National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Fatigue and Situational Awareness

The types of incidents firefighters can find themselves handling are beyond comprehension. Just when you think you have learned everything there is to know about the hazards in your area, something unexpected comes along. If we are fatigued, our situational awareness can be affected, leading to poor decision making and near misses. This week’s report describes just such an event that is unique in several ways.

“…We were dispatched to an outdoor fire. It was a building approximately 50 feet wide by 100 feet long and 30 feet high. It was plastic/cloth covered with an aluminum frame. Inside the building were pallets of drilling mud in plastic bags packed similarly to sandbags and stacked three pallets high (approximately 12 feet). Drilling mud is basically pulverized wood so it creates a somewhat flammable atmosphere when spread through the air. We achieved some knockdown and began trying overhaul. We tried to use pike poles to pull down the burned material from the taller pallets but were unsuccessful because the bags would simply tear. I got up on a pallet approximately three feet high and began pulling down taller stacks by hand. This created a lot of dust that ignited around me. I tried to get off the pallet and away from the flammable atmosphere and slipped, twisting my right knee. I fell between a few pallets on the ground and got wedged in. The air current I created while falling made the flammable dust follow me down and it continued burning around me…”

The full report cites several factors that contribute to this near miss. Situational awareness is one factor, fatigue a second, and individual action is the third. Fatigue and situational awareness are inextricably connected. When we are tired, our senses are dulled. The more tired we are, the more inattentive we are and therefore, the lower our situational awareness is. Recognizing fatigue is a factor in our performance is a crucial step to avoiding serious injury. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1.      How much uninterrupted sleep did you get before your last shift?
2.      How much sleep do you average on the nights you are on duty at the station?
3.      How often do you take the next day after a night shift off and use the day to recover?
4.      What are the cumulative effects of inadequate or insufficient sleep?
5.      When would you say you are most vulnerable: just after you wake up, after your third run past midnight, or have been awake for 23 straight hours?

Rest is more than just an excuse for avoiding work. The restorative qualities of adequate rest are well documented. The long term effects of inadequate sleep manifest themselves in higher heart attacks, diagnoses of cancer, and other diseases. Some of these diseases are latent in their development and are the result of the culmination of decades of inadequate rest and recovery. Get your rest. You’ll be more alert, make better decisions and lengthen your life.

For more information, click here to access: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Fire Fighters and EMS Responders.

Submit your report to www.firefighternearmiss.com today so everyone goes home tomorrow.

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.

National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Fatigue

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We continue with the training theme this week. We will emphasize the impact fatigue plays when realistic, labor intensive scenarios are engaged in during the hot summer months. An excerpt of this week’s event narrative appears below.

“A fellow firefighter and I were both previously certified from other departments. We were told to mainly help hump hose, carry pallets for fire growth, and assist when needed with interior situations to relieve the workload from the instructors. During a trip inside the burn building to carry pallets upstairs to the main fire, we both began to feel extremely warm. Neither of us considered anything about it other than it was mid-summer, mid-afternoon and our class had been burning all day long…

As we both made our way down the stairs, we noticed that the stairwell had become extremely hot and we both were forced to get as low as we could. When we made it to the door, the door had been pushed shut and would not open. We then both turned and crawled as fast as we could past the fire room and out the main entrance.

Once outside, we then discovered that the back-up team (who were in charge of watching the fire growth) had all dressed down and turned away from the fire. We also discovered that the crew that was placed at the basement simulation door had also turned from the building and placed the hose against the doorway blocking the door from opening outward.”

Conducting live fire training and other training in full PPE during the summer months requires that instructors monitor the physical condition of their students as well as themselves on a more frequent basis. The physiology of dehydration and the measures needed to counter dehydration should be well known to all instructors. Maintaining and ensuring personnel accountability of everybody engaged in the drill is equally important. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1. What accommodations does your department make for live training exercises in high temperature conditions?
2. Does your department have one high heat standard for training and one for daily operations?
3. What other industries might we turn to for advice on fluid replacement and working in high heat conditions?
4. What activities may be considered suitable substitutes when outdoor activities need to be curtailed due to high heat?
5. How much training have you had (company officer or training officer) on hydration and heat related fatigue?

Have you experienced a near miss due to dehydration or heat related fatigue? Visit and report your near-miss at www.firefighternearmiss.com today so everyone goes home tomorrow.

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.