Friday, February 1, 2013

Digging Deeper: Human Factors - TriData Report

“There seems to be an increasing awareness towards taking problems seriously and dealing with them properly.” ~ Survey participant

As we dig a little deeper into the Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, we examine "Human Factors" 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?

Human Factors (taken directly from the study)
Many psychological factors play a key role in firefighter safety. First is how people cope with being in the presence of danger over the course of many fires. There were split opinions about whether complacency or denial of dangers set in over time, and whether the “can do” attitude led to unnecessary risks. The consensus was that there probably was at least a non-trivial fraction of firefighters who needed to have their attitudes changed.

A more widespread concern was the difficulty in dealing with a large number of fire orders and watchouts, and the need to reduce their number and improve their clarity. The LCES (Lookouts, Communications, Escape routes, Safety zones) short checklist drew much praise.

There was a large consensus that although much of current training was very good, there was not enough realistic training at every level. There is a demand for more scenarios, more field training, more training of decision making under stressful conditions, more use of video, and more use of simulations. The decline in experience has put a large premium on increasing the realism of training.

Crew dynamics and especially crew cohesiveness were not rated as highly important by most of the firefighters interviewed and surveyed, relative to many other issues. This was somewhat puzzling in light of the importance given to this subject in firefighter fatality investigation literature, and in safety literature in general. However, many aspects of crew dynamics came up under other guises, such as concern about the increasing number of crews comprised of people who do not know each other, and the importance of having a crew supervisor who was a good people manager and communicator. Many of those interviewed who had read Ted Putnam’s work on crew decision making under stress referred to it, and expressed a belief that it was on target. Firefighters may be unaware of the importance of this issue, perhaps because it is a problem mainly in extremis, in the last minutes before an acute situation hits home. Therefore it is rarely experienced as a problem, and "They do not know that they do not know, " said one senior fire manager. Some feel that more attention should be given to keeping crews out of harms way, rather than deciding what to do when they are already in acute danger.

Other human factors issues thought important were:
  • Rampant fatigue, with pay incentives that exacerbate the problem. Working too many consecutive hours, hiding fatigue to get better or more assignments, not having crew fatigue levels checked after arrival at a fire, and lack of adequate rest opportunities were all frequently cited aspects of the problem.
  • Personnel practices that do not provide incentives to retain experienced personnelPersonnel practices that do not provide incentives to retain experienced personnel.
  • There is a firefighting community acceptance of the need for good physical fitness, yet there is acceptance of many who are not fit, primarily for some Type II crews. Also, there is questionable validity and honesty of the step test procedure.
A Look Ahead

In our next installment, we'll look at Chapter 4 of Phase I: Organizational Culture.


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