Coffee Break Bulletin

Improving on-scene performance

Posted: March 5, 2019

Knowing how to appropriately identify and correct on-scene errors beforehand improves operational effectiveness.

firefighters on a hose line

Poor task performance is the gap between actual accomplishment and the performance level prescribed in your organization’s procedures, policies and guidelines. Training is often used as the “default” reason and solution for correction. However, close global examination of your agency’s policies, staffing and resources may indicate an entirely different situation.

Consider this scenario

Your administration is troubled about fireground performance. Specifically, your chief is concerned about the speed of achieving basic operational benchmarks: water supply and use, ground ladder placement, and ventilation.

Possible causes of poor performance and solutions

Carefully investigating all aspects of available resources, planning and execution is key to determining the root problems and proper resolution. Here are just a few examples:

ProblemSolution
Resources and equipment may be in poor condition, unsafe to use, unreliable or inadequate for the task.Resource repair and replacement.
Identify the adequacy of your resources to meet levels of service provided.
Assigned human resources may not match the task assignment. Personnel who are not competent or qualified to perform the task or are not in sufficient numbers to safely support the operation will slow mission accomplishment.Evaluate staffing levels as a response resource.
This includes assigning an adequate number of properly trained personnel to perform effectively. Match human resources to the task requirements, ensuring that responders are capable, qualified and adequately supported.
Unclear expectations communicated through written guidance or verbal orders may lead to confusion or misunderstanding of what is expected for successful task performance.Performance expectations described in policy must be spelled out in clear language for clear understanding.
Fireground verbal orders must also be clear and concise to eliminate misunderstanding. Describing a clear image of task accomplishment will promote safe and timely operations.
Modern response agencies are facing diversity and multigenerational communication issues.Supervisors are responsible for aligning cultures with department guidance.
All team members have an active voice in finding a common understanding of agency expectations. Agency administration must seize every opportunity to bridge these communication gaps and inspire policy acceptance. Collaborative, diverse perspectives bring a wealth of energy to enhance safety and speed up operations.
Inadequate or deteriorating knowledge and skills due to improper training, or lack of on-going competency assessment.Successful operations require continuing education and skills enhancement training.
All team members must make a commitment to lifelong learning. Periodic competency assessments foster deeper understanding of the skills and encourage individual pride through safely completing operational tasks.

Back to the scenario

Based on your assessments, you determined that the issues are caused by poor maintenance of the fire pumps and poor design of the engines, making ladder retrieval and deployment difficult.

Additionally, your review of the department’s policies, procedures and guidelines indicates that there are no department standards for on-scene performance.

Based on your evaluation, the chief has implemented a pump maintenance plan, advised the municipal authorities of the department’s intent to move forward with a plan to address the engineering deficiencies with the ladders, and ordered continuing training and annual competency assessments.

Action step to improve on-scene performance

Consider attending these free courses at the National Fire Academy to learn more about analyzing operational performance, training design and program management.

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