Crew Resource Management ? Part V

This is the fifth article in the series that discusses the CRM program in detail and explores how it can be applied to our business.Some incident commanders like being in the (actual) heat of battle at every alarm. This type of boss will express a desire...


This is the fifth article in the series that discusses the CRM program in detail and explores how it can be applied to our business.Some incident commanders like being in the (actual) heat of battle at every alarm. This type of boss will express a desire to get a good look inside ("up close and personal, leave nothing to chance", an old chief would say to me as he entered the smoke). The same type personality flaw wants to be the public information officer, engage in "hands-on" patient care and perhaps be the interior operations supervisor, without ever transferring command to anyone else. This "super-charged solo fighter pilot" seems to be able to do it all, except to provide continuous, high quality command and control of an incident scene. There is an emerging process that causes the individual responsible for a high-risk event (such as a fire or rescue alarm) to utilize all available resources to safely, effectively and efficiently resolve the problem at hand. The system that I have described is the commercial airline industry's Crew Resource Management (CRM) process. This is the fifth article in the series that discusses the CRM program in detail and explores how it can be applied to our business (fire-rescue command). The topic of discussion for this issue will be the proper allocation of tasks by the incident commander to his/her supporting cast of characters.

Brief Review of CRM

Crew Resource Management was born in December of 1978 out of the growing necessity to lower (actually eliminate) commercial airplane crashes. Scientific research clearly determined that more than 80% of all commercial aviation disasters were caused directly by human error problems. The case study that pushed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) into action was a DC - 8 that ran out of fuel 6 miles out from the airport after circling for nearly one hour (United 173). The crew advised the captain of the low fuel situation, but he did not hear the dozen or so warnings given to him by his crew. The research indicated that in retrospect, the human error that cost ten lives that day was highly predicable before impact. In other words, none of the investigators were surprised that the plane would run out of fuel after the first and second officers repeatedly warned the captain of the remaining fuel status. When the captain refused the input and participation of the qualified crew members, the odds were that a disaster would catch-up to this pilot. When the pilot least expected it, an unimaginable disaster occurred because of his inability to effectively use his crew's input (a classic human error).

Key Elements

With the correct tools and motivation, human behaviors can be changed in a positive way. The FAA along with the airline industry developed and implemented the program that is now known as Crew Resource Management. The program is simple, straightforward and most importantly effective when properly applied to daily operations. This concept is not a "flash in the pan" or a "passing fad" for the airline industry. Human performance is watched from every angle by the airlines, with an eye towards constant improvement. There is too much at risk to take this improvement process lightly. In fact, CRM is now in its sixth major revision after 23 years of documented use. (Author's note: Sounds like our business, high risk!).

The key elements of CRM are:

• Effective Communications
• Teamwork/Leadership
• Task Allocation
• Critical Decision Making

Classic Aviation Case Study

In December of 1972, an Eastern Airlines flight departed in route to Miami. The filed flight pattern had the Lockheed TriStar 1011 wide body jet flying directly over the heart of the Everglades into south Florida. While at 2,000 feet on its final approach for landing, it was noticed that the nose landing gear light was not lit. The decision was correctly made to go into a holding pattern while the problem was diagnosed and resolved. The second officer (flight engineer) crawled into the below deck access area (better known as the "hell hole"). He tried to get a visual inspection to insure that the nose gear was down and hopefully locked into place. The captain and co-pilot focused on the efforts of the flight engineer as he did the visual inspection of the nose gear. While the captain was leaning in to talk to the engineer, he inadvertently pushed in on the yoke, which disengaged the autopilot function.

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