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Crew Resource Management:  
Heroes on the Hudson - Fire Service Tie-in

On Thursday afternoon, a US Airways jetliner crashed into the frigid Hudson River on Thursday afternoon after a collision with a flock of birds disabled both its engines, sending more than 150 passengers and crew members scrambling onto rescue boats. Flight 1549 had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, N.C., when the crash occurred in the river near 48th Street in midtown Manhattan. Miraculously, there were no deaths or serious injuries. 
Safety Reliability Methods photo
Since the crash , there has been  nothing but praise and accolades for Captain CB "Sully" Sullenberger, (in photo) who  managed to pilot US Airways Flight 1549 to a safe landing. 

In addition to working as pilot fore US Air, he is  the CEO of Safety Reliablity Methods, Inc. The company's mission, according to the web site is " To utilize our expertise to apply the most effective methods to your organization to achieve the highest levels of safety, performance and reliability." "Sully" was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Crew Resource Management (CRM) course used at his airline and has taught the course to hundreds of his colleagues. 

Was is luck? Was God looking over the crew and patients on board? Maybe. But why did this event have a happy ending?  Crew Resource Management.

According to Wikipedia, Crew (or Cockpit) Resource Management (CRM) training originated from a NASA workshop in 1979 that focused on improving air safety. The NASA research presented at this meeting found that the primary cause of the majority of aviation accidents was human error, and that the main problems were failures of interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making in the cockpit. 

A variety of CRM models have been successfully adapted to different types of industries and organizations, all based on the same basic concepts and principles. It has recently been adopted by the fire service to help improve situational awareness on the fireground.
CRM training encompasses a wide range of knowledge, skills and attitudes including communications, situational awareness, problem solving, decision making, and teamwork; together with all the attendant sub-disciplines which each of these areas entails.

CRM can be defined as a management system which makes optimum use of all available resources - equipment, procedures and people - to promote safety and enhance the efficiency of flight operations.

CRM is concerned not so much with the technical knowledge and skills required to fly and operate an aircraft but rather with the cognitive and interpersonal skills needed to manage the flight within an organized aviation system. In this context, cognitive skills are defined as the mental processes used for gaining and maintaining situational awareness, for solving problems and for making decisions. Interpersonal skills are regarded as communications and a range of behavioral activities associated with teamwork. In aviation, as in other walks of life, these skill areas often overlap with each other, and they also overlap with the required technical skills. Furthermore, they are not confined to multi-crew aircraft, but also relate to single pilot operations, which invariably need to interface with other aircraft and with various ground support agencies in order to complete their missions successfully.

CRM training for crew has been introduced and developed by aviation organizations including major airlines and military aviation worldwide. CRM training is now a mandated requirement for commercial pilots working under most regulatory bodies worldwide, including the FAA (U.S.) and JAA (Europe). 

CRM fosters a climate or culture where the freedom to respectfully question authority is encouraged. However, the primary goal of CRM is not enhanced communication, but rather enhanced situational awareness. It recognizes that a discrepancy between what is happening and what should be happening is often the first indicator that an error is occurring. This is a delicate subject for many organizations, especially ones with traditional hierarchies, so appropriate communication techniques must be taught to supervisors and their subordinates, so that supervisors understand that the questioning of authority need not be threatening, and subordinates understand the correct way to question orders.

Cockpit voice recordings of various air disasters tragically reveal first officers and flight engineers attempting to bring critical information to the captain's attention in an indirect and ineffective way. By the time the captain understood what was being said, it was too late to avert the disaster.

Up until 1980, the airline industry worked on the concept that the captain was THE authority on the aircraft. What he said, goes. And we lost a few airplanes because of that. Sometimes the captain isn't as smart as we thought he was. And we would listen to him, and do what he said, and we wouldn't know what he's talking about. And we had 103 years of flying experience there in the cockpit, trying to get that airplane on the ground, not one minute of which we had actually practiced, any one of us. So why would I know more about getting that airplane on the ground under those conditions than the other three. So if I hadn't used [CRM], if we had not let everybody put their input in, it's a cinch we wouldn't have made it.] 

The basic concepts and ideology that make CRM successful with aviation air crews have also proven successful with other related career fields. Several commercial aviation firms, as well as international aviation safety agencies, began expanding CRM into air traffic control, aircraft design, and aircraft maintenance in the 1990s. Specifically, the aircraft maintenance section of this training expansion gained traction as Maintenance Resource Management (MRM). In an effort to standardize the industry wide training of this team-based safety approach, the FAA (U.S.) issued Advisory Circular 120-72, Maintenance Resource Management Training in September, 2000.

Following a study of aviation mishaps over the 10-year period 1992-2002, the U.S. Air Force determined that close to 18% of its aircraft mishaps were directly attributable to maintenance human error (source, U.S. Air Force Safety Center)[4]. Unlike the more immediate impact of air crew error, maintenance human errors often occurred long before the flight where the problems were discovered. These "latent errors" included such mistakes as failure to follow published aircraft manuals, lack of assertive communication among maintenance technicians, poor supervision, and improper assembly practices. 

So what is the big deal here?

Aircraft crew day in and day out practice the same procedures. Then, as part of regularly required avaition training, pilots practice dealing with less than desireable landing conditions, such a gear failures, adverse weather and other "bad" situations. While the fre service has dabbled with CRM, this recent incident shows it's value.  

The fire service day in and day out handles routine incidents. However,  our tradition and cultures have often impeded progress. 

Crew Resourse Management, A Positive Change for Fire Sevice was developed through generous assistance from the Foundation for Firefighter Health and Safety, Volunteer Firemanís Insurance Services and the U.S. Fire Administration, issued by the IAFC. 

One of the foremost promoters of CRM has been Dennis Rubin, Fire Chief of the Washington, D.C. Fire and EMS Department.

Take the lead from the Heroes on the Hudson, CRM works.

About the Author: 
Chief Ronald Richards has over 30 years of fire service experience, both career and volunteer.  Chief Richards recently retired from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having served as a Fire Marshal and Fire and Safety Specialist. Prior to retiring Chief Richards was assigned to the office of Criticial Incident Management to assist with the implementation of NIMS and ICS. He currently serves as the Assistant Chief for Operations at Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County, PA. Richards graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Service Administration.  Richards is a PA State Fire Instructor and is the CEO of Task Force 1, Inc,  He is the founder of He can be reached at