Situational Judgment Tests
Besides obtaining themes during focused discussions with key
personnel, generating possible scenarios can also be done by
pulling storylines from training materials and other preexisting
firefighting learning resources and also through an analysis of
job elements. Scenarios can also be created through the use of
critical incident techniques, which allow staff to look into their
own experiences (specific jobs in the past); analyze the situation;
and identify successful or unsuccessful factors that affected their
performance and, consequently, the final outcomes.
Findings from a SJT could potentially mean that changes
to the operational preparedness of firefighters are necessary.
Steptoe-Warren and Evans found that the WMFS personnel were
operationally prepared in general, except when it came to the
information-gathering skills of personnel who had been in the
service for 21 to 25 years.
“The potential reason is familiarity heuristics,” explains Steptoe-Warren. Heuristics is a cognitive method for people to make
decisions more efficiently. It is the “rule of thumb” in a person’s
mind. Heuristics can easily lead to traps where people attempt to
simplify complex situations and, as a result, fail to evaluate the
entire picture and all of their available options.
Familiarity heuristics, specifically, is the process of choosing the
most familiar option. It can help a person make decisions quickly,
but it doesn’t necessarily produce the most logical or correct
course of action. Heuristics are cognitive biases that can have tremendous implications on the fireground; thus, fire organizations
need to train personnel on how to minimize such biases.
CHANGING OPERATIONAL PREPAREDNESS
“Our assessment at present shows that WMFS personnel are
meeting the requirements,” says Steptoe-Warren. “However, there
is always room for improvement within any organization, and
WMFS is at the forefront of developments to improve its services.”
As a result of the assessment results, Evans adds, “WMFS has
implemented changes based on the work, in addition to con-
tinuing to innovate toward the improvement of practices for the
improvement of public and staff safety.” Specifically, the change
adopted by WMFS is the use of body cameras on personnel
during training exercises so they can review their responses and
behaviors during simulated situations and learn how to improve.
So, how does the study apply to other fire organizations?
The findings of the study highlight the value of the SJT tool to
individually assess fire and rescue teams in terms of operational
preparedness. Steptoe-Warren says they are designing a SJT tool
that will be offered to other emergency response services to help
them assess the level of their operational preparedness and, if
needed, implement any changes to their training and development procedures.
CONSISTENT VIGILANCE AND IMPROVEMENT
Operational preparedness involves a cycle of constant vigilance
and consistent improvement. Indeed, the United States National
Incident Management System (NIMS) defines it as, “A continu-
ous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising,
evaluating, and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure
effective coordination during incident response.”
Being prepared means knowing how to prevent or respond to
emergency situations and mitigate the risks involved. Similarly,
fire and rescue personnel need to continually assess and change
operational preparedness to minimize biases, risks, and other
issues that can arise during fire incidents. Situational judgment
tests can assist with both the assessment of operational prepared-
ness and the identification of training needs within this critical
function of firefighting.
Dr. Nicola Davies is a psychologist and freelance writer with expertise in occupational psychology and well-being. You can follow her on Twitter (@healthpsychuk)
or sign up for her free blog ( http://healthpsychologyconsultancy.wordpress.com/).
A sample situational judgment test
(SJT) item, adapted from Steptoe-Warren and Evans’ presentation.
Scenario: You are called to an incident. Chil-
dren have reported an unconscious man in a canal.
You arrive at the incident. There are public reports
that there were two people spotted. It is dark, the
embankment is steep, and access to the canal is
downward. You see one person lying face down in
water, but there is no sign of the other reported person. There is an approximately 25-foot drop into the
water. The police are starting to arrive. They want
to jump in to save the visible person. You decide to
take charge. What is your course of action?
A. On the way to the incident, brief crew in appliance (fire truck). Ensure that the ladder and
lines are ready and fire personnel are in water
gear. Check to be sure that the water rescue
team is on the way. Gather information about
further casualties and attain local knowledge
from the public. Check the ladders and lines and
give police instructions.
B. Wait until you arrive at the scene to survey the
waterways. Check for any missing person. Leave
the sighted person for the police to rescue, keeping a close eye on the situation but not getting
C. Call the environmental agency and report the
depth of the canal. Keep a close eye on situational developments, but unless you are requested
for equipment, let other agencies take charge of
D. Discuss in appliance (fire truck) which member
will carry out the rescue. Ensure the ladder and
lines are ready. On arrival at the scene, deploy
the fire crew member to make the rescue.
Correct answer: A