Career stages in wildland firefighting: implications for voice in risky situationsAlexis Lewis A , Troy E. Hall A C and Anne Black B
A University of Idaho, Department of Conservation Social Sciences, PO Box 441139, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, USA.
B USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 790 E Beckwith Avenue, Missoula, MT 59801, USA.
C Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com
International Journal of Wildland Fire 20(1) 115-124 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF09070
Submitted: 7 July 2009 Accepted: 3 June 2010 Published: 14 February 2011
Avoidance of injury and death on the fireline may depend on firefighters voicing their concerns, but often this does not occur. Reasons for employee reticence identified in the literature include a perception of various personal costs or a belief that raising concerns is futile. Additionally, the social context may play a significant role. In a qualitative study using in-depth interviews with 36 wildland firefighters in the US, we explored reasons firefighters do or do not voice concerns. Findings revealed two primary themes related to initiating voice (limits to environmental perception and social influence) that vary considerably depending on a firefighter’s career stage. Additionally, the tactics that firefighters use similarly vary with career stage. Rookies (novice firefighters) often lack the ability to discern and interpret environmental cues, rely on others to ensure safety, fear being stigmatised if they voice worries, and may believe no one will listen to them. Veteran firefighters – both mid-career experienced firefighters and expert veterans in high-experience leadership roles – are better able than rookies to perceive and describe risky situations and feel more confident to raise concerns. However, experienced firefighters still face social pressures that may lead them to remain silent. Expert veterans face fewer social pressures, but their roles can put them in situations where they are either complacent or distracted. Implications of these findings for firefighter training and fire leadership are discussed.
Additional keywords: impression management, leadership, psychological safety, situational awareness.
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