Blue Card/Tablet Command & Temporal Awareness/Distortion

When I look back on my travels and readings from 2014, I logged a tremendous amount of exposure to several different emergency incident command gurus and methodologies. One of the methodologies that I have become a student of, literally, is Blue Card Command. I’m currently enrolled in the online portion of the command course with the classroom portion soon to follow.

As I make my way through the course, I’m routinely struck by how much the Blue Card content resonates with me as we continue to develop Tablet Command. Will Pigeon (my co-founder at Tablet Command) and I have a combined 30 plus years of experience and over that time we’ve undoubtedly been exposed explicitly and implicitly to Alan Brunacini’s “Fire Command” principles. Perhaps, whether consciously or unconsciously, this factored in to how we designed several features of Tablet Command.

One really simple feature we built in to our software is the running time clock and embedded PAR timer in the top right corner. What’s fascinating is what the Bruncacini’s write in their online curriculum regarding the moment when the call comes in and a concept we’re calling Temporal Awareness:

“[A] piece of elapsed time that we don’t discuss much is the time between initial ignition and our arrival. We rarely know the exact length of time the fire has been burning prior to our arrival, but we can come pretty close to estimating with a good size-up of the conditions when we arrive on scene.”

One way that Tablet Command is bringing more clarity to this Temporal Awareness is with the Incident Time Clock. For enterprise customers whose version is CAD-integrated, this clock starts at the first keystroke of the dispatcher while they’re taking the 911 call. That means that if the dispatcher is taking a call from a citizen reporting a working structure fire, Tablet Command users can at the very least, see a time clock from the time of report.

The Blue Card Command content goes on to speak about elapsed time during the incident and the Incident Commander’s need to mentally calibrate or factor in call time plus dispatch time and elapsed time.

“The 20-minute rule the fire service has used for decades (if the fire has been burning uncontrolled for 20-minutes, abandon the structure) must include burn time prior to when we get there. As a note of interest (and survival), for many structures, the 20-minute rule is quite generous. That time is growing shorter as lightweight structural materials keep getting lighter.”

While it’s always important to be mentally engaged and visually in tune with fire conditions and signals of deteriorating conditions, having a passive time clock to remind the user of elapsed time may cue the IC to take safe action sooner in the incident. This is especially true when that time clock is literally built-in to the Incident Commander’s tactical worksheet.

The Blue Card Command curriculum wisely comments on temporal distortion:

“Time can do funny things at the incident scene. Sometimes hours seem like minutes. Other times, minutes seem like hours. One constant for structure fires is that the building will last a very short period of time when exposed to flame. Another unforgiving time constraint is the length of time an SCBA will supply air to its wearer.”

Those of us who’ve been on the job have experienced this temporal distortion in one way or another; this distortion has occurred while either in the function of command or on a task level assignment. It rings very true for the members of the fire departments of Phoenix, Seattle, Denver and beyond that have suffered line of duty deaths based on finite conditions.

Tablet Command has successfully addressed this issue with CAD integrated incident timers, PAR timers, and individual company timers. They interact with the user in the same way that our gear does: passive, yet present and pertinent at critical junctures.

Feedback from the TC users in the field has been very positive, especially around time management. Now the challenge will be to deploy markers within the software where temporal awareness was a real part of the story during an incident where firefighters’ lives were spared when they otherwise might have been in jeopardy without access to real-time awareness.

Technologies like Tablet Command have elevated margins of safety through better accountability and a cleaner flow of significantly more accurate information. That said, nothing replaces good sound command decision making and methodology. Programs like Blue Card insist on sets and reps in simulators and classroom. Combining this with time on the job enables the incident commanders of today to utilize technology as a tool rather than lean on it like a crutch. To borrow from Chief Alan Brunacini: “that is righteous”.


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