We all love going to fires. We’d all agree we learn something at every fire we go to. So how do we track what we’ve experienced and what we’ve learned? If we don’t track this, how can we know where to focus for improvement? As a company, most of us keep log books, Firehouse Software reports, NFIRS reports, or other official documents. These track the official details of how our organization deployed at an incident. But what about you personally? Where is what you’ve done and how you’ve evolved tracked?
About a year ago, I began informally tracking the incidents to which I responded. Using Evernote, a simple piece of free software that I can access on any computer or my phone, I began quickly keeping some personal notes after any significant incident I went to. As the training chief for my Department, my initial goal was to have a system to track incident actions and trends and to over time be able to identify any recurring gaps between our expectations and performance so that we could address them through training or guidelines.
It worked, but I also began to find that I also tracked what I had done personally. Since on the scene I function as any other battalion chief would, where was I falling short personally? If I was the IC did I manage the scene well? Communicate well? Did I miss something important in my size-up? Did I have a mis-step with my PPE? Was there an SOG I wasn’t fully up to date on? In addition to tracking performance at the Department level, I quickly found that I was identifying gaps in my own actions.
What to track? As much as you can I suppose… As soon as the incident is over, I brain dump my thoughts into a note in a bulleted list – you can always come back later and add to it, or clean it up. The nice thing about Evernote is that I can easily access it on my phone, so I can often start this brain dump while still on scene. I’ll add a picture of the scene or any important action areas so I can recall the situation later. If I was the IC, I’ll scan in a copy of my tactical worksheet. Later I can attach parts of the incident audio.
Seeing this information all in one place makes it easy to reflect on later. As you build up a list of incidents, you can look back on them and see what keeps popping up. Maybe your companies need to work on deploying more ground ladders. Maybe YOU need to work on how to speak on the radio more clearly when wearing an SCBA. One of the benefits of this system is that it’s private. We’ll all naturally be a little more candid when we know it’s private – we’ll particularly be more honest about our own shortcomings. And even that private acknowledgement that we have an issue will help drive us to fix it.
The benchmark for a good job is not “the fire went out and everyone went home” – that’ll happen even if we don’t show up. The details are what matter. By tracking those details we can see where we need to improve. Whether you are a backstep firefighter, company or chief officer, keeping track of your performance on incidents over time will help you identify where you can improve.