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Operations - Risk Averse


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Hello all

I hope everyone if well considering.

From a generic point of view, when attending structural fires do we feel that we are becoming more 'risk-averse' ?

Could we have a better save/outcome and reduction in incident scale and resourcing if a more aggressive tactic was used. Obviously taking into account safe systems etc

Following recent incidents I have attended, it seems we are more reluctant to commit crews given the slightest issue. Is this from a lack of knowledge and experience or a change in culture. Im not advocating a 'gung ho' attitude by any means.

We seem to loose some saveable structures, when on reflection, (hindsights wonderful) we could have saved them with a strong commitment of the right FF media and weight of attack

Just wondering what your thoughts are on this.



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I have been retired from the fire service 11 years now and am a member of a FB old farts Facebook Group . They would love this topic. I can hear some of the old dinosaurs really voicing a negative view when  comparing today’s tactics and risk approach with yesterday.

I blame Eric - you know, ERIC PD, for the shift in pragmatism and common sense

If you have never heard of him, this fella originates from our chums in the H&S game. It’s a hierarchy to be applied (in order) during a risk assessment to reduce the risk of something . An example: Think of a banana skin on the floor of an art gallery - a contemporary piece of artwork -(stay with me here!). You use ERIC by considering the following control measures:

  • Eliminate - pick it up and bin it (but you cant as its an artwork)
  • Reduce or substitute - reduce the risk by replacing it with a plastic bit of fruit (but the artist says no)
  • Isolate - put a barrier around it
  • Control - use staff to warn the public on approach
  • Personal Protective Equipment - provide PPE to visitors
  • Discipline - rules - put signs up warning visitors of the risk

The problem with Eric is 'elimination' is always the first consideration. Throw the banana skin away then there is zero risk. But then there is zero artwork to see, so there is this constant juxtaposition/dilemma to balance. It is the lazy way to apply safety measures.

Even if you have never heard of Eric, he is everywhere. Headteachers banning conkers, a fire safety ‘expert’ banning red noses from a venue during  red nose night as they are combustible - you have heard similar ‘H&S gone mad’ madness.

The role of a senior officer can be an isolating one. Gone is the protection of the watch, the idea you can pool the collective knowledge of your team and use it in decision making. You are on your own and people are looking at you to lead. It is stressful, especially if you have got a bloody clue what to do. Then you have to thing about your status, reputation and of course promotion.

Many senior officers use the decision making model of ‘If I don't make a decision, I wont make a mistake’. Strictly applying ERIC PD is one way of keeping your reputation safe. Eliminate BA wearers, going defensive ASAP and everyone is safe, especially my promotion prospects. It works pretty well, other than saveable jobs are turned into car parks.

So what can be done?

I have worked in the fire safety game for 20 years, practising the black art unofficially when part-timing when operational in the LFB, later in a LFB FS Role and for the last 10 years in the most difficult environment, where 'elimination' of a risk is often NOT an option.

I use ERIC, but I turn the guy on his head. This makes ‘elimination’ of a risk is the last resort rather than the first option. Living with the risk by controlling it where possible is the answer. In the art gallery example, I would probably display signs and illuminate this banana skin rather than throwing it away.

Maybe, just maybe, if the fire service used an inverted ERIC PD hierarchy and accepting some risk, things may improve. Plus, having the adopted the US originated choice of ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ operation tactics doesn't help either, as it pushes the officer in charge into a binary choice rather than a holistic one.

I doubt whether changes will happen as I don't think anyone in authority thinks there’s a problem.


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Hey Messyshaw

Very enlightening response, thank you, I like the analogy of the 'banna art'

There are indeed many factors and for many you have hit the nail on the head, change in the FRS is a difficult animal to work with. It is perhaps the misunderstanding on the use of ERIC PD etc to allow sensible and active decision making. Perhaps the dilution of operational knowledge and skills along with confidence to take action to affect a speedy resolve.

We focus a lot on CFBT and BA training for operational licenses and yet we do not have confidence in crew ability to make decisions if committed. Instead we hold mass gatherings of resources outside whilst we paint the roof, resulting in the following days news footage of a burnt out structure. Not always black and white, and yes being a JO/officer comes with a great weight in some situations. 

On ward and upwards I guess


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