Post-incident analysis can support progressive and proactive experience and avoid second-guessing and finger-pointing after an emergency response.
Principles of a productive process include:
- Assigning an Incident Debrief Mediator
- Communicating Ground Rules before Starting
- Not Assigning Blame
- Focusing on Firefighter Safety
- Clarifying the Firefighter’s Role
- Clarifying Leadership’s Responsibility
- Identifying Training Opportunities
Incident Debrief Mediator
This is a critical role. The Incident Debrief Mediator needs to be democratic in the approach taken, be experienced as a firefighter and a mediator, and usually not be the Incident Commander at the incident to ensure objectivity.
The stage needs to be set as to how the process will work. This can be formalized in a standard operating procedure (SOP), but they still need to be communicated/reviewed by the mediator at the beginning of every post-incident analysis session.
Here are a few ground rules to consider incorporating into your process:
- Do not express frustrations and/or anger
- Set rules for engagement,
- When is it appropriate to speak?
- Who controls the floor?
- How much time does everyone have to speak?
- What topics are we not discussing?
- Participate with honesty and candour
- Focus on team performance
- Openly congratulate
- Constructively criticize
It’s all about the process, not about the people that may have made mistakes. Be careful with your language, for example, use challenges instead of problems, lessons learned rather than mistakes made, and remember that the process is focused on critique, not criticism.
Discussion around lunch tables and throughout the hall usually occur for days after a high-energy call. Learning from these experiences is important, so if you have something to say, make sure you speak up at the debriefing.
As much as it is important to speak up, it is also important to be aware of the format and speak when it is appropriate. This should be made clear during the setting of the ground rules, so if you are not clear on this point, make sure you ask before the session moves too far forward.
- Only speak about what you know
- Acknowledge your biases
- Clarify misconceptions you perceive to be at play
- Describe changing environments at the incident from your point of view
- Create a measurable view of the work that was accomplished (time, fire flow estimates, weather, units responding…)
- Explain what you experienced, try to stay away from what you thought, and how what you experienced added to or subtracted from the tactical objective you were assigned.
Those commanding the incident need to be able to respond to questions to promote an open atmosphere of acceptance and discussion.
- Was the action plan followed? Why/why not?
- Were there gaps in the tactics and did they affect the strategic progression of the response?
- Were there enough resources and were they the correct ones for the task?
- Could anything have been done differently?
- Was any action seen as unsafe? (The Incident Safety Officer (ISO) should also be providing an answer to this)
The post-incident analysis is a very good place to collect data on training opportunities. If patterns emerge that could point to areas for improvement, proposals for training interventions could be developed to change them, based on the data collected. Consider creating a formalized process for collecting this data with clear criteria on what forms a pattern of concern.
Schmid, Billy, (2011). How & Why to Conduct an Incident Debriefing. Firefighter Nation. Retrieved February 13, 2020 online at https://www.firefighternation.com/2011/07/22/how-why-to-conduct-an-incident-debriefing/#gref