Developing Tactical Decision Games
BY BRIAN WARD
THE GAMBLER’S FALLACY IS BELIEVING that luck will eventually come or that just this once you can beat the
odds. To illustrate this concept in my officer
development classes, I randomly select
a student and ask him to pick a number.
Then, I hand him one of the dice and tell
him to roll the number. Do you know people
in your department that use this very same
method on the incident scene? Regardless
of whether it is because of a lack of training
or a lack of experience, the outcome can
be the same if you are not lucky. The key
here is to understand how to bridge this
gap through building experience on the
incident scene and effective training. Tactical decision games (TDGs) are one proven
method for doing this.
Dr. Gary Klein devised TDGs after
conducting research for the military on
how to provide realistic training without
losing lives (using real bullets) or taxing
resources (spending too much money). He
spent time with multiple fire departments
because of the similarities between the
battlefield and the fireground. The fireground also provided a high enough frequency of events where he could review
the decisions made and then interview
the incident commander (IC) afterward
to determine how the IC developed his
actions. After years of studying these
decisions, good and bad, in the field,
Klein developed a framework for training
soldiers in low-hazard environments that
would also yield highly effective training
retention. The term “recognition primed
decision making” (RPDM) was born out
of this same research and was a driving
factor behind the TDGs.
Klein developed the following model
for the RPDM process:
• Diagnose the situation (size-up).
• Is the situation typical? (What is the
• Recognize cues, clues, and
• Evaluate your actions mentally; will
your action do what it is supposed to?
• Make a decision.
• Implement a course of action.
• Evaluate your actions.
When developing training, there are
two considerations from a fidelity standpoint, and each has a place in TDGs. The
accuracy of the details in the training
allows the student to feel as if the training is a real incident. Physical fidelity is
constructing a prop or simulation to the
exact replica of the actual environment.
Consider the environment of conducting a live fire drill or a pilot in a highly
realistic cockpit simulator. Psychological
Fidelity is constructing a drill that uses
brainpower more than muscle power;
however, both can be integrated to work
within the same TDGs. Here, you will
see mental stressors, such as time limits,
included in the training.
It is also very important to consider how
our brains function as a novice and as an
expert. Generally, novices usually work
off the Law of Association, in which they associate items that relate to each other. The
novice generally uses checklists for guidance. The expert uses cues and clues to
determine the correct strategy or tactic. The
expert may have the same checklist as the
novice, but he uses it only as a reference and
does not rely on it. The major difference is
that the expert has much more experience
so that if a situation turns into something
different from what is on the checklist, the
expert understands or has a “gut instinct”
about which decision to make next. The
novice may stumble at this point; however,
there is hope for building everyone’s experiences while waiting for the next call.
In my officer development classes, I
break the TDGs into five formats. Below
is a brief description of these formats and
how you can apply them in the station
and at the fire academy. In the training
session, we walk through a matrix that
helps you to decide on which topic to
train, how to determine the audience,
and how to address the critical factors
involved. This process helps the facilitator to provide a focused training path.
In some of these formats, time is
introduced as a stress factor. Other stress
factors include using a turnout coat and a
helmet, wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, and using a radio. As the
facilitator, develop a script, questions,
and benchmarks. Stay one step ahead
of the students, and consider all of the
possible avenues the students could take
to mitigate the incident. Have a response
for the students’ approaches.
Magazine Hot Seat
Use an incident depicted on a magazine cover or inside. Study it to see what
the topic is and what the scenario is
telling you—for example, about building
construction, fire behavior, flow paths,
tactics, and reading smoke. Sitting at the
kitchen table, tell everyone what you are
about to do so they are prepared.
Choose a student, and unveil the cover or
page. Allow two to 10 seconds (depending
on the person’s knowledge level; never try
to embarrass anyone) for review, and then
start rapidly firing your questions. As the
firefighter answers one question, ask the
next one without hesitating. Prepare your
questions prior to the training session. Have
four or five magazines available so that each
crew member can be actively involved with
a different situation. This method has only
a nominal subscription cost involved. Ask
your department to purchase the magazine.
It is an easy lesson to develop.
The One-Page Lesson
This lesson involves one page with
an incident photo and a few questions.
This type of training will
provide slide trays and
experiences from which
the firefighter and officer