After action reporting and curbside manner —

A Dry Hydrant Crisis

CarolinaFireJournal - Shannon Pennington
Shannon Pennington
05/06/2014 -

Dr. Richard Gist from the Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department working with Section 13 and Vicki Taylor working as a clinical practitioner with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Life Safety Initiatives Section 13 have both produced, in consult with other fire service administrators, a “DRY HYDRANT” for the front line working firefighter regarding stress, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Acute Traumatic Stress (ATS) reactions. Traumatic wounds are those calls that require psychological modeling with interventions that work including the Critical Incident Stress Management/Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISM/CISD) models we have used over the years. CISM/CISD have been dropped and replaced by A.A.R. and Curbside Manner without scientific evidence they work.


Saying the unsayable with regard to After Action Reporting (A.A.R.) and Curbside Manner as positioned by the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation Section 13 Mental Health and Wellness of the Everyone Goes Home®16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives.— A personal view from firefighter veteran Shannon Pennington

After Action Reporting, as positioned by the Section 13 team of Gist/Taylor and others, is not what A.A.R. was designed for. Its origins are in command structures based on Armed Forces training and operational reviews. This is an in depth, time consuming process. In firefighter terms, it is supposed to involve the should have, could have, would have, and caters to management, not front lines in determining who “f....d” up and who will hang for it. From a “Logistics Point of View,” A.A.R. is time consuming, detailed, and extensive. Departments with large call volumes simply cannot afford to complete the numerous tasks required of A.A.R., nor can volunteer departments, since their time is limited to getting the job done and getting off duty.
Dropping CISM/CISD from the Section 13 one size fits all A.A.R. model and Curbside Manner will not and does not produce the required mental health intervention needed. CISM, with the added component of the “D,” will continue to serve the front line Rubber Boot Warriors with the immediate debriefing that has worked for so many years. The exclusion of CISM/CISD in the Gist/Taylor Model will result in a “Dry Hydrant” crisis.

Along with the A.A.R./Curbside Manner models comes a “Field Test” to check the firefighter for signs and symptoms of stress after a traumatic call. Firefighter veteran Pennington asks these questions: 

  • On whose order or authority will you, the front line Rubber Boot Warrior, be compelled to take such a psychological test?
  • Will it measure up to the standards set for testing psychological injuries as defined by the current literature in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Addition (DSM-5) of the American Psychological Association?
  • Who will administer this test to you?
  • Will they be qualified to read and interpret the results of your test? 

There is no compelling requirement to disclose anything about how you are feeling about a call. That is between you and your family doctor and nobody else in your department. All too often disclosure of a psychological injury causes harm to career and leads to dead end postings and screw-ups running the show, and you into the ground. If you want a career-ending test, the A.A.R./Curbside Manner model is it. N.A.F.F.V.N. give a thumbs down to the operators pushing the narrative through hoses that lead from the pump panel of bureaucratic bovine scat (thanks Norman).

Instead, read up on the following: Comprehensive Acute Trauma Stress Management and Acute Trauma Stress Management (CATSM/ATSM) from Dr. Mark Lerner of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. There is a workbook available, which is easy to follow and gives you the tools for your mental health toolbox for under $50. No bovine scat there. 

In comparison, the Gist/Taylor model of A.A.R./Curbside Manner looks like they took the CATSM/ATSM model and replaced the words A.A.R./Curbside Manner to do the same thing, re-inventing the wheel on work done already.

It can also be said that Gist has had a running wildland fire with Jeffrey Mitchell, PhD, who brought us CISM/CISD.  The observation on my part is that Mitchell became a paramedic and rode the trucks and has front line experience. A Gist/Taylor model gives us a Dry Hydrant. Gist has a history of writing papers that take the opposite point of view to the effectiveness of CISM/CISD modeled by Mitchell and the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF). Look that up at

The academic versus the actual real world construct gets down to “putting the wet stuff on the red stuff” to use Chief Alan Brunacini’s fire ground tactics. The wet of CISM/CISD is ours through the blood, sweat, and tears that has been forged in us. We have used it and it works. CATSM/ATSM works. If added to the CISM/CISD protocol, it becomes another reinforced, effective use of the programs already used and in place. 

We do not always use all the tools in the toolbox, but they are on the rigs. We will need to put a hose clamp on the line of information coming our way from the boys and girls in the rear with the gear. Those on the nozzle end will need to put a firm thumbs down on the back pressure being delivered and causing ineffective delivery of the wet stuff on the red stuff of traumatic stress and post traumatic stress.There are very large egos involved here, and the front lines of the American fire service are caught up in the backdraft. Large diameter thinking means we get connected to the information and change tactics, but keep CISM/CISD. Law enforcement is keeping it. EMS departments are keeping it. Most volunteer fire departments are keeping it.A final observation: We are flesh and blood, muscle and bone. Treating us like uneducated frontline responders who fight the stress fires on every call simply draws attention to the “Perps” who are arsonists trying to burn down the CISM/CISD building that has been standing and sheltering us over the many years it has been used effectively. 

It is a tool in the toolbox. A.A.R./Curbside Manner points us in the direction of being “fools in the fool box.” Those who want us to use Curbside Manner and A.A.R. are riding the horse backwards and expect us all to follow them. That is just not going to happen — my thoughts, my way.

Shannon Pennington is the Executive Director of the North American Firefighter Veteran Network. He is a retired, posttraumatic stress (PTS) survivor. He is certified in Stress Management through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, a member of the National Center for Crisis Management, and has the designation of Person With Lived Experience (P.W.L.E.) due to his PTS.
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