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The Kitchen Table Debrief – Talk Like A Firefighter

In this “Kitchen Table Debrief” I will talk about the way we communicate and the efforts to make what we say clear at a scene and on the radio.

How Do You Say “Get Out”?

When you need to move people out of a building, or you want your people (firefighters) to withdraw from a building because you have changed strategies, or because of urgent new information, what do you say? “Get out”?

Maybe I’m jumping into this too quickly. Let me start with a less dramatic example:

How Do You Say “Snow”?

It is rumored that Eskimos know 100 words for “snow.” Finding this to be interesting, I did some research into it. What I found was that they actually use about 12 different words to say ‘snow’. The words describe dry snow, wet snow, falling snow, drifting snow and so on. The number was inflated to a hundred by including compound words, like considering snowball and snowman different ways to say “snow”. Still, twelve ways to express the concept of snow is still impressive.

Now let’s look at the first example again:

Say What You Mean

How do I know that you know what I mean, until I see how you react to what I say after I say it? … What a complicated way of saying “Do you get it?”

Maybe you already know this, but for those of us who still trail behind, EVACUATE is not the only way to say, “Get out” of a building. But, the way it gets used and overused, you would think it is.

At least on my department, ‘evacuate’ is the only term we use. Getting some of our firefighters to adopt a new concept (like using a different word for different meanings), is like trying to get my dog to understand the difference between his chew toy and my old leather shoes.

Seriously, part of the problem is that we, humans, are kind of smart.

If we casually listen to two other people talk, they don’t always use the correct words to communicate. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t matter. Two people can be talking about a topic, then the speaker says something wrong, and the listener doesn’t correct him. If you ask them why, they will look at you like you are crazy and simply say, “I know what he meant!”

It is mind boggling, sometimes, because even though the wrong thing is said, the other person figures out what was meant, anyway. You hear the wrong word, and then you process it. You consider the context of the conversation and you determine what you THINK they meant. My wife and I do this all the time.

The problem with this capability is that we tend to be a little less careful about what we say, and we end up saying the wrong words. OK, they aren’t “wrong” but they are not as clear as they could be. The other side of the problem is that the listener has to take a moment to interpret what was meant.

Evacuate is one of these words.

When it comes to human beings inside a building, there are actually three scenarios that I can think of when we would want them to move outside the building.

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