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Finding Positive Solutions

Problems happen all the time. And while our mission in the fire service is to “solve” other people’s problems, we must also learn to find positive solutions to our own issues.

As a company officer, how we choose to respond to a problem, such as an accident, a deviation in an operational procedure, or poor execution at an emergency event is a major factor that can make all the difference in our crew’s future performance. Our objective should always be to enhance performance, increase situational awareness, and decrease the potential for injuries.

The root cause
Aiming corrective measures at the root cause is more effective than merely treating the symptoms of the problem. To be effective, a root cause analysis should be performed systematically where conclusions are backed up by facts. There is usually more than one root cause for any given problem. Every cause has a human component, and that is always the “how.” The “why” behind the problem is usually a failure in an organizational process, behavior, or system. This might include a lack of leadership, training, teamwork, discipline, or communication.

Example scenario
The fire hose attacking the fire lost water. How? The driver-operator didn’t establish a continuous water supply or monitor the tank level. That was a human error. Why? The assigned driver-operator was sick and was replaced with a firefighter who was not properly trained in pump operations. The final answer to the problem is that there was no operational procedure in place for replacing a qualified driver-operator.
The general process for finding positive solutions includes:

1. Defining the problem
2. Gathering the facts
3. Identifying problems that contributed to the problem (the causal factors)
4. Finding root causes for each causal factor (the how and the why)
5. Developing solution recommendations
6. Implementing the solutions
7. Monitoring the solutions for improved performance

The process should be viewed as a method for finding performance problems, or a tool for improvement. It should not become a blame game. Too many times we look at a problem and immediately diagnose it as a human error without digging deeper into the factors affecting the behavior. This happens, unfortunately, when we mistakenly assume that people are “unreliable.” With that viewpoint, we often end up with corrective actions including disciplining the people involved or just issuing a new policy, when providing training or revising a procedure might have been a better solution.

Your crew is the most valuable resource you have. But they are human, and humans do make mistakes and have accidents. Positive corrective actions, focusing on the root cause of the problem, will enhance your crew’s safety and improve its future performance.

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