As a foreign commercial airliner was climbing out to its assigned cruising altitude, the following translated discussion was captured on the cockpit voice recorder. The first officer points out to the captain that the flaps on the plane are still extended at a 15-degree angle. The pilot does not...
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As a foreign commercial airliner was climbing out to its assigned cruising altitude, the following translated discussion was captured on the cockpit voice recorder. The first officer points out to the captain that the flaps on the plane are still extended at a 15-degree angle. The pilot does not give an understandable response to this statement. Then, a second warning is issued by the co-pilot that the plane's airspeed is too slow, and again the pilot makes an unintelligible, grunt-type sound.
The co-pilot issues a desperate third warning. He indicates that the plane's flaps are extended, the airspeed is too slow and that the plane's altitude is too low. The pilot breaks his frustrating silence by telling the first officer to "Shut up and look out the window. If I want your opinion on how to fly this plane, I will ask for it."
Within two minutes, the plane flew into the side of a mountain, killing everyone aboard. The captain's lack of leadership and teamwork (human factors) is listed as the principal cause of the crash.
The commercial aviation industry's crew resource management (CRM) process identifies four specific competencies that crewmembers must abide (live) by to simply avoid crashes. Communications, leadership/ teamwork, task allocation and critical decision making are the "big four" elements that make up the airline industry's CRM system. Interestingly, I propose that there are amazing parallels between commanding an incident and commanding a jetliner. This is the fourth article in a multi-part series that looks at how the fire-rescue service can adopt the airline industries crew resource management system to improve firefighter safety and overall street-level operations ("helping Mrs. Smith"). CRM leadership and teamwork skills will be the topic of discussion in this article as they relate to human factors performance at emergency alarms.
One only needs to consider what is at risk when a commercial plane takes off from the runway to begin appreciating the similarities between our professions. For starters, there are usually many souls on board an aircraft making the life risk element very significant. Among the lives placed in harm's way are those of the entire flight crew (this prospect adds an interesting and personal dimension to preventing a crash).
If the plane were to go down in a populated area, the lives of still more people would likely be lost. Property loss can be outrageously high, considering the expense of an airplane and collateral property damage that generally occurs. Negative environmental impact does happen when a plane crashes, especially if leaking fluids make it into waterways or smoke liberated from ensuing fire pollutes the air. Finally, the good name and business reputation of an air carrier are at stake when a crash takes place.
These risks are exactly the same in our business; so therefore, we need to take advantage of the human factors performance improvement research developed by the airline industry to be able to "prevent harm in our communities."
As was painfully pointed out in the opening vignette, the pilot was too stubborn or perhaps too egotistical to simply take advice from his own co-pilot (team member). Does this dilemma sound familiar to anyone out there in the fire-rescue service? Perhaps you've heard statements like, "Need I remind you that there are five trumpets on this collar?" or maybe "What part of 'I'm in charge' don't you understand?" I can remember working for a colorful old captain who would boldly state at lineup that, "All working fires must be knocked down before the chief arrives." He was serious about his stance, even though battalion headquarters was just about two miles away from our company.
Another personal example of the "fighter pilot/I'm the only one who can handle it" mentality was the repeated behavior of a battalion chief that I would occasionally have the opportunity to drive. Great guy, but he never called or allowed me to call for a second alarm. He was supportive with the requests for assistance, as long as it was a special call or task force alarm, never a second.