Slow The Game Down

Dave LeBlanc on getting your head on straight first, before getting your gear on.

For you baseball fans out there, you may recognize this phrase. Usually it is used in discussion about a player that has been struggling and the team has been working with him to slow the game down, so they are better prepared and better able to react. As with many ideas and practices from Major League sports, there are applications in the fire service. This is another case of us being smart enough to learn from others.

At Backstep Firefighter and The Front Seat, we often use “expect fire” when discussing various incidents and how the firefighters responded and reacted to the situation they found. The “expect fire” concept has to do with a mindset, a mental preparation that involves treating each run like it will be a fire, so that when you arrive and it is a fire you are not surprised. Seems simple right? Unfortunately it is an area that we don’t always handle well. There are constantly cases of firefighters arriving at scenes and looking like the carpenter with one foot nailed to the floor, spinning around in circles and accomplishing nothing. Expect fire means that you respond with your gear on, your mind is ready and expecting to go to a fire, you are physically ready to go to a fire.

The rush can cause you to overlook many of the basics, such as properly donning your PPE.

Imagine arriving at 2:00 a.m. to heavy fire showing, and because you “thought it was a BS run” you weren’t dressed and ready to go. No biggie, right? You can get dressed in seconds. Except when the rig stops, the father of three is standing in the street screaming that his kids are inside. Now you are trying to get dressed while your “customer” is impatiently expecting you to go save his family. How fast can you get dressed under those circumstances? How good of a size up are you performing while you trying and get your arm in your sleeve for the third time while your heart rate hits 130.

Not only does this scenario let the public that we serve down, because we didn’t arrive ready to go to work, but it creates the opportunity for firefighters to enter the IDLH atmosphere ill dressed and unprepared because they were in a rush. And even if you are able to get completely dressed and ready, how good of a size up did you do. This issue was cited in the Colerain Township internal review of the Squirrel Run Fire as one of the main issues for there being a lack of awareness of the conditions faced by first arriving companies.

So one way you can “slow the game down” is to make sure you are prepared as possible, both mentally and physically, each time you cross the threshold. But what about once you arrive? What can you do there?

Well first of all, remain calm. Regardless of how fast your heart is beating, the old phrase “never let them see you sweat” comes to mind. How you carry yourself will transmit down to your crew. If you are running around in circles screaming, how do you think they will react? Chances are not very well. In fact, screaming tends to cause the opposite of work to get done.

Build some mental checkpoints into your size up, maybe even some physical actions that cause you to pause. Many officers will don their air pack after they arrive; this gives them TIME, time to evaluate the structure, the fire and what their actions will be. One New York City Deputy used to place his gloves in the sleeves of his coat, as he was getting dressed he hit the gloves and that would remind him to slow down. It isn’t how you do it that is important, what is important is that you take the time to slow down.

By slowing down and evaluating we will be better prepared to react to the incident you are faced with. In fact, instead of just reacting, you will actually be able to respond in a calculated fashion with definite goals and objectives.

For the record, this is not an excuse to spend all day in the front yard looking and thinking, but we need to build into our time-frame the time to think and evaluate. If we don’t then we are functioning in the same manner as the general public, with just a bit more knowledge. It is the application of the training we have, through the evaluation of the conditions found that will ultimately lead to the best outcome.

One firefighter used to say, “Why should I get excited, I didn’t set the fire.” There is some wisdom in that statement. If you can take the time to stay calm, be focused and slow the game down; you will be much more effective as a firefighter, fire officer and incident commander.

Colerain Township Report
Photo courtesy Bill Carey

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  • Great post Dave,

    Your absolutely right. Great points and great examples. I actually don’t put on my SCBA until I’m on scene for exactly the reasons you gave. That split second gives you not only time to look, but also time to think and time to take a deep breath (all critical to good decision making).

    To take that concept a step further… are we training at game speed? This is another sports concept where (after the learning phase) you practice at the same tempo and intensity as in a game. By training under realistic conditions and at real time speed, we desensitize our minds and bodies to operating at that pace, making everything else seem to “slow down”. This will result is better decisions and a better, more calm leadership presence.


  • Brian says:

    Great article! I have a standing order on my engine of: you don’t get on my rig without your gear on period! Even when we go to department drills everyone riding the engine has their gear on and brings their shoes with them. When we responding to a fire alarm the guys in the back all have full PPE on including SCBA and tools when they get off the engine. I’m a firm a believer in the showing up ready to work mentality. Being the officer I usually get out and size things up or get information from someone who has been scene longer and than pack up. Gives me a chance to slow down and see what needs to be done and helps with decision making.

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