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Don’t Lose Site of the Purpose of Checklist

I had a few conversations with some folks that really push the use of the “checklist”. This is not a bad thing but I see it getting misapplied in many departments. I once saw a safety officer circling the building with a clipboard busy filling in the blocks and looking up every now and then. He wasn’t really paying much attention to the fire conditions but he had ensured that all chock blocks were down and that everyone had their gloves on. These are safety issues but on the fire ground the FIRE is of primary concern to our members safety and the safety officer needs to be accessing the risk vs benefit of the tactics being used, eliminating and or communicating any hazards (power lines that may fall, tough forcible entry situations, accountability and so forth…) In very fast developing situation the checklist is not a practical operational practice however in high risk low occurrence events it might be just the thing you need. Keep in mind I am specifically speaking here of our typical 1-2 alarm fire (type 5 incident for all command guru’s) Once the incident grows beyond that then multiple safety officers would be needed and different approach would be needed. The staffing would allow for one of the officers to be looking ahead at a much slower pace and thus a checklist would be useful.

I like checklist for the high risk low occurrence events like some technical rescue and hazmat incidents. In fact I keep them with me in the command vehicle and use them for these incidents. The checklist however is a memory jogger but it doesn’t take the place of your judgment, intuition or decision making. It is a job aid! You have to be bringing something to the table (knowledge, skills, abilities and experience) other than the checklist before they are useful. Checklist are great for training purposes to get students to use a standard system that is organized and methodical. Perfect for doing safety officer risk assessment during a tabletop or a planning session.

The checklist is perfect for many administrative events like investigating an accident, completing workers comp / injury documentation, implementing a policy etc. In fact the term “institutionalize” is one of our big buzz words in the fire service now (see last weeks Hump Day SOS). Many of us have our own interpretation of its meaning (many of us should be or will be institutionalized due to our experiences in our organizations). The use of this term however means that you put something in place that becomes common knowledge and practice without the dependence of a certain person or group being there to accomplish it every time. Checklist are good way to ensure progression towards “institutionalization” (wasn’t sure if that was a word but the spellcheck didn’t flag it, so there).

The bottom line here is that checklist can be very useful if they are being used by a person who is competent in their position or assignment. You can't however give a checklist to one that is lacking in between the ears and expect a positive result.

For a good look into checklist put this book: The Checklist Manifesto on your reading list:

Post today’s Hump Day SOS   ( X )

Take my medicine                      ( X )

Put water on fire                          ( X )

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