Your Eyes Are Useless When the Mind is Blind, Part II


Second in a series by Captain Dave LeBlanc



Editor’s Note: Dave’s first article in this three-part series looks at lessons for the fire service from the popular book “On Combat”. You can read Part I here.

From White to Black – The Person to the Puppy

As the diagram shows, as our heart rate increase from stress, some of our abilities decrease. The higher our heart rate goes, we lose our fine motor skill, complex motor skills, our hearing is altered, our vision is altered, and cognitive processing.

“The ‘Triune Brain Model’ was developed by Dr. Paul MacLean, chief of the Laboratory of Brain Evolution and Behavior at The National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He suggests that we think of the human brain as consisting of three parts – the forebrain, the part that makes you a human being; the midbrain or mammalian brain, the part that all mammals have in common; and the hindbrain, or brain stem.” (On Combat; P43)

The forebrain is where basic thought processes occur, the midbrain performs extensive reflexive processes, and the hind brain controls heart rate and respiration. As our heart rates increases toward ‘Condition Black’, our forebrain shuts down. And the Midbrain (or puppy) takes over. (On Combat; P44)

When we consider training, all basic concepts enter our minds through the forebrain, this is where we learn. Once we have learned the basic concept, we practice and perfect the skills through repetition. This begins to ingrain the skill into our muscle memory. The more we repeat the task, the more proficient we become the more the task becomes second nature. But to really ingrain the thought into our midbrains, to create a level of mastery where the skill can be executed without conscious thought, the repetitive training must also become realistic. Realism will add a level of stress and train us to perform the skills without consciously thinking under difficult circumstances. So when we are called to an incident, we can function quickly and effectively under stressful and difficult circumstances.
Consider driving your car. You do it daily. You were ‘trained’ as a teenager and have house thousands of hours behind the wheel. While you drive, you sing along with the radio, eat your lunch, drink coffee, talk on the phone; and still control a several thousand pound missile with ease. However, today, while driving and eating your sandwich and talking on the phone, a car pulls out in front of you. It is winter and the roads are icy, you apply your brakes, start to skid and correct for it. You avoid the accident, and don’t even drop your sandwich. After the fact you remark that you never even thought about what to do, you reacted. Your experience told you to brake slowly, because your size up told you it was icy.

Our forebrain, where thinking occurs will shut down and our mid brain, the puppy that is trained through the forebrain takes over. If we haven’t trained that puppy well, the results are disastrous.


MAYDAY – much ado gets made about acronyms, which one to use, that they are too hard to remember, that they are unrealistic for use in an emergent situation. Acronyms should be used to train you as to what you are going to say. It is unrealistic to expect a firefighter in trouble to think clearly enough to go through the mental process of saying “I am in trouble; I need to call a MAYDAY. I will now use the LUNAR acronym to broadcast my message.” I would argue that that is not the purpose of the acronym. Whatever method or way you choose, what is important is that you practice it. Repeat it again, and then practice it under stress. Practice makes perfect, and the acronym provides the script during training needed to organize your message.

As your heart rate increases through 145bpm, your fine motor skills deteriorate. Speech is a fine motor skill.
So you need to be able to calm yourself down enough to speak, and then you need to know what you are going to say. Whichever acronym you have chosen to train with will now kick in, forcing your brain to fill in the blanks with the necessary information. Not because you are recalling each individual letter, but because you have trained yourself to call out the necessary information using the acronym.

Front Seat Truths:

You must flow enough GPM to overcome the BTUs – Flow Water For The Win

You aren’t a soldier, your enemy isn’t alive and fire never has a bad day – Train Like Your Life Depends On It

Fire doesn’t need a plan; you do. – Failing To Plan, Is Planning To Fail

Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t happen – Expect The Worst

Less fires make it harder to prepare and remain vigilant – Complacency Kills

The time to consider what you will do is not 2am on the front lawn – Mental Preparedness Is Crucial

Hesitancy is just as dangerous as recklessness – Be Confident In Your Abilities



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LeBlancProfilePhotoDave LeBlanc is a Captain with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department. Dave entered the Fire Service in 1986 as a Call Firefighter with the Dennis Fire Department. He worked full time during the summers in Dennis, while attending the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. While at the University of New Haven, Dave studied Arson Investigation. He also was a volunteer with the Allingtown and West Haven Fire Districts in West Haven. He spent his sophomore year as a Live In student with the Allingtown Fire District. His education included internships with the Aetna Insurance Company and the Boston Fire Department Arson Squad.

In 1993 Dave went to work full-time with the Harwich Fire Department as a dispatcher. In 2000 he transferred into suppression and was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008. In addition to his regular duties, Dave also manages the Department’s Radio system, is responsible for conducting Fire Investigations, and assists in maintaining the computers systems.

Dave’s blog tends to focus on current day issues and maintaining a commitment to the ideals and principals that created the fire service, while keeping today’s firefighters safe.

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