Fort McCoy News January 10, 2014

Fire Department hosts nationally recognized experts

Public Affairs Staff

Local, state and federal fire department employees came to Fort McCoy in mid-December to learn about some of the latest techniques to fight fires from three nationally known speakers.

Photo 1 for seminar article
Dave Dodson, one of the nationally known speakers at a Fort McCoy
fire seminar, speaks to attendees during a symposium about the
characteristics of fires and how firefighters can analyze those
characteristics to better predict future characteristics of a
particular fire.
Photo by Adam Ballard

More than 200 personnel from 49 agencies attended one or more of the presentations, said Adam Ballard, deputy chief of the Fort McCoy Fire Department.

Each of the three speakers presented a day-long symposium. Dr. Richard B. Gasaway spoke about the topic "Mental Management of Emergencies: Improving situational awareness and decision making under stress." Dave Dodson spoke about "The Art of Reading Smoke." Eddie Buchanan spoke about "Structural Tactics with Limited Staffing."

Ballard said the fire department arranged to have the speakers come to Fort McCoy to train installation fire department personnel, and opened the training to help support other local, state and federal fire and emergency services organizations.

"This specialized training is not readily available to other fire departments," Ballard said. "We had fire department personnel come from as far as four and five hours away — ranging from the far Northern part of the state to the Southeastern part, such as Waukesha and Madison."

Gasaway served 30 years in fire departments in positions ranging from firefighter and paramedic to fire chief. After completing his career, he began an academic career as a professional speaker and author, and in the meantime earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees.

His best-selling books "Situational Awareness Matters Volumes 1 & 2" and "Fireground Command Decision Making" serve as essential guides to help first responders develop and maintain situational awareness while making high-stress, high-consequence decisions, Ballard said.

"This helped attendees understand the mental management part of fighting fires," Ballard said. "Sometimes, actions taken or decisions made under stress aren't correct. The training helped them understand what happens to the brain under stress, which will help them better prepare mentally and see things from a different perspective."

Photo 2 for fire seminar article
Attendees at a Fort McCoy Fire Department symposium listen to a
presentation from Dr. Richard B. Gasaway addressing improving
situational awareness and decision making under stress.

Photo by Adam Ballard

Dodson talked about the characteristics of smoke from fires, such as velocity, color and density that can help firefighters better predict future events of the fire and actually narrow down a location of the fire, even if they can't see the fire, Ballard said. Dodson served 24 years as a fire and emergency services responder and held various safety and emergency management positions.

Buchanan spoke about structural tactics for fire departments that have limited staffing. He has served more than 30 years and currently is a division chief with the Hanover Fire and Emergency Medical Services in Richmond, Va.

The department has more than 160 career personnel and 500 volunteers, so he addressed staffing challenges from both realms.

This is an issue that almost all fire departments face or are familiar with today, Ballard said.

"All three speakers taught things about firefighting techniques that the firefighters don't learn during their traditional fire school training," Ballard said. "They showed the firefighters how to 'think out of the box,' using their common experiences and science. If anything they learned helps (firefighters) save just one life it was worth it."

Ballard said installation organizations, such as McCoy's and the contracted hotel operations, helped support the personnel on post. The 86th Training Division provided the use of its auditorium to hold the presentations.

Offering the training to local communities also helped the installation fire department support its mutual-aid agreements and the

Army Community Covenant by supporting its partner agencies in the surrounding communities, he said.

The training also brought outside personnel to Fort McCoy where they could learn more about federal government service and the installation, Ballard said.