National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2014 WOR Day 2: How Can We learn From the Past?

Ribbon symbol for WOR next to Wildland Fire Lessons Learned logo.Week of Remembrance June 30-July 6, 2014

Accident Reports – Go Read Some by Travis Dotson, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center


Why Read a Report? The whole idea of reading a report is to put yourself in the shoes of the decision makers and gain some insight and operational “slides” to deposit in your bank of experience. Right? OK, so this may not be the case for everyone. But the majority of the reports are written with the idea that someone will learn from knowing the details of the event. Does that happen? Are we learning?

I came up in a fire culture that taught me to read incident reports and then sit around saying: “What were they thinking?” “They screwed up,” and “I would never get caught in that situation.” Did I learn anything from those “not me” sessions? Or, did I just convince myself that I was not in any danger because “I know better”? Monday morning quarterback perhaps? (The academic term is “hindsight bias.” Look it up.)

So the question remains: Why read a report? How do we learn from it? In this instance, learning consists of changing your behavior. Read a report, go to a fire, operate differently because you read a report. Is that real? I don’t know. But I think it’s possible.

Think About It! I’ve read a lot of “Hit by Tree” reports. I’m terrified of getting smashed by a tree (or someone else getting smashed on my watch). But has my behavior changed? It never did until I consciously said to myself: “This could be me. What am I going to do differently?”

I now put much more thought into the exposure involved in what I ask others to do.

Do I hold myself to that same standard? I do when I inquire of myself: “Would I ask someone else to do this?” I didn’t always think this way.

I’m still not “out of the woods” (HA!) on this one. I still might get smashed by a tree, but I’d like to think I will expose myself and others to that potential a whole lot less—and mitigate what I can when I am exposed. Think about it!

So, read some of these reports. Be aware of the existence of hindsight bias. Consciously think about whether or not you are learning anything (will you change behavior?). I’m just throwing it out there. Dig on tool swingers (and look up every now and then).

This article was originally published by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center 2011Summer edition of Two More Chains. All editions of this publication can be found at Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, Two More Chains.



Week of Remembrance
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Aug 2023

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