Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 4: Towards Better Decisions on the Fireline

“Improving wildland firefighter performance under stressful, risky conditions: Towards better decisions on the fireline and more resilient organizations”
Day 4


It’s not uncommon to find some element of human factors being discussed in a training venue these days. We talk often on and off the line about situation awareness, decision making, slides and leadership concepts. This was not always the case; this shift in our culture was inspired by the tragic events of July 6, 1994, and the loss of 14 firefighters on the South Canyon fire. 

The foundation for this movement towards introspection and the increased emphasis of the individual firefighter was a brought about greatly by a 5-day workshop held in Missoula, MT in June 1995 called nothing other than The Wildland Firefighters Human Factors Workshop.

In November that same year MTDC, released the findings from the workshop that became the single most culturally influential document of the time. “The goal of the workshop was not to come up with quick solutions. Rather to explore the human issues of wildland firefighting and make recommendations to management for corrective actions that would have lasting effects.”

The first several days of the workshop focused on the psychological, cultural and organizational aspects of firefighting and concluded with a guided tour of Mann Gulch. Experts from various backgrounds introduced participants to new models such as Highly Reliable Organizations (HRO), Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPD), and Crew Resource Management (CRM). These models would eventually become the foundation for the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program curriculum and set in motion a cultural paradigm shift.  Though many great findings and recommendations where derived from the workshop, the following are excerpts from CRM adapted for fire.

Decision Making
  • Cross-check information sources.
  • Anticipate consequences of decisions.
  • Use data to generate alternatives.
  • Gather pertinent data before making a decision.
  • Evaluate information and assess resources.
  • Identify alternatives and contingencies.
  • Provide rationale for decision.
  • Acknowledge communication. 
  • Repeat information.
  • Reply with a question or comment.
  • Use nonverbal communication appropriately.
  • Determine tasks to be assigned.
  • Establish procedures to monitor and assess the crew.
  • Inform the crew members of fire assignment progress.
  • Verbalize plans.
  • Discuss ways to improve performance.
  • Ask for input; discuss problems.
  • Tell crew members what to do.
  • Reallocate work in a dynamic situation.
  • Focus crew attention to task.
  • Provide a legitimate avenue for dissent.
  • Provide feedback to crew on performance.
  • Alter fire plans to meet situation demands.
  • Alter behavior to meet situation demands.
  • Accept constructive criticism and help.
  • Step in and help other crew members.
  • Be receptive to others’ ideas.
  • Advocate a specific course of action.
  • State opinions on decisions and procedures even to higher-ranking crew member.
  • Ask questions when uncertain.
  • Make suggestions.
  • Raise questions about procedures.
Situation Awareness
  • Identify problems/potential problems.
  • Recognize the need for action.
  • Attempt to determine why discrepancies exist with information before proceeding.
  • Provide information in advance.
  • Demonstrate ongoing awareness of fire assignment status.
  • Demonstrate awareness of your own task performance.
  • Note deviations.
Mission Analysis
  • Define tasks based on fire assignment.
  • Structure strategies, tactics, and objectives.
  • Identify potential impact of unplanned events on a fire.
  • Critique existing plans.
  • Devise contingency plans.
  • Question/seek information, data, and ideas related to fire plan.

1. What information above can you apply today?
2. How can you make this information relevant in every operation?
3. Is some of the above information new or unfamiliar?

Leadership is Action - Putting It Into Practice
Thanks to Heath Cota, District FMO on the Sawtooth National Forest and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for this 6 Minutes for Safety entry. Heath has functional responsibility for LEAD Time.

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