Making sense of it all

It’s important to consider and evaluate the health and safety aspects of any rescue operation involving the emergency services. Here John Field, a fellow member of the IOSH Fire Risk Management Group committee, sets out the debriefing process

Whenever there’s an incident of significance the fire and rescue service will always first carry out a hot debrief. This process involves bringing every firefighter who was involved into a huddle.

The senior officer on scene relays the facts and they convey the process undertaken as they see it. Key people are asked to identify their involvement and how they saw the incident develop. Every person is then given an opportunity to give input on any significant activities, whether positive or negative. All the firefighters then leave the scene.

This debrief is held to capture serious safety issues while the incident is still fresh in everyone’s minds. If significant enough, the session can require a change of procedure or a piece of equipment being taken off the run. Also, it could instigate a safety bulletin which is issued service-wide and, if needed, nationwide.

Once a few weeks have passed, a cold debrief is then instigated. This will be in the form of an electronic form that requires completion. This is sent to all persons present. This allows for both good and bad practices to be identified on a granular level. Senior management then discusses any significant statements at a health and safety forum, and actions are decided upon and issued to the relevant person for action.

An incident of this nature, being very sensitive, will trigger a critical incident debrief. There are a number of trained junior and senior officers trained in critical debriefing. This allows any service member to approach one of these officers and discuss an incident they may have attended before it becomes an issue. This will be automatically triggered for serious incidents, such as Solihull or West Yorkshire, but can be asked for at any time.

John Field
Head of Health and Safety, Imperial College London

John Field TechIOSH
Head of Health and Safety, Imperial College London
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