You arrive on scene of working fire – there is heavy black smoke pushing from a second story window, flames are visible, and the radio is crazy with traffic – what do you do? I suggest that stop, look around, and count to 5. WHAT – are you kidding me? Stop, look around, and count to 5 – you’re nuts! I don’t have time for that!
Count to 5 – REALLY? I have things to do. The company officer is screaming at me to pull a line, grab a tool, catch the hydrant – and you want me to count to 5? Are you kidding me? Do you think I am in grade school? I don’t have time to count to 5! Oh, and in case you missed it, there is a building burning.
Now settle down, relax, and before you commit to thinking I am crazy, hear me out. Adrenaline is a powerful rush that our bodies create naturally. The tones go off; we immediately stop what we are doing and drive to the station, don our gear, and jump on the truck. The adrenaline is further fueled by the radio traffic, the lights, the siren, and thoughts of what we are about to face.
The problem with adrenaline is that it gives us short burst of energy at a high cost. The adrenaline rush we feel when the tones go off is really a release of epinephrine from the adrenal glands. It is part of the fight or flight reaction that occurs naturally when we are under stress.
The problem with this is that it takes a great deal of energy to produce this rush. You get a burst of energy, but the recovery time is long in comparison. This sudden rush of adrenaline contributes to what is often referred to as tunnel vision. While under this rush, you can forget what you see, smell, and hear.
Most people can count to 5 in less than five seconds. Remember in school when you were told to count – 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi – as opposed to simply counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Using the Mississippi takes more time.
The purpose of counting to 5 is to regain control of your breathing, sense of smell, vision, and what is going on around you. A great deal has been written about incident command and operations officers taking the time to absorb what is going on at the scene, but it is equally important for firefighters to do the same, after all, you are the ones running into the building.
The next time your en-route to a burner, take the time to count to 5 while you are on the truck and again when you get off the truck to help you regain control of your breathing and your senses. Taking the time to count to 5 will help you get a clearer picture of what is going on that just may save your life.