Friday, January 25, 2013

Digging Deeper: Leadership - TriData Report

As we dig a little deeper into the Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, we examine "Leadership" findings from Phase I. Is this still true today or have we been successful to change our culture? Do we still have work to do?

Leadership (taken directly from the study)
Good leadership - getting people to do the right thing - is crucial in emergencies of all types. There is a generally high regard for incident commanders, and a feeling that most people in supervisory positions are suitable. But there also is a strong feeling that a small but non-trivial fraction of supervisors are either too inexperienced, or of the wrong temperament, or simply not good leaders. Only about 10-20 percent of division supervisors and crew supervisors were thought to be unsatisfactory, but that small fraction represented a significant amount of exposure to potentially unsafe decisions.
Agency administrators without fire backgrounds or at least fire training also were a matter of concern, especially for setting the proper safety tone in briefings, setting the achievable goals for a particular fire, getting too involved without adequate understanding of what is possible with limited firefighting resources, or “hiding” during a fire and not being available when needed.
Lack of accountability was repeatedly raised as a major issue in the interviews and focus groups. It also was rated among the top issues on the survey. Supervisors and higher levels who endanger safety are not held to task when they make major errors. The community wants to weed out or discipline those who endanger its safety.
There is an emphasis on accountability and responsibility for safety at all levels within the community. Perhaps those interviewed and surveyed are saying that safety is a global responsibility. That is, individuals have a safety responsibility at the level of tool use, personal awareness of danger, maintaining physical health and watching out for fellow firefighters. Crew supervisors have the added responsibility for safety of the crew and the requirement that they watch for future threats to the safety of the crew. The Incident Management Team also carries the responsibility for the safety of all those on the fire, all those that may be called to the fire and all those supporting the fire suppression effort. They have a requirement to look even farther into the future. Nevertheless, the gist of many of the comments expressed by the participants was that, “You cannot assign away safety.” Safety is not a responsibility that can be transferred to a squad boss, a crew boss, a line safety officer or the IMT safety officer.
Among other leadership concerns were the following:
  • Misuse of Type II crews, caused in part by shortages of Type I crews and in part by the difficulty in identifying the diverse skill and fitness levels of Type II crews. The greatest concern was for misuse of local volunteer and career fire department crews, who are being relied on more despite shortfalls in their wildland fire training and equipment. This concern is sharply greater in some areas than others - one of the exceptions to the comment that many areas had similar responses.
  • Mixed messages from leadership about safety.
  • Lack of adequate promotion paths for highly experienced seasonal personnel.
  • Need to pay special attention to the selection and training of the crew supervisors of inmate crews, whose competency and safety depend on the on-the-job training they get from the supervisors. 
A Look Ahead

In our next installment, we'll look at what survey participants had to say about human factors.


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