Sunday, December 9, 2012

Risk vs. Gain

Last week I had to pass along a safety memo to my employees.  It was an accident with some firefighters fighting a structure fire.  It wasn't a horrible accident but one person ended up with a concussion. Reading about the incident I was able to point out several missteps the group took because they didn't continue to size up the incident.  Situational awareness isn't something you take into account when something first happens and design all your plans from that.  You have to continually monitor and adjust your tactics/plans based on the incident driven needs. 

There are many safety issues one has to think about every day.  It can be as simple as pushing that yellow/red light, speeding on the freeway, or even walking away from something cooking on the stove to answer the door.  We are constantly thinking about safety, even when we aren't aware that we are doing so.  But, if a threat comes along, in this case it was a fire, then you have to keep your awareness levels more alert and realize that the threat is continuously changing. 

No matter what the situation, you need to quickly assess the risk versus the gain.  This is not only for yourself but your crew, family, home, everything.  It can seem like something very simple but end up causing a lot of trouble.  A simple example of this happened to me several years ago.  I was taking all my books off my bookshelf.  As I was pulling books off, the shelf (not the bookcase) tipped.  This meant the books on the shelf all started falling off the shelf.  I reached to grab the books.  I messed up my thumb and ended up with surgery on my hand.  Not that I had a lot of time to think about it, but was it worth trying to catch the books?  Looking back on the incident, of course it wasn't.  If I didn't try to catch them they would have fallen on the ground.  They still fell on the ground, I just had a messed up hand to go along with the books on the floor.  I guess my question is, would I naturally try to catch them if they fell once again?  I'd hope not!

Now that example was a simple one.  What about if your neighbors house is on fire?  Do you try to put it out?  Do you just try to protect yours?  It all depends on the situation.  Remember risk vs gain analysis.  Make sure it's balanced before you act.  If their house is on fire because they come running out of the house yelling the house is on fire, then it sounds like a good time to be able to go in and try to attack the fire.  On the other hand, if you see their house is on fire because fire is venting out of every door and window, then you call it a loss.  Even if someone is inside, you probably can't get them out if you don't have the proper safety gear.  Even if you do, you can't make a search of the place, you'd only be able to go straight in and out of a known location.  But that's beyond this blog today.  You just have to remember to risk a lot to save a lot but risk nothing to save nothing.  If the place is completely engulfed, then risk nothing.  Protect structures that are nearby. 

No matter what you do you need to act aggressively.  I'm not talking about beating people up.  I mean if you are going to do something then do it!  But you must insure that you balance your aggressive approach with your safety.  It doesn't do anyone any good if you are the dead hero.

Don't have too many in charge but make sure the person in charge is there!  If something is going on at my house and I'm at my office I can't be directing people on what to do.  I can suggest but someone at the house has to take charge of whatever the situation is.  If you don't have someone there assessing what's going on and analyzing changes then you will not succeed.  You can't just go by the book because the story may not always be the same.  Many incidents remind me of the stories my kids used to read.  It was "pick your own adventure" where you'd get to the end of a page and you could choose one of two pages to read next.  The adventure was always changing.  Same goes with any task you may be doing.  Practice well but expect the scenario to change without advance notice.  You must stay alert to potential and predictable change as well as the unexpected.  Changes in strategy must be well communicated to all those at your incident. 

You are probably a bit confused by all my gobbledygook that I just wrote.  OK, I'll give you some background.  Here's the description of the neighborhood.  It sort of sounds like TSHTF already...

The neighborhood was constructed in the 1950s with a mix of one and two story single family homes.  There are numerous small sheds and outbuildings in the immediate area.  The neighborhood is accessed by a single paved, dead end lane.  Over the years the neighborhood because unoccupied and abandoned.  The city bought the properties hoping to someday redevelopment the area.  They fenced the neighborhood and put a locked gate across the road.  All the homes were boarded up and over the years were vandalized and became a haven for homeless.  None of the yards were maintained and the trees were overgrown. The access lane because overgrown and inaccessible to emergency vehicles.  There were multiple downed lines across the road.    The fire hydrant at the end of the lane was inoperable due to extensive vandalism.  Sounds like a great neighborhood??

One of the houses caught fire.  Several engines responded.   Instead of making sure that the fire didn't spread to nearby structures, thereby keeping the crews safe,  they attacked the fire as if it was a lived in home in a fully functional neighborhood.  One crew got too close to the structure and the building had a partial collapse.  The fascia swung down and hit one person hard enough to knock him over and give him a concussion. 

But it was an accident that didn't need to happen.  They went into their regular attack mode: It's what they practiced.  Nobody brought up the suggestion to just contain and not fight.  After all, the structure was a total loss by the time they got to it!  I can't think of any gain unless someone was inside one of the abandoned homes. 

Are you going to run a red light, play Russian roulette, or pretend you are Rambo and run out and cut down 20 and come out without a scratch?  Of course not.  Situational awareness must be maintained by all people no matter who is in charge.  You must think about risk versus gain all the time and keep the communication open.  Just remember, "Risk a lot to save a lot, but risk nothing to save nothing." 

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