Automatization or Automation

Our current policy, procedure, and training practices turning us into robots? Is this practice in turn leading to a normalization of deviance, a normalization of risk, or simply the inability to think without a tactical worksheet?

We preach ideas like “Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong” and assign everything an acronym. Every EMS scenario I have been a part of in the last 18 years starts with the words “BSI, Scene Safe.” We all know, if it’s an option, the correct multiple guess answer is the one with the word Safety in it. We’ve become robots, we’ve learned to play the game. We no longer think, we simply regurgitate rote memorization of facts.

I’ve been observing some RIC training over the last few weeks and witnessed this first hand. LUNAR one of the acronyms commonly used to remember what to communicate when transmitting a MAYDAY is failing us! It’s not failing us because of a

Sick shirts and Swag.

lack of knowledge or practice; it’s failing us because of a lack of CONTEXT. We commonly practice calling a MAYDAY and relaying all the LUNAR information every time. We are also programming our Incident Commanders to react the same way, if they don’t hit every letter in the acronym, they hold up progress on the rescue effort to ascertain that piece of potentially useless

information. So for reference, here’s a refresher on LUNAR:


Unit / Assignment




Location: a clear/concise idea of where you are or where you were operating prior to a specific event. Simply saying I don’t know is also an option.

Unit / Assignment: If you’ve transmitted a MAYDAY there is a chance others in your functional group may also be in trouble, and may not be able to transmit a MAYDAY. Also, statistically speaking, once identified there is a chance someone from your own crew or a crew nearby could rescue you. Examining the work of Don Abbott on “The Mayday Project,” 89% of MAYDAYs were answered through self-rescue, the MAYDAY crew, or another working crew…. Only 11% were answered by the RIC/RIT!


Name: While psychologists have identified a person’s name as one of the most important things to any given person, in a MAYDAY situation, more often than not it’s not really necessary.

Air: Ok, I know. IT’S NOT ENOUGH!! Unless you have a problem with your air or your SCBA your best chance of survival is exiting of the IDLH so let’s not delay that. If you are rescued by the RIC/RIT they have air. If you’re rescued by another crew they may or may not have air. Either way, the plan is to get you out of the IDLH… seconds matter.

Resources: Again, 89% of MAYDAYs were answered by someone other than the RIC / RIT. That being said, RIC / RIT should NOT be one of the resources you request! It’s not just because of the statistics that I say this. Once you announce your MAYDAY, everyone’s stress response kicks in. If the RIC / RIT hears their name (it’s also important to them) they are likely to self-activate. The Incident Commander needs to be able to manage the scene and deploy resources as needed.

There’s more to it…

We are not doing a good job at getting our firefighters into the proper mindset. We do little to prepare them to remain in control and breathe through stress to help with their cognitive decision-making processes. I’ll save my rant on stress inoculation for another time. We give them few tools to know when it’s ok to call a MAYDAY. Simply put, if you need help and call out and no one answers, it was probably time to call a MAYDAY 5 minutes ago. We also don’t train them in the idea that if they can’t say MAYDAY, they can just ask for help. “Command, Engine 19 nozzle”, “Command”, “Be advised, I am disoriented on the first floor near the rear of the structure, I may need help”. I didn’t call a MAYDAY, but I’m sure help is on the way or at the very least sizing up and relocating to the rear of the structure.

While on the topic of cognitive decision making, let’s talk safety. I recently found a video titled “Safety 3rd” by Mike Rowe. The message resonated with me, safety should be a conscious decision and is a personal responsibility. We always tout “Safety 1st,” but there are a few problems with this idea. First, we have to make informed decisions about safety. If its first on the list how do we make those informed decisions, if we have not yet formed our strategic objectives? The real safety considerations come into play when we start deciding tactics. The idea of safety first also leads to a false sense of security and a normalization of risk. We have a designated safety officer, we have SOPs, 2in/2out, RIC, etc. etc. etc. Going back to the MAYDAY Project, 46% of those calling a MAYDAY had between 6-15 years on the job. In my opinion, just enough knowledge and experience to get in real trouble but not enough time to swallow your pride and recognize a problem before it’s too late. If you’re interested in checking out the video, you can see it here:

One final thought about how we’re converting firemen into robots…

Principles of Modern Fire Attack or SLICERS. It’s a tool for the toolbox, it’s not designed to change the fire service but to give us more information to make informed decisions. There is no requirement to follow it to the letter. If its not appropriate, its not appropriate. We still have a job to do. Believe it or not, fires burn differently than they did even 15 years ago and we need to recognize that otherwise, all the progress we’ve made in reducing line of duty deaths will be for naught. Being in a new job, I’ll do a little sucking up here… my new boss says “If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics SUCK”.

About Jon Misewicz 13 Articles
A 17-year student of the fire service, Jon most recently served 8 years with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department as a Firefighter / Paramedic and Instructor. He is completing a Master's Degree in Education. His passion is training that translates knowledge to real world applications.