FireRescue Magazine: Fight or Flight: The Enemy of Critical Thinking

Surviving means reacting, not thinking

By Jesse Birkey

Florida nights never seem to have enough strength to break the grip of humidity. My crew stumbled into its arms as the blast of emergency tones signaled a structure fire in our area.

An acting officer, still months away from official promotion, I had a gut feeling that this 3 a.m. response was going to be the real thing and my first opportunity to take command of a working structure fire. The glare of my mobile data terminal blurred the map as directives flipped through my mind, shoving out sleepy cobwebs.

We raced toward the scene but slowly, like a spider stalking prey, fear crept through my stomach, clawing toward my mind. Voices exploded, demanding audience: You’re not ready. You have no idea what you’re doing. You can’t do this. You don’t belong here. You should run away now! Every sneering accusation held me, paralyzed me.

The happy ending to this story is that I was able to gain control of myself and everything went well. But it doesn’t always end up that way. A quick Google search will produce articles and stories detailing incidents in which tragedy occurred because those on scene weren’t able to make reasonable decisions. Perhaps the most common term is tunnel vision. But that’s only part of the story.

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