Shoot, Move, Communicate, Survive. HAZMAT Leadership; Part III

Shoot, Move, Communicate, Survive: HazMat Leadership - PART III

(Catch up on Part I Here, and Part II Here)

In the series, Shoot, Move, Communicate, Survive, we have gone over shooting and moving as it pertains to HazMat operations. You can view the previous installments here . Continuing with our series is communication. Regardless of setting, communications will always be our greatest challenge. We should not communicate to be heard. We should communicate to be understood.

Shooting is hard. Moving is harder. Communicating is hardest.

Communication Cycle

As the name implies, communication is a cyclical process. Using the Shannon-Weaver communication model, we see a great visual of this process below.

fowler hazmat

The sender, having an expressive function, begins the process verbally, non-verbally (body language) or in written form. Through this expression, the information is sent to the recipient by way of the message. The message must be carried through some form of medium also called a channel (voice, letter, text, email, etc.).

How the message is communicated and how it’s understood are to very different things. This is where encoding and decoding come into play. Because messages must be transmitted in ways that both the sender and recipient understand, it must be coded. Words (verbal/written) must be chosen carefully by the sender in order to clearly relay the message. Conversely, the recipient becomes responsible for ‘cracking’ the code through decoding. The decoding process is an interpretation based on what is seen and heard taking into account the the receiver’s unique frame of reference (1). The clearer the encoded message, the more accurate the decoding process.

Regardless of  clarity, in our line of business, interference will most likely occur which leads to misunderstandings (miscommunication). This interference is referred to as noise or static. The noise can occur both inside the cycle and outside. 

Internal (inside) noise can occur at both the sender and recipient. Should the sender experience internal noise, the message will not be encoded accurately. An example would be using HazMat language and jargon toward someone who does not have a HazMat background. The recipient can experience internal noise which leads to a breakdown of the decoding process. Examples of this are distractions such as preconceived notions, opinions or stereotypes that prevent him or her from listening objectively. Even health issues such as headache and fatigue can lead to internal noise. External (outside) noise is generally a gradual progression outside of the sender/recipient. Poor phone connections, ambient noise and even temperature are examples of external noise.

The last portion of the cycle is feedback. This is the response to the sender’s message. Feedback can be conscious (a verbal response) or unconscious (a verbal response with non-verbal cues). For example, if the sender asks a receiver if they understand, the receiver may say, “yes” but show confusion in their expressions or body language.

Every step in the cycle is essential. Without all steps, clear, concise communication is impossible, and in order for communication to be clear and effective, every component must be given careful attention. 

Data Dump

In the age of information, communication has never been more complex. The requirements of communication are not overly complicated, but the management of the information communicated can be problematic. 

Ray McFall stated that, “The basic concept of military communication hasn’t changed much: get enough credible information to make effective decisions faster than your enemy. The challenge today is managing information overload, and tweezing out the information you need. That has to be practiced in realistic situations: not easy.” (2)

Our personnel face the very same issues. As we discussed in the last segment, during Tactical Movement, our Hazardous Materials Response Team (HMRT) members are gathering information – from dispatchers, mobile data computers, ERG and NIOSH pocket guides, FOG manuals, et cetera. Add  multiple smartphone applications to the mix and you can easily see information overload. 

Let’s use an ERG, for example. Use of an ERG is a basic, fundamental skill that all fire fighters (HMRT members and support personnel, alike) should be proficient in. If you randomly throw one at an HMRT member or support staff with an everyday chemical that crosses your district or territory, will they know how to use it… quickly? Just as the above quote said, it has to be practiced.

Hearing v. Listening

As leaders, we hear a lot, but listen very little. While it really needs no explanation, I’ll do so anyway in brief. Hearing (passive)is the “white noise” in the background. We know it’s there, we just don’t pay much attention to it. Listening (active), on the other hand, is reading in to one’s words; hearing the emotion and passion behind what they say. 

By design, you have two ears and one mouth. As leaders, you must listen twice as often as you speak. “In listening we not only hear, but are forced to pay attention. Leaders listen for more than just information; they listen to communicate.” (3)


  • Are you communicating to be heard or to be understood?
    • Does this really need an explanation?
  • How effectively do you listen?
    • Two ears, one mouth; remember?
  • Would those you lead consider you to be an effective communicator?
    • If the answer’s yes, sharpen your skills.
    • If the answer’s no, sharpen your skills.

1 – This is determined by multiple factors such as culture, upbringing, education, etc.

2 – McFall, Ray. Shoot, Move, and Communicate: Back to The Basics. American Thinker.

3 – Kouzes & Posner, The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2003, p. 167. Print.