National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Fireground Communication

Nearly one fifth of all reports on the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System Web site cite communication as one of the contributing factors. When communication goes well, there is collaboration, cooperation, and synergy. But when communication breaks down, and it often does for a variety of reasons, the outcomes are not as we had planned.

“…When the engine mounted deck gun was charged it began to leak water from the base. The deck gun was not sitting properly on the base (this has happened in the past). The pump operator trainee was told to shut down the deck gun. The trainee did so, but could not close the valve all the way. The trainee was asked to close the valve the rest of the way. As the trainee was trying to close the valve the rest of the way, the firefighter operating the engine mounted deck gun tried to push the deck gun down further onto its mounting base. Before I could stop the firefighter on top of the apparatus, the pump trainee pulled the handle that controlled the deck gun valve with the engine still pumping the lines previously stated. The engine mounted deck gun, while still being held on to by the firefighter, lifted off its base, striking the firefighter’s helmet. The firefighter then lost his balance, going face first into…”

Communication breakdowns have been recorded in all five categories of near-miss reports. This week’s related reports include an example from each. At the end of the day, each communication breakdown seems obvious in the aftermath of a near miss. Enacting procedures and processes to improve communication seems easy enough, but ensuring good communication takes diligence and concentration; something we struggle with during times of stress and non-stress. Consider the following:

  1. Each report lists communication as a contributing factor. Can you identify exactly where and why the breakdown occurs in each report?
  2. Even though the reports are diverse events, there are common threads in the communication breakdowns. What are the common threads you see in the reports?
  3. What are the differences in each event that may have led to communication breakdowns?
  4. There are a number of strategies and practices for improving communication among work groups and teams. How many of those strategies do you know?
  5. Think about the last event you were involved in that had an unexpected outcome. Was communication a factor?  

Good communication requires understanding and full presence in the moment at its basic level. These elements are achieved through practices that include: standard language, trust and verify, and evaluations of the team’s situational awareness. Maintaining good communication is challenging due to each team member’s frame of mind and evaluation of the situation. By constantly focusing on communication patterns, the communication environment, and awareness of factors that impede good communication, errors can be minimized while good communication is maximized. After all, as each of the reports in this week’s featured report demonstrates, failing to communicate effectively propels us into situations where unexpected outcomes derail an incident free forecast.

Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow. For more on the value of firefighter near-miss reporting, CLICK HERE.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.


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