Crew Resource Management – Part 7: Your Call To Action

Dennis L. Rubin concludes his series on adapting aviation industry practices to the fire service with a call to action for firefighters, officers and chiefs.


I have spent a great deal of time researching, writing about and teaching the concepts of Crew Resource Management (CRM). CRM is a very interesting process that commercial airline pilots use to avoid, trap or mitigate human error that can occur during flight, thereby preventing negative...


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I have spent a great deal of time researching, writing about and teaching the concepts of Crew Resource Management (CRM). CRM is a very interesting process that commercial airline pilots use to avoid, trap or mitigate human error that can occur during flight, thereby preventing negative consequences.

8_02_crew1.jpg
Photo courtesy of Norfolk Department of Fire & Paramedical Services
The author believes that CRM is the next "frontier for change" in the command system process for fires and other emergencies. Keep in mind it is not replacing the incident command system in any form or fashion, but greatly improving the single most important part of the command system - the human factor.

I came by my fascination with this decision-making process honestly. In 1994, after attending an incredible keynote presentation delivered by Captain Al Haynes of United Flight 232 , I was hooked on the concept. Haynes referenced a textbook entitled Cockpit Resource Management that was edited by Dr. Robert Helmreich, a world-renowned human performance scientist.

Being an avid reader, I ventured out and made the purchase of the book that Haynes cited in his program. The more I read the text, the more that I became an advocate for the concept of reducing human error. Several years later (in 1999), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) called a meeting to formally explore the feasibility of applying the CRM concepts of human error prevention to incident management. I am not sure why I was invited to these meetings, but what an honor it has been to continue to work on this most critical enhancement to the incident command system. A tip of the helmet goes to the ICHIEFS for picking up the "CRM ball" and running with it toward the goal of reducing firefighter death and injuries.

"FRONTIER FOR CHANGE"

I cannot overstate my belief that CRM is the next "frontier for change" in the command system process. Keep in mind it is not replacing the incident command system (ICS) in any form or fashion, but greatly improving the single most important part of the command system - the human factor.

Documented in six previous editions of Firehouse® Magazine is the "nuts-and-bolts" information about the CRM program:

  • Part 1 - The Nuts & Bolts of CRM (May 2001).
  • Part 2 - Human Factors of Fireground Injuries & Fatalities: Breaking the "Error Chain" (June 2001).
  • Part 3 - Communications Under Stress (July 2001).
  • Part 4 - Leadership (August 2001).
  • Part 5 - Task Allocation (November 2001).
  • Part 6 - Critical Decision Making (July 2002).

The purpose of this article will be to quickly review the highlights of this series and to challenge you, the fire service's best and brightest, into action. Considering that we seem to be stuck on losing 100 firefighters per year, there needs to be some way to break through to lower this deplorable recurring statistic.

The commercial aviation community realized a long time ago that plane crashes would most likely involve human error as the root cause. Therefore, they have worked diligently to eliminate human error from the cockpit of commercial jetliners.

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Photo courtesy of Norfolk Department of Fire & Paramedical Services
Redundancy at the command post (utilization of the command team process) is a critical necessity when members are placed in hazardous atmospheres or dangerous situations.

Consider that there are four primary causes of aircraft accidents (actually all types of accidents can be lumped into one of these four broad categories): environmental conditions, engineering controls, administrative process/procedures and human error. Research shows that the most difficult factor to control has been the human input (error). Accident investigation research and near-miss reporting indicates that the most likely cause of an airplane accident will be human error. In fact, the human error factor is the causative agent in 80% of all commercial aviation accidents.

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