There is no heavier weight that accompanies leadership positions than the knowledge that you hold the lives of others in your hands. This inherent responsibility must never be taken lightly; as such, it is imperative that leaders take every step possible to ensure the safety of their crews. Here, I will address one method for building a safer fireground.
Action Plans & Checklists
With regard to incident management, the responsibility of the incident commander (IC) begins with the first dispatch of information and resources. First-arriving ICs should use the initial information provided to create a plan of action. As any good risk manager will attest, the key to successful management of complex and stressful situations is training. Of course it’s difficult in even the most realistic training evolutions to simulate all the conditions and challenges that you may face as an IC during a real-life event. And as such, many professions have come to rely on the value of prepared checklists for complex operations and rapidly evolving conditions. The aviation industry introduced a checklist used by the U.S. Air Force, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has underscored the value of flight crews working off a prepared checklist for almost all types of flight scenarios, from take-offs and landings to in-flight emergencies, to help process critical items and ensure that no shortcuts are taken.
A Proven Methodology
In The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Dr. Atul Gawande notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the use of simple, prepared checklists by healthcare professionals in the operating room reduced the number of surgical complications by between one-third and one-half. He also shares another study that reported a 44% reduction in surgical deaths from the use of checklists. Healthcare systems have also successfully employed the use of checklists in the reduction of in-hospital infections and patient transfer-of-care to ensure that critical information is not lost.
Fire Service Value
The value of these prepared checklists is that they’re established well ahead of the incident and allow for proper preplanning of actions and resources. Fire service ICs are responsible for many tasks that must be accomplished simultaneously and rapidly to ensure successful mitigation of the threat and safety of civilians and firefighters. Most of these tasks are directly related to fireground safety.
The first question that ICs face: Do you have an adequate initial response force responding? Much akin to the Powell Doctrine, which established a list of questions that must be answered in the affirmative before committing troops to battle, ICs must ensure that they’re matching response force with the risk faced. However, many tasks (assigning arriving companies the responsibilities of accomplishing the overall tactics and strategy, conducting a 360-degree assessment of the incident, establishing a rapid intervention team, and conducting accountability checks, not to mention the responsibilities continuing throughout the incident) can often either be delayed or worse, neglected, due to the overwhelming information and demands placed on the IC, particularly on larger, more complex scenes. Checklists can help combat the overflow of information and master the management of tasks.
Using an incident command checklist for your department helps ensure that when challenging incidents occur, you and your crews have a fail-safe mechanism to ensure all your critical tasks and responsibilities are addressed efficiently and in a timely manner. Note: The Rules of Engagement for Incident Commanders (available at www.iafcsafety.org), developed by the IAFC’s Safety, Health and Survival Section, provides an excellent starting point as a checklist resource.