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

This article 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

Lack of concentration is when the mind wanders and we stop paying attention to the tasks at hand and this is usually when unsafe acts and resulting injury can occur. If injury should occur the individual generally doesn’t have a plausible explanation due to the lack of concentration. Many of us respond to motor vehicle crashes where one or more of the drivers have no idea as to what may have caused the crash. Why not? Because they were not concentrating on their driving, they were busy talking or texting on their cell phone, eating, applying makeup, shaving, or whatever. Unfortunately the most important task, that of driving is getting the least attention. The same holds true in emergency services, lose your concentration with the task at hand and you increase your risk of injury or death. Be aware of your surroundings and what is going on and remain alert and focused to the task at hand, prepared for all consequences. When you have been operating under difficult circumstances, extreme weather conditions, or any other reason that might impair your concentration for a long period of time notify your officer and obtain relief. There are 2 types of fatigue, physical and mental; both can lead to injury and death if there is no intervention and rest.

Poor judgment is like guessing, and there is no room for guessing at the emergency scene. Evaluate the task that has to be performed and if you are not sure as to what to do in order to handle or mitigate a situation, or how to perform a specific task, stop and seek help. Do not look at emergency incidents or individual tasks through “rose colored classes”, the situation may not be as simple or safe as it appears. Expect the unexpected by being prepared for all eventualities! Whether the incident commander or individual firefighter, always ask yourself “what will happen when I do this?” For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and you must be prepared for it. Be truthful; think what the worse possible scenario is. Can the ladder fall? Will the rope break? Is the roof unsafe? Has the floor burned through?, Can we make an offensive attack? Will the car roll? What will happen when I force this door or break this window? What risks are involved? Can I achieve my desired goal? When we ask our self “what will happen when I do this?” we must evaluate the end result and the risks involved. If the risks are too great for the task to be completed safely then we must eliminate or reduce the risks as much as possible in order to increase the margin of safety. This may require changing the strategy or task being deployed and, if so, go ahead and do it. Remember, there is more than one way to skin a cat. I am fully aware that risk is a constant companion in our business, but risks can be reduced, if not eliminated, to make for a safer work environment. Risk a lot to save a lot, risk little to save little!

Contributing to the Human Factor as a cause for unsafe acts with the increased potential for injury and death is lack of training or insufficient training. All personnel at the emergency scene may not have the same level of training and experience, and therefore should not be expected to perform at the same level. Company officers and IC’s should be aware of individual FF/EMT’s experience and training and assign tasks accordingly. The emergency scene can be good learning ground for inexperienced personnel where they can observe and assist in performing tasks and assignments under direct supervision. If direct supervision cannot be provided, they should not be assigned any task beyond their level of training. In today’s real world where staffing levels or daytime response may not provide sufficient on scene personnel the tendency may be to use the inexperienced FF/EMT to perform unsupervised tasks beyond their level of training. Avoid doing this. You may have to reassign individual tasks, or wait until a more experienced FF/EMT becomes available. Additional skills required to operate specialized pieces of equipment should be learned on the training grounds or back in the station, not at the emergency scene. Untrained FF/EMT’s operating power equipment they have not been certified to use could prove disastrous in more ways than one.

Training and experience are the backbone of any safe operation, and it is equally important for each FF/EMT to be aware of their qualifications and experience. The FF/EMT should also know their limitations, recognizing what is beyond their training and experience and not be embarrassed or ashamed to inform their officer when those circumstances arise. Remember, in the beginning you don’t have to be able to do everything! Learning and gaining experience takes time and if you maintain a proper attitude toward safety, you will have a lifetime of learning.

To be continued next month.
Till next time, stay safe and God Bless!

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HENRY CAMPBELLSenior Correspondent

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