National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2014 WOR Day 4: Towards Better Decisions on the Fireline

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

It’s not uncommon to find some element of human factors being discussed in a training venue these days. We talk often, on and off the line, about situational awareness, decision making, slides and leadership concepts. This was not always the case; this shift in our culture was inspired by the tragic events of July 6th 1994 and the loss of 14 firefighters on the South Canyon Fire. 

The foundation for this movement towards introspection and the increased emphasis on the individual firefighter was brought about greatly by the Wildland Firefighter Human Factors Workshop in 1995. “The goal of the workshop was not to come up with quick solutions, rather to explore the human issues of wildland firefighting and make recommendations to management for corrective actions that would have lasting effects.”  The findings from the workshop became the single most culturally influential document of the time.

With a focus on the psychological, cultural, and organizational aspects of firefighting, experts introduced new models such as Highly Reliable Organizations (HRO), Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPD), and Crew Resource Management (CRM). These models would become the foundation for the Wildland Fire Leadership curriculum and set in motion a cultural paradigm shift.  The following are excerpts from the CRM adapted for fire:

Decision making —

  • Cross-check information sources
  • Anticipate consequences of decisions
  • Use data to generate alternatives
  • Gather pertinent data before making a decision
  • Evaluate information and assess resources
  • Identify alternatives and contingencies
  • Provide rationale for decision
  • Acknowledge communication
  • Repeat information
  • Reply with a question or comment
  • Use nonverbal communication appropriately

Leadership —

  • Determine tasks to be assigned
  • Establish procedures to monitor and assess the crew
  • Inform the crew members of fire assignment progress
  • Verbalize plans
  • Discuss ways to improve performance
  • Ask for input; discuss problems
  • Tell crew members what to do
  • Reallocate work in a dynamic situation
  • Focus crew attention to task
  • Provide a legitimate avenue for dissent
  • Provide feedback to crew on performance

Adaptability/flexibility —

  • Alter fire plans to meet situation demands
  • Alter behavior to meet situation demands
  • Accept constructive criticism and help
  • Step in and help other crew members
  • Be receptive to others’ ideas

Assertiveness —

  • Advocate a specific course of action
  • State opinions on decisions and procedures even to higher-ranking crew member
  • Ask questions when uncertain
  • Make suggestions
  • Raise questions about procedures

Situational Awareness —

  • Identify problems/potential problems
  • Recognize the need for action
  • Attempt to determine why discrepancies exist with     information before proceeding
  • Provide information in advance
  • Demonstrate ongoing awareness of fire assignment progress
  • Demonstrate awareness of your task performance

Mission Analysis —

  • Define tasks based on fire assignment
  • Structure strategies, tactics, and objectives
  • Identify potential impact of unplanned events on a fire
  • Critique existing plans
  • Devise contingency plans
  • Question/seek information, data, and ideas related to fire plan

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What from the above information can you apply today? 
  2. How can you make this information relevant in every operation?


Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

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