion that you talked about, they can tell lies and not even realize they’re telling lies. And I try to convince them that these things can happen and I can just see in the faces of people that they’re, that some [inaudible] just not buying it, you know, they’re just like, ah, that’s, that would have maybe happen to somebody lesser experienced than me, but it wouldn’t happen to me.
But then then what I do is I have this exercise that I do where I demonstrate it and we run this exercise and I tell the people to be, I said, well by the time this exercise is done, some of you are going to hallucinate, some of you are going to reverse hallucinate. Some of you are going to go deaf in, some of you are going to go blind and some of you are going to tell lies. You’re ready. And then I would go, I do my exercise. And there they are with their eyes about the size of 50 cent pieces. When I, when I asked somebody, you know what did the person in this, in this clip that I showed, what did this person say? Let’s just hypothetically say, what did this person say the color of the car was? And they’ll say green. And I’ll say, well, how confident are you that they said the car was green or completely confident?
That’s exactly what they said. No, they didn’t. The car, they said the car was yellow. No, they said it was green. I said, I’ll play it back and you can do it again, but you put, you put people under stressors, they hear what they want to hear, not what reality is. They hear, they hear things based on past experiences, biases, previous training that they’ve had. It’s just it can turn into a storm of a problem and then when I’m done and they’re in there, the exercise is complete. All those people who thought that would never happen to me, they’re very humbled because they now realize just how vulnerable they really are to some of these, what I call barriers to situational awareness. And you know, up to that point, I can just see the skepticism. Oh yeah,
Yeah. I start off, I gave a talk at [inaudible] firehouse expo in Nashville, you know, and I started off all my talks, especially in community. And I say, listen, before we even begin, I need you to take judgment and set it down. You can pick it up when you’re done and you can take it out of here. But if you can’t set it aside for the next two or three hours or however long we’re together, just leave. Right. Cause I, I can’t overcome that barrier. But yeah, you’re right. Yeah.
I say, I see, I say the same thing. I just use different words. I say, just Greg, give me a gift of your open mind. That’s all I’m asking you. And then, and then when I’m done, you can close it up and throw everything away that I said. But that’s given me the gift.
Yeah. I told her, I was like, the only reason I’m alive today. The thing that’s kept me alive throughout my entire career is curiosity is just the willingness to look, just the willingness to ask the question and, and not, you know, I think we have this perception that being curious or asking questions is a nuisance, is a pain in the ass, you know, blah blah blah. Like, that’s my, I grew up that way. You know, guys like, don’t ask that, you know, you don’t need to know blah, blah blah. But really just being curious, am I seeing what I’m seeing is this, you know, am I feeling this correctly? Am I reading like there was just, just this internal curiosity button that constantly is fluctuating and it’s kept me alive. It’s kept me, I can, I can point to many times, you know, why is the we just, we just, you know, we just found it properly. Why is there no smoking alleviation? Why is there no heat alleviation in this building? You know, what’s going on right now? Like this constant model of curiosity in discovery of you know, what’s actually happening versus you know, not being connected in this fitness phase right now. Right. So I, I’m with you when it’s that, you know, it’s that place of perpetual discovery, right. It’s an attitude to me, it’s like a way of being, we just are curious or we’re not in some ways. Yeah.
Yeah. And I think, I think it, you know, as you say, curiosity has saved you. I think that curiosity is definitely a trainable skill set. You know, you can’t really say that a person is either born with curiosity or they’re not, and if you don’t have it, you never will. I mean, there maybe are certain talents, like, you know, for me, I would never be gifted in basketball. Right. You know, that’s just one of the things, you know, genetically that was for me, that option. Yeah. No matter how much I try, just don’t think I’m ever going to get really good at it. But curiosity. Curiosity is a, is a trainable mental exercise that the more you practice it, the better you get at being curious about why things are the way they are. You’re literally by being curiosity, developing situation, awareness.
I think that’s what’s missing in a lot of these areas. It’s like this is situational awareness, curiosity, openness, all these subtle underpinning traits. Like they are all there. They need to be exercised, right? They are just like muscle. They are just like tactical training. They are just like running a hose line or doing a two minute drill or you know, shooting and putting rounds down range, senior front sight post, right? They are a skill that when you give over to them and you begin to develop them, they all take on their life of their own and they’re, to me, those are the skills that’ll save your ass down the road. You know, somewhere at some point. Yeah, I’m with you.
Yeah. So is is I, you heard me talk about jigsaw puzzle pieces, you know, gathered up by the senses. They, they come together form that picture of understanding Curio. One of the ways that curiosity would be extremely helpful is when one of when you formed the picture in your mind and you think you know what’s happening and then here comes a piece of jigsaw puzzle that just it doesn’t fit. You know, you know your puzzles put together and it’s an outdoor scene and all of a sudden you’ve got a jigsaw puzzle piece of a typewriter. Then you say, well how does that fit my, you know, this is a field and a stream and a mountain, and now here’s a typewriter. Some people who lack curiosity will take that piece and say, Oh, those darn kids mixed up the puzzles again, and throw that piece away as if it’s coincidence instead of displaying the curiosity of how does this new piece of information make sense in context to the, my perception of what reality is.
So you know what I, what I tell folks is, you know, perception is 100% of the time reality and the mind of the person who has that perception. So how do you know when you have a flawed perception of reality? One of the telltales is confusion. So you’ve got this picture of understanding, here comes this typewriter that doesn’t fit into the, you know, the mountains and the streams to have the curiosity to, to say, why does that piece not fit? I’m confused. And when you can realize that you’re confused because you have puzzle pieces that don’t fit your perception, there’s a good chance that your perception of reality is flawed. And the telltale indicator is your confusion. Yes.
Yeah. I th you know, it’s so, it’s so crazy to me because also like any exploration in my world, like I’ve done, I’ve done a lot of deep dive into then, you know, sensation like triggered sensation, right? Or intuition or gut feeling. Well, however you would call it, right? To look at, you know, sensation registers before thought. So when I find something, when I find that odd piece, when there’s a piece that, that I don’t think fits, there’s a, you know, there’s an actual feeling that occurs inside like, wait, something’s wrong or something doesn’t work. And then I have to work through the cognitive process, right. To transition into, well, is it wrong or does it go somewhere else or what is the like, why? Why does it exist? Right, and then it goes back to that level of curiosity to explore it,
But you’re forcing yourself down a pathway of critical thinking when you do that. Not everybody does that. You do that, but there are, there are a lot that don’t and those that don’t are then more vulnerable than those that do.
Yeah. I want you to, I’m going gonna I’m going to back you on this line because I don’t want to skip over that word and because this is the, I don’t have too many naysayers to listen to the podcast and if they do, they only listen to one episode and I’ve usually pissed them off so then they go on and do something else, which is great. Which is why this exists. Yeah. I have no qualms about it whatsoever, so I’m going to make another call out here. If you’re, if you’re already kind of going, Oh no, sure, I want to listen to this, then this is, this’ll definitely have you hit close on the app. If you don’t take these things on, if you don’t step up and recognize that this is a part of your job and a measure of protection for yourself, those you work with the people around you and those you serve, then you are leaving yourself vulnerable to something, right.
You are, you are completely do you have a chink in the armor if you’re not willing to really take that on and you’re making an absolute, you’re putting everybody and yourself at risk, everyone around you at risk. Yeah. And you know, you and I could spend probably two or three more hours going through incident after incident after incident where, you know, the, the skillset wasn’t developed and like you said, it’s why it’s not a sit down first day class, you know, or within the context and, and, and, and at depth. You know, we leave ourselves at risk. We’re great at that. And I think that’s, that’s one of the frustrations of the, you know, of the industry we live in across the board and military is no different. It’s, I mean it’s and you know, I will have sat in a lot of people’s quote unquote situational awareness classes in your life. All they really deal with is that first layer of, of perception, right? The perceptive process of it. And that to me is a very small factor in the, in the larger equation. Yeah.
We haven’t even talked about the third component. So we’ve got the first component perception. The second opponent come on understanding and the third component in my opinion is probably the most important and least developed of all three. And that is prediction. Being able to accurately predict future events before they happen to be able to envision outcomes ahead of them. You know, hindsight, hindsight’s always 2020 and it can be really painful. You know, trying to teach the foresight of anticipation of bad outcomes as things are unfolding in the moment is really the gold of situational awareness, you know? But to be able to make accurate predictions, you gotta have perception and understanding. You know, I, the way I teach it as foundation, walls and roof, the foundation is perception. The walls are understanding and the roof is the prediction. While you can’t start with the roof, the roof, the last part that goes on the house, the prediction of the future is predicated on having good perception and good understanding that allows you to make accurate predictions.
And you know, I, I teach a process for prediction, but I always, always put a disclaimer on there that even though I’m going to give you a formula for how to predict the future, I can’t tell you how to predict every possible future outcome. But if you use the formula increases your probability. But there’s no, there’s no guarantees because there are some things that happen in life that are just completely unpredictable. I know some people who’ve had tremendously good situation awareness in the moment and still got blindsided by a tragic outcome that you, you, you couldn’t see coming. I mean, after the fact, somebody can then see and criticize it. But in the moment, yeah, let you know, I think a one real quick fire example is these firefighters responded to a commercial building fire. They went on the fire attack and it was it was w it was a setup.
They didn’t know it. The building, it was on fire. They opened a door to a room where the fire was and the arsonist had set a bucket of gasoline so that when they opened the door, the bucket of gasoline would spill and ignite. Well, who could predict that? Nope. Right, right. Yeah. There’s just some things that are happened that are so far outside the normal w two when two firefighters got shot at up in West Webster, New York on Christmas Eve into Christmas morning I had the national, somebody from national media call me and say, well, isn’t that something that they’re taught to be, you know, prepared for? And yeah, that’s what I laughed at. I mean, I didn’t even grant them an interview. I said, you know, tell me, tell me that we’re not being recorded so I can tell you what I want to say.
And they said, no, no, we haven’t started recording yet. And I said, well, that’s not no firefighter. I mean, unless you may be, you’re from inner city. And you’re in a crime stricken area, but in suburbia America, no firefighting crews shows up on the scene of a house fire two in the morning and expects that somebody to range is going to be laying in the bushes across the street with a sniper rifle waiting to, to kill you. It’s, it’s not even in our psyche to think that way. And again, in some areas of some cities may, yeah.
But even then, that’s still a big leap. Yeah, it’s a big leap. I mean that’s, we just had the guys in San Diego a couple of years ago, you know, checked a welfare cops called enforced the door. They go, of course the door guy inside with an automatic pistol lights off Adam, you know, I mean, it’s like, wait a minute, the game, the game is changed, you know? I mean, and, and these are the tools, these are the new tools, right? I don’t care, you know, I always said 99% of your ability to successfully negotiate the outcomes to whatever you face is all internal process. You know, gear, equipment, training, everything else. 1%. It’s your internal ability between your body and mind to be able to pay attention, understand, comprehend, see what’s so mega decision and take the actions you need to take and then adjust. You know, I always, I always teach my 10 degree roll 10 degrees left or right, right.
I always say you can do your three 60 walk around, you take the door, you go a step inside the conditions of change. I don’t need to change my decision or my mission, but I do need to blow 10 degrees left or right based on the conditions as they’re occurring. You know what I mean? You know, rather than getting into this constant iteration of, you know decision making around it, it’s like, no, I’m, I’m actually in flow with the moment as it’s happening and when I’m there, the environment will tell me what I need to do. Get out, stay in, move here, move there. Like the conditions will guide me. And I think that’s part of like part of this core aspect of situation. Awareness is giving, giving a little bit of that over to the conditions as they are to help you really assess and guide, you know yourself. I’m kind of a weird a fruitcake like that a little bit Gus, I’ve been called. Yeah,
But you’re, you’re right. As long as the person is is comprehending the clues that the environment is providing to them. Some, some ignore the clues, you know, they, they go, they go places they shouldn’t go to do what they shouldn’t be doing and then justify it in the name of something that they were trying to accomplish. And, and, and, and die in the process or get severely injured in the process where the clues in the indicators were telling them this, this is, this is a no go situation, but you know, bravado and ego is going to say, don’t tell me
Arrogance. Arrogance will get you 100%. Yeah. It was a very politically correct way of saying it chief. But yeah, people make really pissed board decisions in a moment based off of what they, how they believe they should act or what they quote unquote should do. Or, or how they want to be perceived. I know we’ve all done that. We’ve all been young, stupid firefighters or cops or whatever else. We’ve all, you know, done things. We probably, hello, we look back on and they’re like, all right, well dumb ass. I’ll do that again. Right.
Okay. You know, you, you, you said how it’ll be perceived. That’s a big deal. How making, making decisions based on how we think others will perceive our Curry. If I make a conservative decision, I will be labeled a coward. If I make an aggressive decision, then I will be seen as a courageous or heroic. And there are, there are plenty of people who their guidepost is what will others think of me, not what is the, what is the smart thing to do? Yeah. They make the decisions based on, based on their perception, their perceived judgment that’s going to come to them and, and ignore all those
Percent. I mean I can, I, you know, the part of this for this podcast is, you know, being a very authentic and real, I was that way for some of my time in the fire service. It was like I, yeah,
Yeah. And yeah,
Yeah know if you weren’t, then I don’t think you come to this place where you can look back and learn, you know what I mean? Where you can be like, okay, I really, you know, I made those decisions and put myself even sometimes maybe my crew at risk because I wanted to be the, you know, the fireman. I wanted to be the guy who did this or that.
And well, and some, some of that when we were younger. If I could, you know, not the, not the justified some of the foolish things we did, but I will say this for myself, there was a time when I did foolish things cause I didn’t know what totally know. I didn’t know I didn’t, yeah. Some of, some of it might have been ego driven, but some of it was, I just didn’t know any better about what is good decisions. And bad decisions. And most of the time I locked my way into success. And there were some times when I didn’t. And thankfully, you know, I never suffered anything more than short hospital. You know, and I, I don’t even want to, I don’t even want to laugh about that cause it’s, it’s tragically serious how close I came on some occasions to paying a price that would leave me either dead or disabled.
And I, and I just didn’t know better now to the defense of firefighters today, I think there’s, I think we are a smarter group today. There is better training, there is better science, there is better ways. There are, there are ways to accelerate learning and to get smarter quicker and online training. And I’m not saying it’s all about online, but that’s the, that’s one component of it. I mean we have access to so much now that we didn’t before. You know, like, like my department, my department when I was young, of course it was before the internet was invented. If we wanted to have a guest speaker come in, we had to hire that person, have them come in and speak in our fire station. Well now we can beam them in virtually, you know, and literally just put them up on a big screen, have a conversation with them, let us, let them train us.
You know, they’re in, they’re in California, we’re in Idaho and we’re conducting a training session with with a significantly name speaker that’s highly sought after and they didn’t even have to leave their house. And we’re, we’re having our drill in, we’re getting this training, you know, there’s so many opportunities now to be smarter at this craft and for that we should all be thankful. And I think many are taking advantage of it. Some still aren’t, but I think many are. And, and I’m encouraged by that. I’m so impressed by how smart some of these younger firefighters that I meet, you know, and how, how, you know, how committed they are to the craft. It’s, you know, I, I don’t, I don’t teach as many police officers, which is the say occasionally I’ll have a police officer in my program if, if the fire department opens it up for a regional participation. So I, you know, I, I’m sure the same thing is, can be said there about the policing profession. So I don’t want to leave them out of this conversation, but I see it, I see it, I see it directly, you know, with the, with the firefighters in it that, you know, that I’m meeting along the way and I’m very encouraged
Time over there too. And, and it is, you’re watching the same, you’re watching the same emergence, right. And you’re seeing the same cultural breaks and you’re seeing the, almost the identical issues. There are, there’s different complexities clearly that they deal with over the fire service. There are a whole new host of issues that, that, yeah. That they have to deal with. And you know, and, and, you know, I mean most of the law enforcement farmers across the U S are, you know, 10 people or less, right? I mean, they’re smaller. There are people out there today, there’s a couple of people that have sent me emails that listen and they’re like, you know, the one cop for, you know, the net if they call for help, it’s 20, 30 minutes before anybody’s getting there. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean I, I always say, you know, when I grow up, right.
And projects are you same way, right. I mean, we used to take a house fire with, you know, nine, 12 guys that you know now requires 52 and seven chiefs and eight safety officers and you know, everybody else. I mean, yeah, it was a total different world and, but those are the things that I almost feel sometimes like the way we’ve, you know, we watched the pendulum swing I think in the fire service to, to to a hyper safety environment, which then almost created a little bit of a, a break point between, you know, the level of awareness necessary to kind of mitigate the incident. Right? Yeah. More people, more resources, better gear, better equipment. I dropped my situation, warn his profile. I bring that profile down a little bit, you know, you know, why, why do we have more gear, better safety, everything else and greater injuries or, you know, issues still going on. And I think it’s, cause we kind of create this false blanket of protection in our way at times too.
I’ve had firefighters say to me I don’t need situational awareness training. That’s from, that’s what my company officer’s supposed to do, or I don’t have to worry about my safety. We have a safety officer on the incident scene who supposed to watch out for me. And I think, where’s the, where’s the personal ownership? This, you know, they can, they can only see so much. You got to own your own awareness. You got to own your own safety sphere, you know, and it’s, and yeah. Then there, there are some that, that, as you say, they, I think they’re the sharpness of their awareness, the sharpness of their self. They’re, they’re owning their own safety is somewhat dulled by some of these, some of these safety nets that we need, that we have in place. And I don’t want to say they’re, they’re bad, but for you know, for every good that happens that you know, there’s, there’s a bad offset, a ying and a yang.
And, and you know, the yang has been that we’ve done a lot to improve safety, but the yang has been that there are some people that are now probably the last vigilant because they feel more cocooned, you know, think about turnout gear. You know, back in my day we didn’t have, we didn’t even have Nomex hoods when I started. We turned the air flaps down. Then when your ears started to get hot and it was time to leave and now we’re, so, we’re so encapsulated that you know, that there, it is probably very easy for a responder to stay in an environment beyond the point when they should leave because not feeling the heat that is the indicator that they’re in, you know, they’re in a potentially vulnerable spot. And so for the good, that turnout gear has been progressed there, there is a potential downside to that.
I think it’s a, I think it’s an interesting conversation. I mean, I think it’s one that never ends, you know, I mean, I talk about, you know, awareness of multiple levels, you know, situation, the environment, others and you know, myself like what’s going on with myself and what’s happening? What am I bringing to the table, what’s going on at home? Like there’s so many things that, that definitely you know, can impact us, knock us off our game. And I, I think so. I’m going to, I’m going to say this and I would like you to either, you can feel free to like rip it apart and be like, no way Jeff. You know, I think at the end of the day, please, by all means, I love it. I love it when we get into that. But I fundamentally kind of draw it down to a simple fact that says, listen, at the end of the day, your entire job is to be present, is to be here now and everything is, is pulling to take you away from this right now.
Work, home life, dispatch, sirens, house on fire, whatever it may be. Everything is trying to pull you out of what’s happening right now and your only real job is to stay connected to what’s actually taking place. Because that’s, that will be the that, that the I, the answer lies there, right? If you’re not privy to the situation then, then you can’t do things like you talked about like being in that predictive posture, right? Seeing and anticipating what’s, what could happen next and flowing accordingly with it. So I don’t know if that’s my, that’s my, my thought in the,
No, you’re, no, you’re, you’re, you’re absolutely right. And, but one of, one of the challenges is that is we are so subjected to distractors every day that I think we’re losing in general Ted scoff the emergency scene and just talk general life skill. We’re losing the skillset of being in, staying in the moment. You know, I was just out to dinner with, with my family the other night and we’re, it was a pretty nice restaurant. We are going, you know, celebrating a birthday and, and I looked over at the next table and there was mom and dad and all three kids all on their phones during this nice dinner out at a very nice restaurant. None of them in the moment unless they were texting with other, and I’m not rolling that out, but well I S I should actually, four of them were on the phone.
The youngest one was on an iPad watching or playing some game on her iPad. And none, none of them were in the moment mindful at all of anything that was happening around them. And I think the reason I want to tie this back to what you said is I think the more we allow ourselves to be distracted out of the moment, the more that becomes kind of like a habit that we develop is to allow ourselves so easily those distracted moments. And if we’re not practicing that mindfulness in our routine of, of our daily life, then we’re not developing a habit that on an emergency will pay off for us. And that is the habit of being in the moment to be here and now to be mindful of your environment. Because we’re so used to all of this distraction in our lives. And I’m not anti social media or anti-technology, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, this is we’re, we’re talking a societal challenge. I want somebody, the other day I was sent at a red light. I want somebody the other day, literally with their head down on their phone, walk right in front of a moving car and the car was going slow enough that they could slam on the brakes, blow the horn. The person was so startled by them blowing the horn, they drop their phone, then pick up their phone and then scrape the driver
For blowing their horn and causing them, causing them to drop their phones. Definitely crazy. It’s crazy. I mean
Like the seriousness of this and that’s where, you know, I’m sure you do it in your classes. It’s like how do I correlate the seriousness of what we’re discussing to the job? Right. And, and that’s the thing, it’s like if you’re, it’s the little subtle pieces over the course of the day, how you exist in your normal day. If you’re hyper distracted, always on your phone, always just connected, always thinking into the future or you know, dealing with whatever has happened earlier in the day or last week or whatever else. If you’re not practicing that, that level of breath and where am I? And okay, I’m right here and this is what’s going on. Like it’s a skill I get is a, it is a perishable skill and yeah, and that will lead you to not see what you need to see, make a bad decision, take a, you know, go down a course of action that’s going to lead in a way that leads you down the road and in a negative result that you don’t really want. So yeah, crazy, right?
[Inaudible] And you probably will not even realize that you’re boiling down that route to an undesirable outcome until, until it’s too late. And then you’ll look back and say, wow, I could have been more perceptive of the things that were happening around me. Now as I look back on it, man, I missed this. I missed this, I missed this. I should’ve saw that. I should’ve heard that. I should’ve known what that meant. You know, and that, that hindsight is such, yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, if they open themselves up to learning in a first, some kind of after action assessment that kind of captures the, the, the factual information, you know, thin slices the event allow you to see how the slow motion timing of how it unfolds. Then many, many times those, those lessons reveal themselves and allow people to see what otherwise they, they didn’t for a variety of reasons.
You know, any of you articulate, we wrap up today. Any other, any last final thoughts or anything for everybody that that you wanna leave anybody with? Yeah, I want to give a, maybe one golden more soul toward toward how to use situational awareness to improve high risk decision making. Right. So this is a a 32nd snippet from, from a a training that would take me an hour to set up. So you’re kinda just getting, you know, you just kind of, it kind of coming in right before the credits roll. All right. So as you, as you’re setting up to make high risk decisions and you’re trying to use situational awareness as the foundation for that, remember to be perceptive of your surroundings, be in the moment as you say, to be to understand your environment and to be curious, you know, bringing the curiosity and the questions to try to make those puzzle pieces fit together.
And then when once you get there and you understand what’s going on, you’re gonna make a decision. The decision, you know, is a choice from alternative. So you’ve got to have at least two alternatives when you’re making a decision. So you should be thinking, I’ve got decision a or decision B. And what I try to encourage people to think about is you should always have like one decision that your aggressive kicked butt, take names, decision option and one decision option that’s conservative. The just in case decision a doesn’t end up being such a good idea. I’ve got an alternative. I’m a little more conservative decision to make. But if all you ever train on is aggressive action and you never train on conservative action in the moment, you’ll not even think of a conservative. You only think of the aggressive cause. That’s all you’ve all you’ve trained on.
Okay? So make your decision. But before you take that decision and put it into action, I want you to pause for just a moment. See if you go decision straight to action, you literally can take an action without really thinking about is this going to work or not? So what I want your, I want your listeners to do is make a decision and then take a slight pause and make a prediction about the outcome of that decision. Kind of mentally look ahead in your movie and see the outcome of the decision that you just made. And try to see whether it’s going to turn out well or not. And this is just a one to five second look into the future. You know, what you’re trying to do is just kind of anticipate the landmines that may lay ahead of that decision before you put it into action and then see the landmines.
So the whole thing is perception, understanding, decision, prediction, then action. And of course then you would assess whether that action worked or not. And then it takes you back through the cycle again of perception, understanding decision that the big takeaway here is once you make your decisions, always pause and make a prediction that allows you to just momentarily look into the future and see if that plan will work. Or if there’s some landmines that might cause you to think about not taking that action. And that just momentary pause might keep you from charging ahead with an action.
No, I thank you. Thank you for that. I really ferry, that’s my gift. Very strong. Very, very real. And I like what you said about like giving myself the choices, right? Okay. Here’s the aggressive posture. Here’s the conservative posture. You know, here are the two things. Because then if I’ve already mentally exercise those a little bit, you know, and we’re talking in rapid succession, you know, very short periods in time, it’s, ah, it’s not unfamiliar to me to then fall back on. Right. Or it’s not unfamiliar to shift. It’s kind of already been, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s available if you will. You know, I think I chief, I, I really like that and, and I appreciate you given, given your time today to us. I, yeah, yeah. Well we could talk forever. Absolutely. [inaudible]
Back in cycle and stuff. Cause this, this whole month we’re talking about, you know, core aspects of mental acuity. And part of that explanation now to the audience is how do I make these logical cognitive transitions moment by moment, by moment, you know, whether big or small. And you know, this is, this is a huge component of it. And I really, I hit, I’ll be honest with ya, I rip a lot of people apart for the way they teach situational awareness. And I’ve, you know, cause it’s, you know, there’s a lot of garbage out there. And S Oh no. Well, but I think you’re, but I, I, I, I’ve, I’ve, you know, I’ve gone through and done my research. You wouldn’t be on the podcast if I didn’t think you actually hadn’t had delivered something of substance. Right. I’ve sat in too many. Give me a pill stuff.
Yeah. Yeah. Well you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re right. You’re right. You’re right. The column, the task, cause this is one of those things I say Jeff, is if you teach it wrong, you can cause more harm than not teaching it at all. You know? Yeah. I’m teaching. Yeah. If somebody said, how do I do brain surgery? And if you’d really don’t know, but you try to show them and then they go and do it, that’s more harmful than to say, I don’t know. My advice to you is don’t do it. You’ve done less harm to try to not teach them the wrong way then than to not teach them at all. And I wish some of these people who really are situational awareness would their heart’s in the right place. I truly believe it is. They’re saying things that just, it does. It’s the same thing with mindset. It makes me, it makes me [inaudible]
Mental attitude, mindset, development, any of that stuff. It is, it is graded me for years. I mean this, the operation mindset, the program originated w I sat, you know, the agency forever had this combat mindset course they taught, which is awful, just awful. And I sat in at one day and I, I looked around and I looked at the guy sitting next to me and I’m like, okay, none of these people are going to combat nobody in this room. They all work for the agency. They’re not trigger pullers. Nobody in this organization is, is directly engaged in combat operations. That’s not the way we work. You know, there’s a very small segment on the paramilitary side that does certain things, but, but why are we in the first slide of a mindset class? We’re wrong. You know, by teaching these people combat mindset, like, like, like, like this is, there’s a, a skewing that happens.
And so I really appreciate what you do. I appreciate what you said today. I think you’re, I really I love the approach on some stuff. That last little bit was, was gold. You’re right, it is gold. And so I’m gonna make sure that you all, your information’s up on the show notes on the thank you website so that anybody that follows through can get in touch with you, can link into you. I’ll make sure your website’s up and all the information is out there for everybody to to access you. And, you know, chief, I just, I appreciate you coming on and taking the time today. It was a big ask and I’m glad we could make it happen. Awesome. Stand by one sec and I’m glad we could make thanks, Jeff. I really appreciate it.