By Lyndsay Alarcon, Helitack Superintendent
Crew Resource Management (CRM) is the application of team management concepts in the wildland fire environment. CRM originated as Cockpit Resource Management and was developed by NASA in 1979. At that time, the majority of aviation accidents were caused by human error related to failures in communication, leadership and decision making in the cockpit. The term has since been expanded from cockpit to crew with the fundamental goal being better decision making through how we interact with each other. Who does “each other” include?
Although team management is not a new concept, CRM places a different perspective on the meaning of team. It redefines team work to include all personnel needed to achieve the success of a mission. Let’s use an example of a medivac to extract an injured firefighter. The team would be comprised of the dispatcher flight following with the aircraft and making notifications, the medical unit leader organizing hospital care, the municipal firefighter serving as a line medic, the IHC crew constructing the helispot, the helitack crew and pilot, the mechanic who maintains the helicopter, etc. Any failure in communication, leadership or decision making from any player directly impacts the success of the mission.
Our perception is embedded in the slogan, “Taking Care of Our Own”. We tend to take this direction and think linear. “My team” is my crew and as long as my crew is good, then I am good. My actions only change when there is a threat to my crew. If each person applied this thought, “taking care of their own”, how do we ensure overlap on an incident?
The reality is that sometime there isn’t any. The Dutch Creek incident is an example of how the interaction of people can effect leadership, communication and decision making. The cultural gaps still standing between CalFire and USFS even in the face of fatalities. It is why so many individuals can see the rotating plume on the Indians fire and not say anything. It is not that they don’t talk, it is that they communicate the message to who matters to them. If we acted like the success of the mission depended on our partnerships, then we would value each other differently.
The 2018 season was costly. We lost many, including hired contractors, agency partners and volunteers. I can’t help but to wonder how they are supported beyond the mandatory briefings, the sack lunch and pay check. Who brings them into the team? How does that affect the moments when we need each other the most? Starting day one, were they cared for as if they were truly one of our own?
Consider enlarging who you think of as “your crew”. It could make all the difference.