National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2019 WOR Day 4: Inattentional Blindness

June 30-July 6, 2019

This Week of Remembrance is dedicated to all those who have fallen in the line of duty and is intended to serve as an opportunity to renew our commitment to the health, wellness, and safety of wildland firefighters.


It’s logical to think that you can see whenever your eyes are open, but the reality is that attention plays a crucial role in your ability to visually perceive something. Inattentional blindness occurs when our eyes are open to our current environment, but focused on the “shiny object.”

The fire environment is full of shiny objects and takes a proactive level of engagement to try to combat our hefty domes into staying focused. A core competency of emergency responders is the ability to direct and sustain attention on a deliberately chosen target or object, and tolerate sustained attention even when it’s unpleasant. 

Noisy chainsaws, helicopters performing bucket operations, dozers clanking around the hillside and the constant chatter from the radio, all create sources of distractions. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to maintain a big picture perspective of our area of operation, but with the nature of our dynamic environment, it requires a collective effort.

Inattentional blindness can occur in any setting. Have you ever been distracted by an unresolved issue at work or home while doing a routine task like the morning inspection of the engine? Inattentional blindness can cause you to “see” what you expect to see rather than what is actually there.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the analogy, “two heads are better than one” or “four eyes see more than two”.  In order to increase our odds of processing our environment, we need to empower all those around us. Whether you’re the Incident Commander, Division Supervisor, or Firefighter, we need to foster a healthy command climate that allows for open communication.

Span of Control is another tool we have that helps in the battle of inattentional blindness. Being able to delegate particular tasks helps divvy out our mental capacity and provides us with different viewpoints.


  1. Watch this video (if you have seen this before, don’t give it away!)

    Time: 1:21
  2. Then discuss these questions:
    • What situations in your daily work are likely to result in inattentional blindness?
    • What situations on a fire are likely to result in inattentional blindness?
    • How can you prepare for and mitigate this condition?
    • How will you maintain awareness of your own attention?

 Purple ribbon symbol

How can YOU Honor through Learning?

The topics, review, and resources for the NWCG “Wildland Firefighter Week of Remembrance” have been contributed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, the NWCG Leadership Committee, and many other field subject matter experts.


Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

Have an idea or feedback?
Share it with the NWCG 6MFS Subcommittee.

Follow NWCG on Twitter  and Facebook