USFA Release After-Action Critiques Technical Report

Aug. 2, 2008
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) released Technical Report (TR)-159, "The After Action Critique: Training Through Lessons Learned."

This report is designed to assist all fire service members in gathering critical preparedness, response and recovery information from all emergencies; documenting the lessons learned; and assisting with the continuous evolution of firefighter training.

“The fire service is always seeking ways to improve its operations. At training classes and seminars, fire service members seek out insight into tactics and discuss new technologies for their applicability to other jurisdictions,” said U.S. Fire Administrator Greg Cade. “Lessons are also learned from each response to an emergency incident. Unless feedback on incident response and command is shared with other personnel in the fire service, a valuable learning opportunity can be lost.”

The USFA develops reports on selected major fires throughout the country. Under this special project, the USFA also develops special reports addressing a variety of issues that affect the fire service such as homeland security and disaster preparedness, new technologies, training, fire-ground tactics, and firefighter health and safety. This body of work provides detailed information on the nature of the fire problem and the many types of service provided by fire departments. The information informs policymakers, who must decide on allocations of resources between fire and other pressing problems, and personnel within the fire service, to improve codes and code enforcement, training, public fire education, building technology, and other related areas.

“These reports provide detailed information for policymakers for individuals within the fire service who can use the information to improve codes and code enforcement, training, public fire education, building technology, and other areas of fire service responsibility,” continued Cade.

The Need for Critiques

The number of fires in the United States that are responded to by the fire service continues to decline, even as the population increases. While that is a positive trend, fewer fires lead to less actual firefighting experience for firefighters, and sometimes reduction in the number of uniformed personnel in the fire departments. This particular technical report examines the importance of critiques to help aid fire service personal combat fires.

According to the report, “The critique can be a powerful tool for effecting change. A noted fire service expert1 observed that, ‘The post incident critique allows emergency responders to get a clear idea of the effects of their actions on the outcome of the operation. By comparing the expected outcome to the actual consequences, the fire department can make personal as well as organizational adjustments. And by assessing what worked, and what did not, improvements can be made.’”

A critique is a fact-finding exercise and a chance to relate and record pieces of information that collectively form a picture of the event and how personnel responded from both a command (tactical) and line (operational) standpoint. It is a tool to assess firefighting, rescue and training effectiveness, and should include tactical plans and command decisions accompanied by how well they were followed.

“Lessons learned from the experience should be used constructively to correct deficiencies and influence training and education,” the report notes. “Changes made to the department’s plans and procedures typically occur per the outcome of incident critiques. Management must be willing to act upon the lessons learned and correct the problems as quickly as possible; otherwise, subordinate personnel will think the critique process is a waste of time, and future critiques could suffer accordingly.”

For additional information regarding this report, or other USFA Technical Reports, visit

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