The Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study

Five federal agencies in the United States chartered a major study to examine the Federal wildland firefighting community and improve firefighter safety. 1 The agencies initiated the study in 1995, in response to the tragedy of the South Canyon Fire, on which fourteen firefighters were killed the year before.2 The sponsors commissioned the study to identify the underlying organizational culture, and change those aspects that negatively impact firefighter safety. The study was undertaken by an independent consulting firm, TriData Corporation, and sets forth a plan to move the organizations from their current safety environment to a new and desired safety culture.

I am not presenting a comprehensive treatment of the Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, and it is important for the reader to recognize that the study's findings represent a comprehensive strategy, and are highly interrelated. To understand the overall intent of the study requires exploration of its reports, and their entire findings. You may obtain these reports from the National Interagency Fire Center in the United States .3

The study report presents 86 goals and over 200 individual recommendations. When taken together, the goals describe the desired wildland firefighter safety culture of the future. The recommended strategies provide the sponsoring agencies with a path to follow in their efforts to improve the organizational culture, leadership, human factors, and external factors that affect wildland firefighter safety.4

Effecting these improvements, will require fundamental changes in the ways in which firefighters are trained in the U.S.. According to the TriData study, training represents a key aspect of the organizational culture requiring significant change; and further states that improvements in training are required to achieve most of the study's goals.5

One of the functions of training is to act as a vehicle to instill professionalism and ingrain organizational culture. According to TriData, training connects the participant with the tenets of the organizational culture not only through the content of the training but also by combining the rituals of training with the investment of personal time and effort. The study found that firefighter training must be more realistic; and the report advances strategies to prepare firefighters using case studies, by critiquing authentic actions, and by using a "lessons learned" approach.6