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Updated: Apr 24

"What the heck is that?" - You need to read this.

NIOSH ( National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ) has identified the top 5 causal factors of firefighter deaths and injuries on the fireground as:

  1. Improper Risk Assessment

  2. Lack of Incident Command

  3. Lack of Accountability

  4. Inadequate Communications

  5. Lack of SOPs or failure to follow established SOPs

These 5 factors repeatedly appear in LODD reports as the main contributing factors. What do we do about it?

Improper Risk Assessment

This primarily refers to a poor size-up, and quite often, a lack of full 360.

“Who's got time for a full 360?” - I don't know but do you have time for a Mayday?

The first of the 10 Rules of War is "Know the Battlefield". Firefighting is no different. It is unlikely that you will make good decisions with half of the information. Get your team "setting the table" while you get your full walk-around. You can still be doing concurrent activities. ie. radio comms, building your board, TIC the building, talking to the reference as they walk with you, etc. Can't make it around to the Charlie side of the building? Get an "eyes-on" report from the next-in crew. Shared situational awareness is a very good thing.

Lack of Incident Command

Someone has to be in charge. This is ICS 101.

Independent action will cause conflicting results, which will often end in less than desirable outcomes at best, and fatalities, at worst.

That doesn't mean we don't encourage initiative. But it does mean we need one command point, with a clear comms and orders structure, and Commander's Intent needs to be understood by all.

And Commanders need to be decisive and have the experience, training and ability to make good decisions, in a time frame that saves lives.

Lack of Accountability

It's fine, Kid. I know you're here and you know I am”

Amazingly, that was an actual line that I have heard often, early in my career. Thankfully, we are moving in the right direction, when it comes to accountability systems. Can we be better? ...absolutely.

Accountability has to start as soon as you arrive on scene and be tight until the last person leaves. After the initial push and knockdown, there is a tendency to let it slide. This is unacceptable. Building collapse, floor fall-through and heart attacks can happen anytime. Do you know where your people are?

How can we practice this? Start in training. The last time you were in a class with more than 6 people, was a senior assigned? In a class of more than 10, did you get split into squads, crews or teams? As a Training Officer, do you carry a notepad with the names and apparatus assignments of each person attending? Are timings and taskings adhered to?

These small practices develop a team mindset and turn into a habit of accountability.

Inadequate Communications

On almost every Live Fire debrief I have ever been a part of, the first critique sounds a lot like...

These radios suck!"

So what you are telling me is that talking into a small, handheld electronic device, through a SCBA facepiece, while on air, is not as effective as a face-to-face?

No shit, Sherlock. Now get over it.

First, you need to know your radios inside and out. It is quite possibly the only life-line between you and the people that may have to come save you. Practice using them in difficult situations. Try different hand mic positions to see where it is most effective.

Second, if you can go face-to-face, do so. I was once told, "Treat your radio airtime like your cylinder airtime. Use it sparingly and only when necessary". The firefighter at another point of friction may need to communicate something of extreme importance while you pontificate and prattle on.

Think-press-pause-talk. Know what you are going to communicate, press the PTT, pause to allow connection, and clearly and briefly pass on your information.

Starting your communication with," Ummmmm..." is a clear indication that you forgot the think part.

Lack of SOPs or failure to follow established SOPs

SOPs and SOGs give us something to work from. They help us by giving us a starting point that has been thought out, tried out and written out by, hopefully, key members of your team. ie. the Chief, a senior Captain or two, the resident expert or instructor of that discipline, and a couple of the members who will be incorporating it at "point of friction".

These SOGs and SOPs should be at the core of your plan and will help you navigate the event safely and effectively. Can you call an audible? Sure! But you have to know why you are "colouring outside of the lines" and be able to defend it on the carpet, if required.

Every team that has ever won any competition of merit has had a playbook. Maybe not an exhaustive catalogue of plays and plans but at least a series of "go-to's" to build a foundation on...and the foundation is everything. You can't fire a cannon out of a rowboat ( more than once! ).

Any firefighter that is in the position to make command decisions should know the NIOSH 5 by rote.

"Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana

Don't let that be you.

See ya on the Road,


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