How to fight fires with critical command decision making

Written by Sonia Sharma-Karia Tuesday 13 February 2024
It can be easy to think of decision making under intense pressure as a matter of instinct. Here, Richard Stanton CMgr MCMI, assistant chief fire officer at West Midlands Fire Service, explains how making these key decisions is a skill that can be taught…
Firefighters successfully battling a fire

Big decisions are a manager’s bread and butter. But most don’t have to make them while facing total darkness, collapsing masonry and the risk of burns.

And for most managers, their decisions aren’t literally life-or-death.

They are for fire-fighters, as fire chief Sabrina Cohen-Hatton spells out in nail-biting detail in her book, The Heat of the Moment: A Firefighter’s Stories of Life and Death Decisions.

Cohen-Hatton describes a house fire near Cardiff, “a memory burned so vividly in my mind that when I recall it I can practically taste the soot”. She has the task of searching for any missing people inside. It’s hot and black with thick smoke. Crawling around on her knees, weighed down by breathing apparatus, her hands touch soft toys and a cot – and she realises she’s now hunting for a baby.

When she hears a throaty noise, she discovers an adult wedged between a bed and a wall. Under the ticking clock of rapidly depleting air, she and her partner, who’s busy fending off the flames, make the heart-wrenching decision to abandon the hunt for the child and carry the casualty down the stairs to the paramedics.

Here she learns that the sound she’d heard was snoring: the victim has taken methadone and slept through the fire. Cohen-Hatton decides to go back into the flames with a fresh air cylinder to find the child, but is told to stand down.

Want to learn more about critical command decision making and its role within the fire sector?


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