Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Normalization of Deviance: An Example (Part 1)

"When it's my life on the line, what type of a team do I want out there holding it in the palm of their hand?" ~ Mike Mullane, retired NASA Astronaut

This is the first in a four-part series. We are operating and will continue to operate in sub-optimal environments. Fire leaders must take the time to instill this concept into their operational environments and as a part of the fireground culture. 

Wildland land firefighters are keenly aware of the inherent risks associated with wildland fire operations. In the fire service, there are many times we take on unnecessary risk and get away with it time and time again. Many times we are successful; however, it only takes the one time for our luck to run out. After seemingly being successful enough times, we normalize this deviance which then manifests itself in the appearance of what "right" looks like.



Leadership is sometimes necessary to break the normalization of deviance error chain.  In the above video, this level of leadership was needed but would have likely caused significant political exposure.  In the end, "right" is "right" and you "can’t un-know what you know!"

Excerpts from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service

Our First Priority: Life and Safety (p. 46)

The first of our standing incident priorities is life. No objective is worth the lives of our people; and we put the safety of our people first, above all other mission objectives. However, in the complex and high-risk environment of wildland fire, we realize we cannot completely guard our people from all the inherent risks involved in our work.

When the mission takes our people into harm’s way, fire leaders redeem their people’s trust by looking out for their well being: doing our best to make decisions that appropriately balance risk and potential gain, being watchful for unfolding conditions that may jeopardize their safety, and being present to share the risks and hardships. The leader being first in and the last out is a classic way of demonstrating the ideal of taking care of our people.

Operational Tempo (pp. 29-30)

We are most vulnerable to accidents and errors when the operational tempo is changing, especially when it changes quickly. Maintaining good situation awareness in spite of change in operational tempo represents a considerable challenge.

The key to managing operational tempo successfully is monitoring the changing environment and capabilities of the team, and then applying good judgment to determine whether to push forward or pull back while making necessary planning and resource adjustments.

Developing a Learning Organization (p. 42)

Leaders evaluate performance at all levels to understand the causal factors of successes and failures. All those involved learn incrementally, applying today’s lessons to the next assignment. This focus on continuous improvement brings with it a responsibility to share lessons learned throughout the organization.

Other References
This is the first in a four-part series. We are operating and will continue to operate in sub-optimal environments. Fire leaders must take the time to instill this concept into their operational environments and as a part of the fireground culture.


Thanks to Brian Fennessy, Local/County/Rural Representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for referring this great video.

3 comments:

Randy Skelton said...

This is a great series and Mr. Mulane does a great job making the link to the fire service.

Ellsworth said...

I believe one our greatest capabilities in fire is we have a high-level of occupation frequency. We get to do what we are trained to do several times a year. What are we learning after each event from the crew level, incident team level, unit level, and as a fire service?

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