Fire alarm or false alarm?!

Di Catherwood (Centre for Research in Applied Cognition, Knowledge, Learning and Emotion (CRACKLE), University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK)
Graham K. Edgar (Centre for Research in Applied Cognition, Knowledge, Learning and Emotion (CRACKLE), University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK)
Geoff Sallis (Centre for Research in Applied Cognition, Knowledge, Learning and Emotion (CRACKLE), University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK and Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, Gloucester, UK)
Andrew Medley (Centre for Research in Applied Cognition, Knowledge, Learning and Emotion (CRACKLE), University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK)
David Brookes (Centre for Research in Applied Cognition, Knowledge, Learning and Emotion (CRACKLE), University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Publication date: 19 October 2012

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to assess whether firefighters display different decision‐making biases: either a liberal bias to accepting information as true or a conservative bias to rejecting information, with the former carrying risk of “false alarm” errors and the latter of “misses”.

Design/methodology/approach

Situation awareness (SA) and decision‐making biases were examined in Fire and Rescue (FRS) “table‐top” and Breathing Apparatus (BA) training exercises. The former involved showing 50 operational FRS personnel a powerpoint presentation representing the drive‐to, views and information related to the incident. The BA study involved 16 operational FRS personnel entering a smoke‐filled training building in a search‐and‐rescue exercise. True/False answers to statements about the incidents were analysed by a signal‐detection‐type tool (QASA) to give measures of SA and bias.

Findings

In both studies, there were two groups showing different bias patterns (either conservative with risk of “miss” errors, or liberal with risk of “false alarms”) (p≤0.001), but not different SA (p>0.05).

Research limitations/implications

Future work will involve more realistic training exercises and explore the consistency of individual bias tendencies over different contexts.

Practical implications

Risk in fireground decision making may be minimised by increasing awareness of individual tendencies to either conservative or liberal bias patterns and the associated risk of respectively making “miss” or “false alarm” errors.

Social implications

The results may help to minimise fireground risk.

Originality/value

This is the first evidence to show firefighter decision bias in two different exercises.

Keywords

Citation

Catherwood, D., Edgar, G., Sallis, G., Medley, A. and Brookes, D. (2012), "Fire alarm or false alarm?!", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 135-158. https://doi.org/10.1108/20470891211275920

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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