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Quality Improvement or Quality Assurance is there a difference?

I became involved in a discussion on a social media site that spurred some emotions I have from my work in the private sector. A training article was written and pictures were used to highlight the tactic of entering a commercial occupancy. The author was re-enforcing his point showing the way he does not recommend completing the task and used pictures from a recent incident. The author immediately received criticism from those in the picture who justified their tactic and the specifics of the incident. The author was quick to defend himself and point out that he was not criticizing or stating the companies made any mistakes he was just identifying another way to handle the task at hand.

When I teach I use pictures and videos from my department as well as departments from around the country. I also start my classes with a slide from one of Paul Coombs great drawings “Monday Morning Quarter Back”. I use this to break the ice and explain that each and every one of us does things on every fire ground that is not done perfect. I explain that the pictures and videos I use are to support and enhance the message I am delivering not to make fun of or point out inadequacies of firefighters or fire departments.  

We all make mistake and we all learn from ours and other’s mistakes. I am an advocate of studying and learning from others. No one of us live in a bubble and with the invention of YouTube and Facebook it is very easy to learn from others. The great programs we also rely on to teach us like The Near Miss program and NIOSH reports to name two. They both provide us with insight to incidents that we can and should be learning from. These sites don’t look to criticize but to point out how tactics or decisions can be improved upon and performed better, They are not saying (for the most part) that someone did something wrong. They analyze the decisions and tactics performed and make recommendations to prevent the same result from happening again. That is something we all should be learning from.

In January 2011 I fell l into a h*** that burned through the floor of a commercial occupancy; I made some basic tactical mistakes!  Within two days I posted pictures and information within the Fire Engineering Training Community to share the decisions I made and the negative outcome. See post here I also wrote the incident up as an article and submitted to Fire Engineering where it sits in queue for publishing.  I did this to share the decisions I made and the negative outcome. Was I making fun of myself or criticizing myself, hell no! I wanted to share my story so maybe someone would learn from my mistake and not endure the pain I had and the boredom sitting on the couch for weeks with a torn MCL.

The root of the problem with some Firefighters is the way they have been criticized within their departments. Many departments utilize the theory of Quality Assurance (QA) - finding wrong in performance and taking punitive action. I however believe in Quality Improvement (QI) - finding wrong in performance and then finding ways to improve. Nothing punitive just corrective!

We all have to learn from the decisions and actions taken and then look at improving them each and every time. It does not mean we made a mistake or did something wrong. It simply means we can do it better next time. None of us should have ego’s that are too big to admit we did something that could be done better next time. However, many managers (not leaders) still utilize the QA model so it puts many good firefighters on the defensive. This is a cultural change that must be adopted. We must perform on scene incident reviews we must look at how and what we do and look for ways to do it better. We as a whole have made progress at decreasing LODD’s. But, we still have a long way to go. There are some great things going on within the fire service and I am excited to be part of it. We must embrace the necessity to look at our actions and find ways to improve. With today’s technology and social media we must know that your actions will inevitably end up on a web site somewhere. Please don’t be upset, however embrace the fact that you had the privilege to perform a tactic that someone wants to talk about. Embrace that fact that none of us do it perfect. The more we review everything we do the end result is doing it better next time. This will help us meet what should be everyone’s number one goal; for all members to return home safely!

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Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on November 20, 2011 at 10:52pm
Well done!

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