In a recent article we relayed the story of a fire involving a large industrial plant where much of the facility was saved through excellent deployment of aerial master streams. Not long after the incident, I had an opportunity to visit the department, hoping to gain some insight that we could share with other fire departments that protect our customers. There was a different shift on duty and they seemed to have no knowledge of what happened or how the fire was fought. My immediate reaction was that it was such a waste for the department to have done such a good job and that not all of the members be aware of it. This was a medium-sized department, not so large that positive outcomes like this could not be shared throughout.

A formal After Action Review (AAR) is a military methodology (later adopted by businesses and the fire service) to improve operations by the sharing of what went well and what can be improved. These are commonly called critiques in the fire service. The term critique can have a negative connotation and appear to only focus on areas for improvement. In this case, it would be beneficial for everyone to hear what went well.

A possible reason an AAR is not held after a positive outcome is the belief that “we were just doing our job.” Actually, this may be the best time to conduct an AAR. No one is going to try to alter the facts and it serves as proof of what can be accomplished. It might even shatter a few beliefs; in this case, the notion that “when the pipes go up the building comes down” meaning that when aerial master streams are used, the building will be a total loss. Although some of the building was lost, the way these streams were deployed prevented a total loss.

After reviewing several AAR descriptions from business, the military and fire service publications, I have found that the most applicable to sharing best practices is the following description:

The AAR asks five simple questions1 :

1. What was our mission?

2. What went well?

3. What could have gone better?

4. What might we have done differently?

5. Who needs to know?

The focus of this article is items 1, 3 and 5. After life safety concerns are addressed, an important mission, even if unstated, is to hold the fire to the smallest possible area. This will in turn enable the facility to get back into operation more quickly. In this case, what went well was excellent deployment of aerial master streams to accomplish the mission. What does not seem to have happened is item five (Who needs to know?). The answer is all fire suppression personnel, at all stations and on all shifts. The outcome should also be shared with mutual aid departments that may have responded. There are a number of ways to get the information to those who need to know. This could include newsletters, revised standard operational procedures, close circuit TV broadcasts or social media. Preplans can be updated to show apparatus position to protect defensible positions (as discussed in previous articles). Stream reach and water supplies to produce good streams should also be included. Regardless of the method, it is important to establish a culture where lessons learned (both good and bad) are readily shared so the unit is in a state of continuous improvement.

Each department can find a method or combination of methods that works best for them. The key is to make sure everyone involved in fire suppression learns from what went right. Better yet, this information could be shared nationwide via professional journals, conference presentations or social media.

Another term that has received a lot of business press lately is Knowledge Management. When AAR feed pre-emergency plans and are shared with the suppression staff, they become easy-toimplement forms of the practice of Knowledge Management.

Large industrial fires are relatively rare in any one jurisdiction. By using the AAR method to share positive lessons, all departments can improve.

1 Bill Carey, Published Thursday, June 13, 2013 | From the July 2013 Issue of Fire Rescue John Frank is Senior Vice President of the XL Catlin’s Property Risk Engineering Loss Prevention Center of Excellence, where he is involved in loss prevention research and loss prevention training. XL Catlin’s Property Risk Engineering team provides property loss prevention consulting and delivers individually tailored solutions to protect and enhance property, production, and profit. With approximately 220 engineers and consultants in 18 countries, the team brings clients occupancy specific experience as well as deep knowledge of specific hazards across industries. The XL Catlin insurance companies offer property, casualty, professional, financial lines and specialty insurance products globally. Businesses that are moving the world forward choose XL Catlin as their partner. To learn more, visit