Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Art of Refusing Risk & Respecting Extreme Fire Behavior

Refusing Assignments from The Smokey Generation on Vimeo.

There is an art to risk assessment. What may seem impossible to one person may seem achievable by another. Effective fire leaders develop the art through experience as students of fire and leadership. We know from our history that human factors are critical to our success or failure. Good fire leaders  employ numerous methods, continually develop situation awareness, and develop their people to provide the critical feedback to keep everyone safe.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
  • Listen to Charlie Caldwell, former Redding Hotshot Superintendent, speak on refusing assignments.
  • Review "How to Properly Refuse Risk" with your crew/team.
How to Properly Refuse Risk
Every individual has the right and obligation to report safety problems and contribute ideas regarding their safety. Supervisors are expected to give these concerns and ideas serious consideration.
When an individual feels an assignment is unsafe they also have the obligation to identify, to the
degree possible, safe alternatives for completing that assignment. Turning down an assignment is
one possible outcome of managing risk.

A “turn down” is a situation where an individual has determined they cannot undertake an assignment as given and they are unable to negotiate an alternative solution.

The turn down of an assignment must be based on an assessment of risks and the ability of the individual or organization to control those risks. Individuals may turn down an assignment as unsafe when:
  1. There is a violation of safe work practices.
  2. Environmental conditions make the work unsafe.
  3. They lack the necessary qualifications or experience.
  4. Defective equipment is being used.
The individual directly informs their Supervisor they are turning down the assignment as given.
Use the criteria outline in the Risk Management Process (Firefighting Orders, Watch Out
Situations, etc.) to document the turn down.

The supervisor notifies the Safety Officer immediately upon being informed of the turn down. If there is no Safety Officer, the appropriate Section Chief or the Incident Commander should be notified. This provides accountability for decisions and initiates communication of safety concerns within the
incident organization.

If the supervisor asks another resource to perform the assignment, they are responsible to inform the
new resource that the assignment was turned down and the reasons why it was turned down.

If an unresolved safety hazard exists or an unsafe act was committed, the individual should also
document the turn down by submitting a SAFENET (ground hazard) or SAFECOM (aviation hazard) form in a timely manner. These actions do not stop an operation from being carried out. This protocol is integral to the effective management of risk as it provides timely identification of hazards to the chain of command, raises risk awareness for both leaders and subordinates, and promotes accountability.

[Incident Response Pocket Guide, pp.19-20]

What is your story? We challenge you to become a part of this amazing  project and share your leadership stories. Bethany Hannah began The Smokey Generation: A Wildland Fire Oral History and Digital Storytelling Project for her master's thesis. All members of the wildland fire service, not just hotshots, can share their stories by following her example. Click here for potential leadership questions. Visit The Smokey Generation website for complete information.

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