Allen Richards, ATP, FSCEO, CFE, MPS, MHS
First Officer America Eagle/Envoy
Fire Chief (Retired)
Sansom Park FD (TX)
Solving the Communication Conundrum
How many of us have conducted an After-Action Review (AAR) following an incident and found that the number one problem is communications? I participated in several AARs in the fire service and military and the list always starts the same. Too much talking, not enough information, garbled transmissions, stepping on each other, etc.; the list can go on and on. Is there a bona fide solution to moving this problem further down the list? I believe the answer is to improve Crew Resource Management (CRM) techniques with an emphasis on leadership.
The focal point of improving communication in the aviation industry is to allow the entire crew to have a stake in the outcome. Each person has a specific function when an emergency occurs. It is essential that the flight crew, each with separate responsibilities, clearly understand what is expected of them from takeoff to touchdown. Each phase must be coordinated by four people to ensure success of the flight; most instances, this is the first time flying as a crew. Pre-flight and safety briefings, along with discussions for out-of-the-ordinary situations, occur at the beginning of every sequence with all crew members highlighting experiences and asking pertinent questions for clarification. Analyzing aviation incidents can help your department develop a CRM program by studying the chain of events that caused both catastrophic and positive outcomes. This process can be of great benefit for the fire service.
We are all ‘fix-it’ minded emergency responders where we spend countless hours training and honing our craft to make sure we can solve any crisis. However, since we’ve all been ‘talking’ our entire lives, many fire service leaders feel they are ‘experts’ in communication. If this were the case, communications would not be a topic of discussion at every AAR. Development of listening skills is paramount to implementing a solid and effective CRM program and culture. Stephen R. Covey tells us that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” The ability to listen, comprehend, and respond appropriately takes a great deal of focus with the same intensity we put forth in all other areas of our training. On a busy fireground, leaders must decide which information is critical to the successful outcome of the incident and which information can be transmitted during a break in the action.
The takeaway from this leadership class will be a renewed interest in how to effectively communicate in all environments. Improving these critical skills will ensure emergency crews have the ability to operate in high-risk situations with continued success. Leaders must continue to seek information from their crews to fully integrate them into decisions and prepare them for higher level thought processes.