I am blessed. My work allows me to uncover many lessons from human behavior and cognitive neuroscience research that benefit the situational awareness of first responders. My 30+ years in fire and EMS positions me well to understand how those lessons can improve our safety. It has truly become my passion and my calling. [This is where you can breath a sigh of relief and be thankful there's a nerd out there who's got your back... taking one for the team so to speak.]
Anyhow… I have evaluated many hundreds of near-miss and casualty incidents. While I enjoying learning and sharing the lessons, it can also be very discouraging and frustrating process. This is especially true when I see common threads that tie casualty incidents together. One of those threads I call A Recipe From Hell’s Kitchen.
I wrote about this briefly a few days ago along with the promise that I would elaborate on this phenomenon. That promise evolved into a five-part series to explain the recipe. Why am I spending so much time on this? Because it’s the recipe that I see being used over… and over… and over… and over again (and throw in a few extra ‘overs’ for good measure). Enough so that it makes me sick, literally. Here’s the recipe:
The Recipe from Hell’s Kitchen
STEP 1: Take a large helping of incompetent behavior.
STEP 2: Remove all the consequence.
STEP 3: Cover and allow confidence to rise.
STEP 4: Deny the existence of the deadly mixture until complacency sets in.
STEP 5: Put into PPE and send into an oven. When PASS Alarms ring the catastrophe will be ready.
In this segment, I am going to focus on Step 1: Incompetent behavior.
What is incompetent behavior? There are probably many ways to define incompetent behavior. I will define it as behavior that is not consistent with best practices or behaviors that expose personnel to undue risk.
Why would anyone behave incompetently? It’s a fair question. I don’t think anyone does it on purpose. Or at least I hope no one does it on purpose. I think that happens more often is responders don’t know what best practices are. Perhaps they’ve never received the training on how to perform in ways consistent with best practices. Maybe they are under-resourced so they’re just “doing the best they can with what they have” which means they are at risk over extending themselves beyond their abilities.The reasons could be a long list and maybe I’ll create the list some other time.
One thing I can say with confidence, when most responders behave in ways that are incompetent – they are not doing it on purpose. Hopefully there are few responders who would set out on a purposeful course to be reckless and bring harm to themselves or co-workers with intent. I’ve certainly not seen that as the motive in the many first responders I have interviewed following their near-miss and casualty event.
Incompetent behavior doesn’t look like incompetent behavior at the time it’s happening – at least to the person who’s going it. After the fact, however, when the videos, photos and audio tapes start flying around, the behavior may look incompetent.
Those who evaluate and judge the performance of others have the benefit of hindsight bias – the ability to look at an event with the benefit of knowing the outcome – then judging those who were performing the tasks (in real-time and without the benefit of knowing what the evaluator now knows are the facts). I think layperson’s term for it is Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
For those who’ve attended one of my Mental Management of Emergencies programs you know I spend a lot of time talking about each component of this tragic recipe. If you’ve not had the opportunity to attend the program yet, no worries. I’m going to use this series to provide you a brief view of each step in this deadly recipe.
It is tough to give advice about how to fix incompetent behaviors if they don’t look incompetent at the time they are occurring. The best advice I can offer is to learn the right way to do things during training and reinforce those best practices over and over again. Avoid taking shortcuts under stress. Many incidents require quick action. This requires a well-developed situational awareness (which, if you’ll go back through the 60+ articles written on this site you’ll quickly see is what I’m trying to accomplish here).
A second best practice is to look at the task to be performed and think about the outcome (both positive and negative). This is actually one of the essential component of situational awareness – being able to make accurate predications of future events. In neuroscience parlance it’s called Projection – being able to look ahead of the current moment and see the bad things that may be coming your way. It is also my personal mission: Helping first responders see the bad things coming in time to change the outcome.
In the next segment, I’m going to talk about consequences – the bad things that come from incompetent behaviors.
1. Have you observed members of your department performing in ways that could be described as incompetent? Why did it happen? Was it corrected?
2. Have you ever found yourself doing a task in a way you thought was a best practice, only to have it not turn out well and looking back (using hindsight) realized your method was flawed?
3. What processes does your department have in place to evaluation operations and to ensure that tactical duties follow best practices?
The mission of Situational Awareness Matters is simple: Help first responders see the bad things coming… in time to change the outcome.
Safety begins with SA!
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If you want to send me incident pictures, videos or have an idea you’d like me to research and write about, contact me. I really enjoy getting feedback and supportive messages from fellow first responders. It gives me the energy to work harder for you.
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