Beyond the refresher

I recently attended my fire refresher training with the Buffalo River National Park fire crew.  They put extra effort into planning the training and it made for a memorable day.  The added emphasis was the result of way too many fire fatalities in 2013. The refresher planners took their mission to heart.  I was introduced to a few interesting concepts that are especially apropos to fire, but have application in other realms. 

Margin of maneuver: "Margin of Maneuver (Woods and Branlat, 2010): a cushion of potential actions and additional resources that allows the system to continue functioning despite unexpected demands." (Chan, Y. J. 2012. Margin of Maneuver Approach to Define Resilient Control Systems. The Ohio State University, Dissertation.)

Generally speaking, it is desirable to maintain as much margin to maneuver as you can. That gives you flexibility to make decisions as the environment changes and new information is collected. We can artificially shrink our margins to maneuver if we fail to keep an open mind or assess ALL data. A concept important to fire which clearly has application in other situations where operational leadership is employed.

Bias for Action: "Propensity to act or decide without customary analysis or sufficient information 'just do it' and contemplate later. " 

There are certain tasks and professions where it is beneficial to have people who spring to action--emergency medical people, police, and firefighters are among them.  Who wants an EMT that has to contemplate the ins and outs of treatment before applying the AED, right?  In wildland fire fighting, the culture and tradition is for action.

Since the beginning of the fire service, the goal has been to put out fires by 10am, the next operation period, or some other self imposed deadline.  The advent of "fire use" fires allowed the fire service to step back and ask if they really needed to put the fire out or if they could coral it for the benefit of the resource.  This development is still action, but from a different perspective.  Wildfires occur from time to time, that could be deemed no risk, or too high a risk where action might not be the best approach.  The challenge called out in the refresher was to consider first, whether action is needed.  Furthermore, that question can be asked throughout the duration of a fire or whatever event you choose.  The answer may change as conditions change or data is gathered.

Recognition Prime Decision Making Model:  This is a decision making process that firefighters tend to use.  It is touted as a natural way of making decisions.  When presented a situation, leaders flip through the mental "slides" of past experiences that are relevant to the decision. They then develop a strategy based on that slide.  Intuition and rational drive the process for many of the decisions we make.  The research shows that decision makers do not necessarily compare alternatives. An iterative process is used to hit on an acceptable course of action.  There are benefits to this type of decision making.  It seems relatively quick, experience has value, and outcomes have already been tested. However, every situation has unique aspects. Failing to recognize those parts of the situation that are different from one's mental slides, can lead to a course of action that is inappropriate for the situation at hand.  You run the risk of artificially reducing your margin of maneuver if you fail to consider all the details of the current situation.

These were just a few tidbits I decided to try to solidify in my brain.