In this segment of the Recipe From Hell’s Kitchen series, I share the second step of the recipe – consequence. Rather, the lack of consequence and the impact this may have on firefighter situational awareness. One of the outcomes you might expect when there is incompetent behavior is an injury – a consequence. But that is not always the case. Sometimes, no, most of the time, incompetent behavior does not result in a consequence. There’s no bad outcome. That, unto itself, is a bad outcome. Let me explain.
First, a refresher. 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.
What does it mean to have no consequence? The consequence is the outcome. The problem is when there is no bad outcome as a result of incompetent behavior, the incompetent behavior doesn’t look so, well, incompetent. The logical brain starts to rationalize the incompetent behavior as acceptable behavior. The first responder may justify the behavior by thinking: What I am doing is ok because if it weren’t someone would have got hurt. Or, at least, there would have been a near-miss event.
There are a couple of flaws in this logic, however. First is the confusion of luck with skill. It doesn’t take much time surfing YouTube to see there are lots of lucky first responders out there performing in ways that are incompetent. The videos chronicle many incompetent behaviors and the show the lack of consequence for the behavior.
If they don’t know better, others observing the incompetent behavior in the videos are learning. The mere lack of consequence may cause an observer to see the behavior as acceptable.
Ironically, in an article dedicated to improving situational awareness, I am about to talk about unawareness. It is possible that a firefighter performing incompetently can have a near-miss event and be completely unaware of it. The lack of consequence contributes to the unawareness.
To give you an example of this, let’s get off the fireground and on to the highway. As you’re driving down the road you observe a civilian run a red light, almost causing an accident. The driver who ran the light is talking on his cell phone and he is completely unaware that he almost caused the accident. He just keeps on driving and talking on his phone. He doesn’t even know he had a near-miss because there was no consequence (at least from his point of view). His inattentive driving is, by all accounts, incompetent. He was so distracted by his cell phone conversation that he was unaware of the roadway conditions, unaware that he ran the red light, and unaware that he almost caused an accident.
The same thing can happen where firefighters operating at an emergency scene perform in ways that are incompetent and are completely unaware of it because the consequence is missing. I see this all often in my classes when I ask the question to 100+ firefighters: Who’s had a near mess even in the last six month? When no hands go up or just one or two hands go up, I know Near-Miss Unawareness is the culprit.
In one class I had a firefighter share his department has only experienced one near-miss in the past five years when a firefighter fell through a floor, suffered fall and burn injuries, called a mayday, and was successfully rescued. Actually, that’s not a near-miss. That’s a HIT! (an incident with a significant consequence).
It is very important to understand what behaviors are best practices (i.e., competent). This can be done through training by well-trained and well-prepared instructors. On incident scenes, a safety officer plays a critical role in helping to identify and correct incompetent behaviors before they ever have the opportunity to result in a near-miss or a hit.
When members are watching incident videos (formally or informally) it can be advantageous to have an experienced member present to point out acts of incompetence and the seemingly innocent near-misses, explaining the best practices that would correct the incompetence and sharing the potential consequence to members.
In the next segment, I’m going to talk about confidence – the sense of assurance that results from the performance of incompetent behaviors that lack consequence.
1. Describe an activity you’ve observed that was incompetent, yet lacked consequence.
2. List and describe three incident related near-miss events you’ve witnessed where those involved did not realize a near-miss had occurred.
3. Have you ever visited the National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System and used a near-miss event from the system for training your members?
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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