After Action Review (AAR) – Part 1

Fire Communication
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2022

How to Conduct an Effective After Action Review (AAR)

An AAR is a professional discussion of an event. The objective is to identify successes and failures. It is a tool that leaders, teams, crews, and units can use to get maximum learning benefit from every incident or project. It is essential for wildland firefighters to learn from mistakes and to capitalize on successes. It is considered a valuable tool in high-risk professions, where the smallest mistakes can lead to disastrous results. An AAR is not a critique and not a forum to assign blame. It is 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.

  •  An AAR is performed as immediately after the event as possible by the personnel involved.
  • The leader’s role is to ensure skilled facilitation of the AAR.
  • Reinforce that respectful disagreement is okay. Keep focused on the what, not the who.
  • 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 the AAR 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
Provide progressive refinement for drawing out explanations of what occurred.

4. What are we going to do next time?

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


Also see: AAR part 2


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
10 Standard Firefighting Orders, PMS 110 
18 Watch Out Situations, PMS 118
10 & 18 Poster, PMS 110-18
NWCG Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
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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