It is possible if we shift our focus away from treating the symptoms causing our LODDs and injuries, and begin looking at the root causes, which usually leads to human factors. In this column, we will begin building a comprehensive system that addresses operations, prevention, and quality control using components the fire service already has in place. This system, already used in other industries, is called a High Reliability Organization (HRO).
Some people and researchers already refer to the fire service as an HRO, but it is important to note the definition of a HRO. “An HRO is an organization operating in a complex, high-risk environment in which a single error has the potential for disastrous consequences, yet the organization routinely performs with a low number of errors due to various organizational characteristics intentionally engineered to prevent human error ‘that will continually delay or even permanently defer the inevitable failures.’ (as cited in Erickson & Dyer, 2004, p. 8)” (Carley, 2010). An HRO accomplishes this by consciously implementing a comprehensive plan that hinges on developing a learning culture within an organization using methods such as near-miss reporting and root-cause analysis.
- Preoccupation with failure
- Reluctance to simplify
- Sensitivity to operations
- Commitment to resilience
- Deference to expertise
These principles are evident in fire service systems such as FIRESCOPE ICS and quality assurance (QA) programs associated with advanced life-support programs. However, these systems are in silos instead of being integrated components of a larger HRO system. An HRO incorporates multiple systems like the previous two, plus Crew Resource Management (CRM), understanding human behavior, and leadership into a comprehensive system. Therefore, all of these become interrelated components in the context of the five HRO principles. Every aspect of the organization is trended on data collected from near-miss reporting, QA programs, and root-cause analysis. They are measured against the principles of ICS and CRM and judged on how the behavior aligns with HRO principles.
We hope to explain the HRO concept to the fire service in this column and begin to develop an understanding so the fire service can realign current systems into a comprehensive higher reliability organization. HRO concepts and systems cover a broad range of topics, including:
- Human factors
- Situational awareness
- FIRESCOPE ICS
- Crew Resource Management
- Near-miss reporting
- Tracking and trending near misses
- Organizational behavior and culture
- Leadership development
- Group development
- The acceptance of organizational change
We hope the fire service will witness a paradigm shift that focuses decision making and safety practices onto a few fundamental firefighter behaviors instead of attempting to fix thousands of symptoms contributing to firefighter accidents. We plan to do this by reviewing case studies of incidents taken from the Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System, then creating questions or exercises to aid in learning the material for each article. In the next column, we begin exploring human factors and the relationship human factors have to the HRO concept.
We would appreciate any feedback, comments, or suggestions. Please contact Craig and Dane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carley, D. A. (2010). Working Paper on the Development of a Fire Department Into a High Reliability Organization. St. Cloud State University. Fargo, ND: Fargo Fire Department.
Erickson, D., & Dyer, L. (2004, March). Toward a Strategic Human Resource Management Model of High Reliabilitiy Organization Performance. Retrieved February 18, 2010, from Cornell University ILR School: http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=cahrswp
Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2007). Managing the Unexpected 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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.