AAR part 1

Fire Communication
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2020

How to conduct an effective After Action Review

An After Action Review (AAR) is a professional discussion of an event with the objective to identify successes and failures. It is a tool that leaders, teams, crews, and units can use to get the maximum benefit from every incident or project. It is essential for wildland firefighters to learn from our mistakes and to capitalize on our successes.  It is considered a valuable tool in high-risk professions where the smallest mistakes can lead to disastrous results. FYI – an AAR is not a critique and not a forum to assign blame. It’s an open, honest, and professional discussion for purposes of improvement.

Once you (the leader/facilitator) have demonstrated that the AAR works and that it will be part of your team's Standard Operating Procedures, the discussion will become more open.Finding out what they did is not nearly as important as why they did it. Good active listening skills are essential. Do not immediately try to solve or correct the issue, but let it play out. Try to get to the root of the issue. The leader must be a part of the AAR and will have to accept criticism. This is important because the team will be looking for affirmation of the AAR process.

  • Have the AAR as soon after an event as possible with all the personnel involved if at all possible.
  • The leader’s role is to ensure there is skilled facilitation of the AAR.
  • Make sure everyone participates.
  • Pay attention to time.
  • Establish clear ground rules: encourage candor and openness, all participants have equal ownership, focus on improving performance, and keep all discussions confidential.
  • End on a positive note.

1. What was planned?

Review the intent of the mission. 
Desired "End State" (what does “Right” look like).

2. What actually happened?

Establish the facts.
Pool multiple perspectives to build a shared picture of what happened.

3. Why did it happen?

Analysis of cause and effect.
Focus on WHAT, not WHO. Provide progressive refinement for drawing out explanations of what occurred.

4. What are we going to do next time?

Correct weaknesses.
Focus on items you can fix, rather than external forces outside of your control.

The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program website has additional references on conducting effective AARs, many designed specifically for wildland firefighters and leaders. See the resources below.

Review the AAR under Introduction (white) in the Incident Response Pocket Guide, PMS 461.


Also see: AAR part 2


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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