Human Factors of Firefighter Safety
Decisionmaking & Sensemaking
Organizational Learning & Innovation
One of the critical mistakes made by wildland firefighters during both the Mann Gulch and South Canyon fires was their unwillingness to drop heavy tools and packs as they attempted to outrun the flames. Weick points to 10 possible reasons for their unwillingness: listening, justification, trust, control, skill at dropping, skill with replacement activity, failure, social dynamics, consequences, and identity. Using tools as a springboard, Weick highlights four guiding principles that might be used to avoid mishaps: focus on relationships, use abstract concepts, bridge observations and abstractions, and express the values that matter. Although written to an academic audience, Weick’s advice has direct application to fire managers who can learn from the similarities between the two fires in order to improve safety procedures.