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Near-Miss Reporting: Chief Officers and Their Unique Perspectives

Chief officers bring a unique perspective to the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System because of their different, more global perspective at the scene of an incident.

Crew members operating on the interior of a structure might not realize the changing conditions visible to the chief officer on the outside. A team heavily focused on disentangling a severely pinned civilian at a collision, many not take note of the high-tension power line dangling from the pole during the extrication. A hazmat entry team may overlook a seam that comes loose as they begin their downrange trek to investigate a mist filled chemical lab.

The commanding chief officer, however, often sees these things and intervenes.

The chief officer also has a different opinion of why the near miss occurs and possibly how it could have been prevented.

There are many reasons why chief officers should submit near-miss reports. Three of the more common reasons include no statute of limitations, leading by example and supporting a positive labor-management environment.

Below are report excerpts that support these reasons. Each excerpt represents an opportunity and example for you as a chief officer to share an experience that taught you something during your career.

No statute of limitations on a report: It doesn’t matter how long ago an incident occurred; the report will still be relevant for today’s firefighters. Report 10-074 was submitted by a fire chief. The incident occurred in 1979:

Units responded to a residential structure fire. Fire origin was in the basement of a 2.5 story double family dwelling with wood frame, balloon construction. I entered the basement through a rear exterior door with a charged 1.5 inch hose line …

Once I reached the inside basement door, I was unable to open it. Stored items had fallen and jammed that door in the closed position. At this time I was out of air. I was able to locate an exterior basement window. Firefighters outside the structure assisted me in crawling through the small window opening.

Lead by example: Submit a report to help cultivate department buy-in for near-miss reporting among your members. To help to maintain the anonymity of the reporting system, issue a standing order or draft an SOP about the system that ensures personnel won’t be identified or punished by the department for filing a near-miss report. Then file a report of your own, using your experience to support the system.

There are several examples of SOPs available on the Resources page at FireFighterNearMiss.com. The following is an excerpt from report 09-441, submitted by a chief officer:

The captain leading the crew made a very good assessment of the initial hole and stopped his crew from advancing … They could identify floor trusses but were unable to identify the failed areas … This made interpretation of the screen very difficult … The crews pulled back, and after ventilation occurred, crews could see the floor failure. The "near miss" here is the fact that the floor system failed.

A positive labor-management environment: In these difficult economic times, maintaining a strong labor-management relationship is difficult. Creating an environment where a positive labor-management relationship can be fostered continues to challenge many chief officers. One of the areas of common ground is firefighter safety.

Chief officers need to focus on and ensure that the working relationship between their members and themselves is strong and that their members have the sense that their chief officers are taking care of them.

The lessons-learned narrative from report 08-216 provides an example that cements the value of following best practices at every scene:

Personnel need to be constantly aware of "the other guy." In this case, the other driver did not see obviously marked emergency vehicles, and actually accused the police officer of pulling out in front of him from behind another vehicle …

By following our best practices and having situational awareness, we may not be able to prevent a secondary incident along the highway, but we can greatly reduce the hazards to our personnel and the people involved in the primary incident.

The Near-Miss Reporting System has found that chief officers generally submit a report that is rich in details. Their unique perspective provides an excellent example for others to follow when they file their report.

In addition, the report provides an excellent training opportunity for other members of the department, from the youngest fire explorer to a veteran chief. Take 15 minutes to tell the fire and emergency service your near miss so others can protect themselves, their crews and their departments.

Rynnel Gibbs is the programs coordinator for the IAFC’s Near-Miss Program.

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