The topic of crew integrity is a dominant discussion point for fireground practices and conference presentations. Firefighting is rarely a singular event from the organized department level. This fact is buttressed by the basic organizational service delivery model, the company.
However, despite being organized into companies and so establishing both a latent and an active philosophy that firefighting is a grouped activity, crew integrity still breaks down. We can all recall incidents where crew integrity was maintained and where crew integrity disintegrated. Many of us have probably been involved in instances and maybe even contributed to a breakdown in crew integrity over the course of our careers.
In those instances where the cohesion of the crew breaks down, the likelihood or occurrence of mishap escalates.
Why is crew integrity so important? It's more than just company pride and the appearance of organization. The conclusive answer is maintaining crew integrity saves firefighter's lives.
The ancillary answers that support this fact range far and wide. A review of near-miss reports provides one window into the variety of answers. There are 72 reports in the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System that mention crew integrity.
In each of the 72 reports, the message is unambiguous. Crew integrity counts. Crews that stick together perform better. Crews that stick together make better decisions. Crews that stick together survive.
Report #10-0008 provides one example. A company officer (the reporter) leaves his crew to find an access point to attack a fire on the second floor after his crew (cohesively) knocks down a fire on the first floor. He becomes disoriented during his search and progresses from being the crew leader to calling a mayday. He notes that he emphasized crew integrity to his shift and this incident reinforced that it applies to him as well.
In nearly all of the 72 reports, a crewmember leaves his crew to do something. The something ranges from leaving the hazard zone to get another piece of equipment without letting someone know to wandering off in the hazard zone to act on something that "needed to be done."
In each case, the breakdown of crew integrity results in fireground confusion, mayday calls and firefighters in avoidable jeopardy.
The takeaway is clear. Crew integrity is an essential component to all successful firefighting operations. To make the point clear to your department members, key in on these four points to ensure crew integrity is maintained:
- Set the bar where crew integrity is not negotiable and hold everyone to that bar.
- Emphasize the importance of crew integrity through spotlighting the happenings found in any one of the 72 near-miss reports. Have your officers review a near-miss report on crew integrity with their crews to punctuate the importance.
- Use the importance of crew integrity as one of your talking points during your next round of officer meetings and station visits.
- Add "crew integrity maintained by all units" to the after-action critique you use.
John Tippett is the deputy chief of operations for the City of Charleston Fire Department.