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CDM . . . Critical Decision Making Bill Peterson Fire Chief Plano, Texas Fire - Rescue. CDM References. An adaptation of human factors issues from the following aviation sources: AC 60-22 Aeronautical Decision Making (from www.faa gov/avr/afs)

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CDM . . .

Critical Decision Making

Bill Peterson

Fire Chief

Plano, Texas Fire - Rescue

Cdm references
CDM References

An adaptation of human factors issues from the following aviation sources:

  • AC 60-22 Aeronautical Decision Making

    (from www.faa gov/avr/afs)

  • ADA 182549 Aeronautical Decision Making for Student and Private Pilots (from National Technical Information Service Library, 1-800-759-4684)


Critical Decision Making

CDM is a systematic approach to the mental process used by fire fighters to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances.

Critical decision making
Critical Decision Making

  • Essential To Incident Scene Safety

  • Special Emphasis Item

  • Careful Evaluation Throughout

  • Practical Test

Good judgment
Good Judgment

  • Once believed to be gained only as a natural by-product of experience.

  • Good judgment can be taught.

  • Is harder to acquire if previous bad decisions did not result in failure.



Builds upon the foundation of conventional decision making . . .




















Conventional Decision Making Process

Steps for good decision making
Steps For Good Decision Making

  • Identifying personal attitudes hazardous to safe incident scene operations.

  • Learning behavior modification techniques.

  • Learning how to recognize and cope with stress.

  • Developing risk assessment skills.

  • Using all resources in a multi-crew situation.

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of one’s CDM skills.

Critical decision making process



















Crew (if present)








Critical Decision Making Process

Operational pitfalls

Operational Pitfalls

All experienced fire fighters have fallen prey to, or have been tempted by, one or more of these dangerous patterns of tendencies or behavior in their fire service careers.

Peer pressure

Peer Pressure

Poor decision making based upon emotional response to peers rather than evaluating a situation objectively.

Mind set

Mind Set

The inability to recognize and cope with changes in the situation different from those anticipated or planned.

Get in there itis


Clouds the vision and impairs judgment by causing a fixation on the original goal of aggressive interior attack - combined with a total disregard for any alternative course of action.

Just one more minute syndrome

“Just One More Minute” Syndrome

Tendency to continue an interior attack after the low air warning sounds on the SCBA.

Based on a belief that there is a built in “fudge” factor.

An unwillingness to admit defeat and exit the structure before extinguishing the fire.

Often occurs when IC calls for evacuation of interior crews.

Getting behind the operation

Getting Behind the Operation

Pushing the fire fighter and crew capabilities to the limit by trying to maintain interior operations under rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Deteriorating interior conditions

Deteriorating Interior Conditions

Often leads to spatial disorientation and eventually loss of direction and situational awareness.

Even more dangerous when operating alone or without a hose line or safety line.

Getting behind the incident

Getting Behind the Incident

Allowing events or the situation to control your actions rather than the other way around.

Loss of situational awareness

Loss of Situational Awareness

not knowing where you are,

an inability to recognize deteriorating circumstances, and

the misjudgment of the rate of deterioration.

Another case of getting behind the incident which results in . . .

Operating w o adequate air reserves

Operating W/O Adequate Air Reserves

Ignoring minimum air reserve requirements is generally the result of overconfidence, lack of incident action planning, or ignoring Standard Operating Procedures.

Operating outside the envelope

Operating Outside the Envelope

Unjustified reliance on the (usually mistaken) belief that the crew’s performance capability meets the demands imposed by the most experienced (usually overestimated) member’s skills.



The “Oops” Factors”. . .

  • Neglect of Incident Action Planning, pre-plan documentation, or standard operating procedures

  • Unjustified reliance on the fire fighter’s short and long term memory, regular suppression skills, repetitive and familiar incidents, etc.

Hazardous attitudes
Hazardous Attitudes

  • Anti-authority (don’t tell me!).

  • Impulsivity (do something quickly!).

  • Invulnerability (it won’t happen to me).

  • Macho (I can do it).

  • Complacency ( just another routine response).

Stress and firefighting1

Stress And Firefighting

Stress is a term used to describe the body’s nonspecific response to demands placed on it, whether those demands are pleasant or unpleasant in nature.

How much stress is in your life

How Much Stress Is In Your Life?

Major and minor stressors have a cumulative effect which constitutes your total stress-adaptation capability which can vary from year to year.

Is stress bad

Is Stress Bad?

Stress is an inevitable and necessary part of life that adds motivation to life and heightens a fire fighter’s response to meet any challenge.

Handling stress in fire fighting

Handling Stress In Fire Fighting

Accidents often occur when fire fighting task requirements exceed an individual (least qualified or experienced) crew member’s capabilities.

The margin of safety

Firefighter Capabilities

Margin of Safety


Task Requirements

Low Air Alarm


Initial Attack



At Scene


The Margin Of Safety . . .

Handling stress in fire fighting1
Handling Stress In Fire Fighting

  • Stress is insidious

  • Stress is cumulative

Signs of inadequate coping
Signs Of Inadequate Coping

  • Emotional

  • Physical

  • Behavioral

Life stress management
Life Stress Management

  • Become knowledgeable about stress.

  • Take a realistic assessment of yourself.

  • Take a systematic approach to problem solving.

  • Develop a lifestyle that will buffer against the affects of stress.

  • Practice behavioral management techniques.

  • Establish and maintain a strong support network.

Fireground stress management
Fireground Stress Management

  • Avoid situations that distract you from controlling the operation.

  • Reduce your workload to reduce stress levels.

  • If an emergency does occur, be calm!

  • Maintain proficiency of your knowledge/skills.

  • Know and respect your own personal limits.

  • Do not let little mistakes build into a big thing.

  • Don’t let fire fighting add to your stress.

Personal go no go checklist
Personal “Go/No-Go” Checklist

  • Do I feel well?

  • Have I taken any medication in the last 12 hours?

  • Have I had as little as one ounce of alcohol in the last 12 hours?

  • Am I tired?

  • Am I under undue stress?

  • Have I eaten a sensible meal?

  • Am I dehydrated?

  • Do I have proper personal protective equipment?

Risk management


Risk management is the responsibility of everyone involved in fire fighting.

The decide model
The Decide Model

Detect that change has occurred.

Estimate the need to react to the change.

Choose a desirable outcome for operation.

Identify actions which control the change.

Do take the necessary action.

Evaluate effect of action on the change.

Identifying the enemy

Identifying The Enemy

Most preventable accidents have one common factor - humanerror, rather than an equipment malfunction.

Fire fighting is rapidly changing
Fire Fighting Is Rapidly Changing

  • CDM is designed to reduce the extremely long and sometimes painful process of learning how to make good judgment decisions based on experience alone.

  • Mistakes in judgment can be fatal.

Personal checklist
Personal Checklist

  • Fire Fighting while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a never.

  • Fire Fighting with a known cardiac medical deficiency is never expedient.

  • Fire Fighting outside Standard Operating Procedures is never safe.

  • Fire Fighting with less than the required minimum air supply is never reasonable.

Personal checklist cont
Personal Checklist, Cont.

  • Interior Attack under deteriorating conditions is never justified.

  • Free Lancing is never justified.

  • Casual neglect of any applicable standard operating procedure is never justified.

  • Fatality accident statistics show that fire fighters should be conducting continuous evaluation on themselves as well as on the incident.

The i m safe checklist
The “I’m safe” Checklist

  • Illness. Any Symptoms?

  • Medication. Prescription or OTC drugs?

  • Stress. Psychological, money, health, family?

  • Alcohol. Within 8 hours? Within 24 hours?

  • Fatigue. Adequately rested?

  • Eating. Proper foods for nourishment?

How to be a safe fire fighter

How To Be A Safe Fire Fighter

A fire fighter does not have to be a genius to be a safe fire fighter.

How to be a safe fire fighter1
How To Be A Safe Fire Fighter

  • A fire fighter should be an emotionally stable person.

  • An experienced, mature fire fighter will accept and follow the rules and procedures which will benefit the whole community.

  • Some fire fighters break rules simply for the gratification of some emotional need.

How to be a safe fire fighter2
How To Be A Safe Fire Fighter

  • Existing rules would go a long way to remedy the accident rate.

  • Exhibiting one or more of the five hazardous attitudes or irrational behavior also exposes emotional weaknesses in personality.

Developing good decision making skills

Developing Good Decision Making Skills

The development of good decision making skills is far more difficult than developing good fire fighting skills . . .

. . . but it CAN be done!

Developing good decision making skills1
Developing Good Decision Making Skills

  • Many fire fighters fail to make proper decisions when they really want to do something.

  • Not following safety-oriented information is similar to not following the advice of a doctor or lawyer.

  • The most important decision a fire fighter will make is to learn and adhere to published rules, procedures, and recommendations.

  • Fire Fighting has reached a new plateau.

In summary
In summary . . .

  • CDM is critical to survival

  • Be aware of operational pitfalls

  • Be aware of hazardous attitudes

  • Understand impact of stress on firefighting

  • Embrace risk management

  • Follow the Personal Survival Checklist


Something to think about . . .

How are critical decisions being made on your fire scene?