for endangering the health and safety of its employees. Three incident commanders were also charged with manslaughter by gross
negligence but were later acquitted. According to the Fire Brigade
Union (FBU) report, the level of the firefighters’ training and
the quality of information available to the incident commander
contributed to the poor outcome.
In 2008, a woman fell into a disused mine shaft in the Galston
Mine in Ayrshire, Scotland, and died after several hours of
waiting to be rescued. “The incident was unusual and beyond
the experience of members of the emergency services,” reports
Steptoe-Warren. Investigation into the incident found that her
death was preventable, but the rescue preplanning was inadequate. The personnel had not been trained effectively in handling
the equipment available to them, and so they were unable to
effectively remove the woman any sooner than they did. The lack
of advance risk assessment skills was also part of the reason the
rescue mission failed.
Bad decision making on the fireground can have negative repercussions for firefighters, and the threat of criminal prosecution
and the loss of victims’ and colleagues’ lives are just some of them.
Such outcomes potentially make incident commanders more risk
averse, says Steptoe-Warren, as well as chip away at the well-being
and psychological health of firefighters.
Operational preparedness must continually be assessed because
changes to the training process and regulation landscape might
be needed. Constant assessment is essential to support personnel while they perform their life-saving duties. “There are nearly
always some areas for development among staff members in
any organization, such as challenging any cognitive biases that
influence decision making and collecting new information, as
highlighted by the Atherstone-on-Stour and Galston incidents,”
ASSESSING OPERATIONAL PREPAREDNESS
Before assessing operational preparedness, Steptoe-Warren and
Evans first needed to identify the factors that contribute to it.
Through focused group discussions with high ranking WMFS
personnel, they gained an understanding of how decision making
was done on the fireground and identified the common themes
from these discussions. The five main themes—trust, information
gathering, incident learning, skills, and experience—were then used
as the basis for creating scenarios to be used within an assessment
The tool is a situational judgment test (SJT), which is the most
important product of the Steptoe-Warren and Evans’ study. A SJT
can be designed and conducted specifically for individual fire and
rescue organizations, but it can also be shared between different emergency service agencies. SJTs can be tailored to become
effective tools during training, development, and recruitment and
A SJT presents test takers with a work-related situation, asks
what they would do, and typically provides multiple choice
answers. The benefit of using such a test is that it allows the test
taker to assess multiple mental constructs and possible courses of
action in highly complex situations. It reveals some job-related
skills, such as various forms of intelligence, that are not always
observable or overtly measured. Ultimately, it is a management
tool to assess behavior and predict job performance.