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Avoiding The Dirty Dozen

I first wrote this article on the FirefighterNation website way back in 2009, before I was involved in Safety Wise and knee-deep in investigations.

The Dirty Dozen can easily be applied to any industry however, in this article, given the audience, I focussed on firefighting and emergency response.

The original article I wrote can be found at

Gordon Dupont wrote about Human Factors and how to avoid the dirty dozen in relation to the aviation industry.

Updated link from the original article-

These are the 12 factors that can set you up to make an error no matter what your occupation and can easily be adapted to the fire scene. Consider the following:

1) Lack of communication. Communication must be the number one goal of the OIC of the fire scene. Assess the scene, plan your attack and communicate it to the team, Communicate what the goal is, what the safety issues are, what safety measures are in place and so on. Communication must go through all levels and to all members on the scene.

2) Complacency. Complacency can come about for several reasons- overconfidence, lack of understanding, lack of training, lack of experience and many others. We must train like it's the real thing. We must never stop training, and we must never stop learning. The crusty old farts can still learn something, especially with changing technology in the fire service, changing structural features, changing car technology and on and on it goes. We must never become complacent in our responses. Every alarm must be treated as though it will be the real thing when we get there.

3) Lack of knowledge. From the crusty old fart to the new recruit, knowledge is everything. As a newbie, absorb it, act like a sponge and soak it up. For the crusties, share it and never assume you know everything- it's impossible! There are some amazingly knowledgeable people on these discussion forums, yet when you read through many of their responses, even they respond with, "I didn't know that". To the crusties that won't train- get off your arse and stop being so arrogant! Or move on; the fire service of today has no place for people with your attitude.

4) Distraction. If it takes your mind off the job, then it's a dangerous distraction. And don't become tunnel visioned with the possible rescue that you could make and lose sight of the rate of fire spread, type of structure involved and resources available. Distractions can come from many areas- the homefront, station politics, friends, family, work, fatigue and many others- beware of them and keep your mind on the job.

5) Lack of Teamwork. We often cite the brotherhood, yet we often lose sight of it. Everything we do on the fire scene revolves around teamwork. There is no "I" in teamwork. Look out for each other, watch each other's back, and think about the safety of you and your team. We have many milestones or goals to achieve on the fire scene, and we must be able to rely on each other to achieve them.

6) Fatigue. Shiftwork has been well researched as dangerous, especially when shifts keep changing. For vols, beware of the hours you work and then the hours you respond. There is no place for fatigue when driving to the station, driving to the scene, advancing the hose line, performing a rescue, undertaking salvage, etc. There are multiple dangers present through each phase- don't let fatigue distract you or drop your sense of awareness.

7) Lack of Resources. If you don't have the right resources at the scene to undertake a particular task safely, then don't do it! Simple. If you don't have a mutual aid agreement in place to be able to call on additional resources (and the right resources for the task), then do it! Simple. If you don't have the right PPE, then get it! Simple.

8) Pressure. Pressure comes from many sources, just like a distraction. Learn to recognize it and control it. Know where you can get help from to handle it, and don't be afraid to call for help when you most need it. Pressure can also be a distraction on the scene.

9) Lack of Assertiveness. If it doesn't seem right, feel right, look right, smell right or whatever else, then grow a pair of big one between your legs and say something. How often do we read discussion forums where someone says it didn't seem right, yet they let it go? Every member needs to be able to exert some assertiveness to protect themselves. Look out for number 1. Remember, you may have seen something the OIC didn't and vice versa.

10) Stress. Stress can be a silent killer in the fire service. It can build and build and build to breaking point, then suddenly we're overwhelmed to the point we can no longer function or inflict harm on ourselves, friends or family. Just like pressure, know how to recognize the signs and know where to turn for help, and don't be afraid to. It's not a sign of weakness.

11) Lack of Awareness. Situational awareness is so important on the fire scene. Know what's going on around you at all times. I've watched members doing traffic control with their back to the traffic- WTF?! Know what type of structure you're dealing with, know how to use the right equipment for the right job- it's all about awareness. Straight from one of Gordon's articles, consider this, "Lack of awareness occurs when there is a lack of alertness and vigilance in observing. This usually occurs with very experienced persons who fail to reason out possible consequences to what may normally be a good practice. One of the safety nets for lack of awareness is to ask more “what ifs” if there is conflicting information or things don’t quite seem right."

12) Norms. Be aware of the norms or the normals or the way things are routinely done. Be particularly vigilant for negative norms that detract from what we consider acceptable safety standards and practices. With changing technology and structures, we must no longer be sucked into the whole, "That's how we've always done it". Times are changing, technology is changing, and structures are changing. Be aware of this, learn about it and don't be distracted by the norms.

What about your industry? Do these apply?

Interested in Knowing More?

Further information on Safety Wise’s Incident Cause Analysis (ICAM) Training is available from our website:

Additional ICAM Related Services

Safety Wise also offers the following additional services for sites that adopt the ICAM investigation analysis method:

  • Quality review of incident investigations using ICAM

  • Participation in investigations as an external/independent party

  • Investigation coaching


ABOUT THE AUTHOR- Luke Dam (Chief Executive Officer)

Luke has worked in various industries over the years including pharmaceutical, retail, manufacturing, and transport including iconic brands like WesFarmers, Goodyear, CSL Limited, and Incitec Pivot Limited.

His work in OHS and learning and development has seen him deliver services to clients, both internal and external as well as managing service delivery teams around the world.

Luke holds a Graduate Certificate of Management (Learning) as well as a Diploma of Occupational Health and Safety, a Diploma of Training and Assessment Systems, a Certificate IV Workplace Training and Assessment, a Certificate III in Mine Emergency Response & Rescue and a Certificate II in Public Safety (SES Rescue).

Luke is passionate about online OHS and incident investigation communities, moderating a number of large LinkedIn groups boasting over 12,000 members globally.


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