Tailboard Talk: Hazardous Attitudes—The Seven People You Don’t Want to Work With

By Craig Nelson and Dane Carley

Human factors and the human mind affect everything you do; they impact all aspects of your life. For most people, this may be little more than a not-so-interesting tidbit of information, but most people don’t work in atmospheres that are often immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). This is important to us in the fire service because the vast majority of near-misses, incidents, and accidents can be traced back to one or more human factor causes. If you learn about human factors and understand how they affect you, your work becomes much safer and more effective. You will be able to recognize developing hazardous situations as they begin to unroll and then take action to stop them before someone gets hurt. This equates to fewer injuries, accidents, and property damage—or, in other words, more parents going home to their kids, less money spent fixing equipment, and happier chiefs (happy chief = happy indians).

Human factors may not sound quite as exciting as strategies and tactics, but human factors directly affect which strategies and tactics you use on the fireground. In this article, we will identify seven hazardous attitudes that have been identified by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) that are likely to lead to near-misses, incidents, and accidents. Not surprisingly, they also destroy team work and crew cohesiveness rather quickly.

Your fire department is made up of different people. They come from different backgrounds, have different life experiences, and behave differently. Our different makeups and life experiences are what contribute to whom each of us is and how each of us acts all day, every day (human factors). You might be saying, “Who cares?” If you are, you could be starting to exhibit some of the hazardous attitudes such as resignation, anti-authority, or machismo. To answer the question though, you should care because the human factors can get not only others into trouble, but you, too. In your case, trouble can mean near-misses, incidents, accidents, or death, but it is important to note that the seven hazardous attitudes are not a permanent diagnosis. All of us may exhibit several of the hazardous attitudes at different points during our time in the fire service. This does not mean you are a bad firefighter; it means that you are human. Once you learn to recognize hazardous attitudes, you can then work to eliminate them not only in yourself but in those you work with closely in IDLH environments.

The seven hazardous attitudes follow along with in whom you might be likely to find them, and the methods to help eliminate them. As you read through the attitudes, see if your brain quickly identifies people within your organization who exhibit these behaviors. Also, as you read through, note that these are just places where each of the attitudes may be found, which can be found in any member of a department at any time whether they are young, old, rookie, or veteran.

Hazardous Attitude Description Where You Might Find Him What to do to Prevent or Reduce the Behavior
Anti-Authority This person can’t be told what to do. Person who is a know-it-all or thinks that they are smarter than everyone else in the department. Can also be someone who feels they were “wronged” by a supervisor. Encourage this person to follow direction by explaining why rules and orders exist (for our own safety). Also explain what can happen when rules/orders are not followed.
Impulsivity This person needs to do something; right or wrong they act quickly in a knee-jerk fashion without thinking about the effect. Newer or younger members or those new to a position from a promotion who are eager to show their abilities to impress others on the department. Teach this person to slow down. Explain to him that the more complex and hazardous the situation, the more time you need to take to think about the correct actions to take or think before you act.
Machismo This person is more concerned with appearance and impressing others than working as a part of a team to safely and effectively mitigate incidents. This attitude might be found in younger members who have been on for a few years but think they know it all. For this person, think of your 2-20s (two years of experience/20-year attitude). This person needs to understand that he is part of a team and that he does not know everything. Every day in the fire service is an opportunity to continue learning.
Pressing This person will do whatever it takes to get back to the station or finish the job. He would likely do a partial overhaul job and call it good so he can get back to the station for meal time or rest. This person may often be an older member who has lost the motivation to do the job right. This person needs to be motivated/pushed toward the goal of doing things completely and correctly.
Resignation This person has given up, believing that anything he does won’t make a difference. This person doesn’t contribute to the team. It can be caused by many different situations where the person was teased, ignored, turned away, or even experienced a traumatic incident. This one can be found at any age or experience level because it is often caused more by a specific incident(s) that has occurred to the member. Look for people whose ideas and contributions have been rejected without explanation.

This person also needs personal guidance/explanation about the importance of their role as a crew member that works as a team. If a four-person team only has three members contributing, it is only working at 3/4 of its full capacity. It may help to find the root cause of the resignation and work from that point.

Invulnerability This person believes that they are superhuman and can’t get hurt. He takes unnecessary risks. Every event where he doesn’t get hurt just adds to his ego—continually making his attitude more dangerous. This attitude may likely be found in a younger member of the department because the judgment part of our brain does not fully develop until a person reaches his mid- to late-20s. Think about the decisions you made in high school. As we write this, we reflect on the miracle we both survived the risks we took in high school. This person needs a review of the firefighter line-of-duty deaths and near-miss reporting system to help him fully understand the hazards inherent in firefighting.
Air Show Syndrome This person treats every incident the same by thinking I’ve seen and done this 100 times before this way. This person is complacent to the FACT that every incident/fire is different and must be treated this way (think room and contents fires). This attitude might be found in your 2-20s. Think of the person who might say “hold my beer and watch this!” This person needs a review of the incidents that actually harm and kill firefighters. Many times these are the incidents we consider to be easy. This person also needs to understand that it is alright to not know every situation they will encounter.

(International Association of Fire Chiefs, 2003)


The information in this article is based on the IAFC document, “Crew Resource Management: a positive change for the fire service.” It was written roughly 10 years ago with contributions from some of the greatest leaders in the fire service who thought that it was important we understand human factors. For more indepth explanations and information, find the document at www.iafc.org. The document can be viewed for free in PDF format or by printing it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think of certain members of your department for when you read the description of the hazardous attitudes above?
  2. Have you ever had any of the hazardous attitudes?
  3. Which hazardous attitude(s) did you have and why do you think you had them?



International Association of Fire Chiefs. (2003). Crew resource management a positive change for the fire service. 3rd, Retrieved from http://www.iafc.org/files/1SAFEhealthSHS/pubs_CRMmanual.pdf.


Craig Nelson (left) works for the Fargo (ND) Fire Department and works part-time at Minnesota State Community and Technical College - Moorhead as a fire instructor. He also works seasonally for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as a wildland firefighter in Northwest Minnesota. Previously, he was an airline pilot. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's degree in executive fire service leadership.

Dane Carley (right) entered the fire service in 1989 in southern California and is currently a captain for the Fargo (ND) Fire Department. Since then, he has worked in structural, wildland-urban interface, and wildland firefighting in capacities ranging from fire explorer to career captain. He has both a bachelor's degree in fire and safety engineering technology, and a master's degree in public safety executive leadership. Dane also serves as both an operations section chief and a planning section chief for North Dakota's Type III Incident Management Assistance Team, which provides support to local jurisdictions overwhelmed by the magnitude of an incident.

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