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The Human Factors, A Contributing Factor In firefighter Injury and Death - Part I

This article and the next 2 following articles first appeared when I first started writing this column, Staying Safe, 15 years ago. I repeated it 6 years ago with slight modification, and feel it still holds true today as a leading cause of firefighter injury and death. It can serve as a refresher for senior firefighters and as a safety lesson for newer firefighters.

The prime suspect for a majority of all unsafe acts and the resulting injuries and deaths in fire/EMS personnel can be relegated to “Human Factors.” This Human Factor or Human Error category includes many sub categories that contribute to unsafe and dangerous acts at the emergency scene. Included, but not limited to, the following: laziness, lack of concentration, poor judgment and failure to evaluate risks involved, not being prepared, insufficient training, taking foolish chances, complacency, macho or indestructible attitude, accidents don’t happen to me, refusing to seek help, emotions out of control, and the proverbial taking short cuts rather than following standard procedures. It is always easy to blame the equipment, apparatus, or changing fire conditions, but was it really the individual firefighter at fault?

Laziness is probably the greatest cause for any type of unsafe act because indirectly it will almost appear as the root cause for the incident to have occurred. Most will deny laziness as the primary cause because of the guilt complex that goes along with being identified as being LAZY. Hey, I got news for you, we all suffer from the same problem and it has a bearing in our everyday life. Who gets up to change TV channels? How about the portable telephone? When I sit down to watch TV I make sure I have the TV remote, but more often then I like, I forget to bring the portable phone. In the height of laziness I hope my wife will come join me, and then I ask her to bring the phone, anything to keep from getting up! I am not alone. Fortunately the aforementioned are not life threatening, but if laziness carries over into our day-to-day chores or when we respond as emergency responders, it can lead to injury. How about cleaning the leaves from the gutters? You put the ladder up and then hug it, getting as close as possible to the rungs while over reaching left and right as far as possible in order to keep from climbing down and repositioning the ladder. When we complete the gutter-cleaning chore what have we saved, having to move the ladder 2 or 3 more times, while giving no thought to our personal safety. You don’t have to fall from a great height to be injured, and the older you get the shorter the distance.
Maybe, as one gets older, it would be safer to hire someone to clean the gutters for us.

Think about it, if we do the same things at the emergency scene in order to save energy and footsteps, the risk of injury and death are far greater than being unable to change the TV channel. Are we wearing all our protective equipment, or have we forgotten or misplaced an item in the excitement? If we have, the chances are we are not going back to get it. How many times have we used the tool in hand as a poor substitute for the correct tool simply because it requires going back to the rig to obtain it? How often do we stand on a chair, table, or bed, or whatever else is available, to pull a ceiling with a halligan tool when a 6 foot hook is the preferred tool for the job? It is almost impossible to maintain ones balance walking on a bed, let alone perform some physical activity. How about ladder placement and height? Do we reposition the ladder, or get a ladder of greater length when it is the safe thing to do, or do we make do and hope nothing goes wrong. There are times the IC gives a specific assignment and we immediately come up with a better idea, usually one that reduces physical exertion and therefore easier to perform. Officers and Incident Commanders should be aware of counter proposals and their effect on the safety of personnel. The task may be made easier, but will it be as effective and safe? Counter proposals are usually shortcuts that eliminate a safe method of performing a task, and may become the contributing factors to injuries and death, and they generally start with being lazy. We know better, but laziness is driving us so therefore we overlook the added risk.

To be continued next month.
Till then, Stay Safe and God Bless!

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HENRY CAMPBELLSenior Correspondent

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