Safety & Health

Why You Need to Really Know Your Job

Issue 1 and Volume 6.

Each Near-Miss column this year will follow the topics from the 2011 Near-Miss Calendar, a supplement included in the December 2010 issue of FireRescue magazine.

This month’s topic focuses on “knowing your job.” The challenges we face each day range from peaks of high drama to repetitive, mundane runs. It’s easy to fall victim to complacency, forgetting how dynamic, unpredictable and harrowing the job can be. If we’re not properly prepared, we may be reactive instead of proactive. However, staying “at the ready” 24/7 can be exceedingly fatiguing as well. So where is the proper balance?

One successful strategy is to look for new learning opportunities. For example, instead of throwing ladders against the firehouse, look for other laddering opportunities in your first-run area. Another valuable tool is to inter-mingle hands-on activities with instructive materials.

The following report excerpts illustrate the need for operational readiness and the advantages of “knowing the job.”

Situational Awareness (Report #10-105)
“An EMS unit had responded to a motor vehicle accident. There turned out to be no injuries. They were sitting in the EMS vehicle completing charts when another civilian vehicle crossed a hill at an excessive speed, lost control and crashed into the left side of the EMS vehicle. Just prior to the crash, the driver was sitting in his seat with his feet dangling out the door. His officer said to him, ‘Hey, why don’t you pull your feet back in and close your door. You never know what else might happen.’”

Wear All PPE (Report #05-497)
“While demonstrating a technique for removing a door with a hydraulic spreader, the tool, under extreme pressure, lost its bite and sprung from the opening, striking me in the head and face area. Fortunately, that day I was wearing full protective gear, including a helmet with full face shield. The tool struck my face shield and the brim of my helmet. Had I not been wearing my helmet and face shield, I would have surely received a serious head injury.”

Know When to Say When (Report #08-015)
“The lieutenant and firefighter from the first-arriving engine immediately stretched a 1¾” handline to the front door to begin an aggressive interior attack. They encountered high heat conditions and reported that they were making very little headway against the fire. At about the same time, the captain of the second engine reported that there was also fire in the basement. When the members from the first engine realized they were making little to no headway on the fire, they decided to exit the building.”

These reports use passive reinforcement and logic to underscore the importance of “knowing your job.” So this month, take a few minutes each shift to focus on ensuring your crew “knows their job” a little better than they did the shift before. Here are a few tried-and-true tips for success:

  1. Challenge your crew to bring something to the table each time you get together.
  2. Request permission to attend one conference this year with the goal of bringing key information back to your department.
  3. Visit at least three fire service-related websites each shift for tips on improving your performance.
  4. Build at least 30 minutes into each shift for cardio.
  5. Ensure that there’s an appropriate amount of “recovery time” built into each shift. Company meals and short transitions between activities will help prevent your crew from becoming frazzled by a 24/7 schedule.

Final Thoughts
The most important task we undertake is maintaining operational readiness in an uncertain environment. When performance counts, the confidence of “knowing your job” can carry you through a multitude of situations. Are you doing everything you can to know your job? If so, then 2011 should be a very good year.