Thursday, July 25, 2013

The choices we make.

"Today I want to do a poor job and get someone hurt."
Have you or someone of your crew ever woke up and thought that? Most likely not. No one wants to do a bad job. No one purposely injures themselves or others while on the fire ground, training ground or in quarters. From time to time good people make bad choices, poor decisions and make mistakes. Multiple factors influence when and why errors are made. The severity and effect of those sub-par judgments are situation based. A narrow window of decision making time, pressure from others or a lack of information, can all lead to an event. Our line of work presents itself with minimal time to act, minimal information and extreme pressure under volatile circumstances. Therefore, we must provide responders with the prowess to be deliberate in their actions. At the very least, minimize the severity of any negative results.

Since I began my career in the Fire Service, I have seen various methods to perform any one of the tasks we are assigned. From the crew you work with all the way to the country you work in, everyone seems to have “their way” to get it done. This notion can add to uncertainty on the fire ground. We should all have our “best practices” and be on the same page while operating. Take out the guesswork, take out the doubt and prevent any hesitation. The solution for many of these uncertainties is training and preparation. Have a department standard for actions that will be taken on incident scenes. Of course there will be times when the standard cannot be performed. Typically these are not the situations that get us hurt. The routine task get us in trouble, as complacency sets in. The routine task gets us hurt when we do not work as a team, while all knowing our individual roles, responsibilities and what is expected of each of us.

In 2011 over 30,000 fire ground related injuries were reported, with over 70,000 total. Reported is in bold as I believe many are not reported and the statistic may be much higher. Strains and sprains have traditionally topped the list. Many times due to overreaching, not having proper footing and a lack of teamwork/communication while performing the task. A drastic reduction could be seen in these statistics by having a better understanding of expectations. The emergency scene is a dynamic environment, even without the problem we came to fix. One way to disseminate what is expected, outline crew and department expectations for the tour promptly first thing in the shift. For those that do not stay in quarters, use assignment cards on the apparatus. Also, use email or text messages to put out critical information. Several free programs exist to help communicate department and operational information to the troops. Minimize surprises so everyone can focus on the task at hand and have the frame of mind to make good choices.

Company Officers, Senior Firefighters and other leaders need to be consciousness of performing with a “do as I do” attitude, which reflects the organizations procedures policies and guidelines’. Both good and bad habits can be picked up, especially by young and new personnel. Make sure to perform in the same manner each and every time. Deviating or skipping a step just once can give others the mindset that it is okay for them to skip steps as well. Critical steps could be missed, leading to injury or worse. Just recently a firefighter lost his life due to the lack of a spotter while backing up apparatus. Department policy is to always have a spotter when backing. Was this a single deviation or common occurrence? We can quickly develop the “it won’t happen to me” attitude when we disregard processes even just once. When you get away with it once, you will do it again.


“Perfect practice, makes perfect. Then practice some more!”

Repetition is the key to mastery of a skill. From the first day at the academy we are honing our skill set. However a gap can be created when we do not practice how we will perform at the emergency and with the people we will be working with. This is another reason to standardize our basic actions. When we can perform a given task with little to no doubt of successful completion, we free up our minds to focus on the decision making aspect. If more concentration is focused on the physical act of throwing the ladder, are we able to place it in the best place? Are we looking for any hazards around us? Are we maintaining good situational awareness? Teamwork, looking out for others as well as ourselves and knowing your role can all help to make better decisions.

We all know our job is to show up when called and help solve the problem. Our intentions are never to add to the problem by involving a responder. Having a solid foundation of base skills, understanding your role within the team and making solid decisions can drastically reduce fire ground injury.