I attended an incident safety-officer course in my area and enjoyed the education and refresher on what the incident safety officer could bring to the scene. But soon I realized that much of the safety aspect relied on this one person, maybe two or three at a large incident. A few slides mentioned that everyone is accountable for their own safety, but nowhere did I see the concept of crew resource management or crew-member empowerment that the IAFC advocates. Crew resource management is a concept that originated in the airline industry, which aimed to reduce near-miss and catastrophic accidents.
Less than a week after I attended the course, I came across the article, “Incident Command as a Participative-Management Practice: Dispelling the Myth of Authoritarian Command.” In it, B.E. William described the incident command system as more of a democratic process than the traditional autocratic process we have described for many years. He noted that information flow and empowerment of the operating personnel were more important than the one-sided view of the incident commander.
The’s annual safety standdowns focus on taking personal responsibility for health, suggesting that each individual is responsible for his or her own safety. This personal responsibility is finally recognized as the culture we must promote to solve a large portion of the firefighter deaths each year.
One of the 16 life-safety initiatives is empowerment of personnel to stop unsafe acts. This implies that even the newest firefighters can question and stop an unsafe act. Many firefighter fatalities occur in the presence of other firefighters who witnessed unsafe acts that compounded to the point of a critical failure. I often wonder if more empowerment and a culture that accepts this empowerment would have prevented these events.
Lastly, the new generation of personnel entering the fire service, known as Millennials, has a trait that they are known for — the desire to question everything. I have attended a few conferences that have focused on the Millennials entering the work force, specifically, entering the paramilitary fire service. Overwhelmingly, speakers and fire service personnel discuss how much of a clash this mentality will create in the paramilitary organization of the fire service, where their opinion is not always correct or desired. Many are unsure with how this questioning mentality will work during fire suppression activities.
But is this questioning attitude — coupled with the increased realization of the benefits of empowerment for stopping unsafe acts —exactly what we need to reduce line-of-duty deaths? Or would encouraging a generation that already questions everything only result in command chaos? How do we properly empower individual firefighters while maintaining operational command? Are we at the turning point for firefighter empowerment, and how do we train our experienced personnel to adapt to this change?