Operational learning

Control Measure Knowledge

Following an incident, fire and rescue services should perform debriefs, investigations and use the assurance process for operational incidents to identify learning, which can:

  • Improve public safety
  • Improve the safety of fire and rescue service personnel, and others involved during or after fire and rescue service activities
  • Share previously unidentified hazards and risks
  • Share previously unidentified safe systems of work and control measures

Fire and rescue services should put in place processes and support arrangements for operational learning. This should include the arrangements that would be appropriate for any multi-agency operational learning.

Collecting information

The recording and sharing of significant findings from incidents and investigations helps to inform future practice. This process should start at the incident ground with thorough recording of relevant operational activity, and include a robust incident debrief procedure.

Debriefs should be led in a structured manner and take place at the most practical time following the closure of an incident. They should allow all responders the opportunity to contribute, to highlight good practice or areas of development and to be able to do so in an open and constructive environment. The aim of debriefs is to assist in identifying individual, team or organisational learning.

An incident debrief procedure plays a vital part in both personal and organisational learning. It fulfils a critical or key need for effective learning and development by connecting a root cause with an associated effect. Once identified, this process will enable clear plans or programmes to be agreed, which can be used to address or improve any shortfalls in the fire and rescue service’s policies, procedures or information.

Investigation can play an important part in supporting future learning by providing a structured and objective approach to identifying and capturing evidence. This approach should ensure that it withstands scrutiny in its future application and is fit for purpose. Operational learning from any incident type may provide information pertinent to public or responder safety.

Learning opportunities should be identified and shared locally and nationally as appropriate to improve intervention and safety, identify hazards and develop safe systems of work. Any learning should also be shared with National Operational Learning. For further information refer to the Good practice guide for fire and rescue services.

Once the opportunity for future learning has been identified, careful and early consideration should be given to the type and format of information required.

There should be careful consideration about the environment in which the information will be used, as any use of information is subject to legislation and regulations. Refer to Data and information strategy within Data and information management.

Monitoring and highlighting trends

A trend consists of several events that exhibit one or more features in common. This may be geographical, physical or related to other circumstances under which they occur.

Failing to identify trends at the earliest possible stage can risk the possibility of the number or severity of events increasing, so early identification is important. This is particularly true of fire-setting, where a series of small fires may reflect someone’s growing confidence before attempting a more serious attack.

Trends in fires or other types of incidents may relate to new products, or changes in the way existing products are used. Investigation can assist when identifying a trend, by establishing its cause, confirming common features and collecting the evidence required to influence a solution.

Identifying and researching a trend should provide a means by which targeted interventions can be taken. Once action has been taken, the impact on the trend should be monitored both remotely and through attendance at scenes. Care will also be required to ensure the problem has been addressed and not just displaced. Effective use of analysis, and fire investigation where appropriate, should help to confirm this.

External liaison and information

Liaison with other fire and rescue services and organisations may help to establish whether the trend is localised or being seen in other areas. This liaison can take place through existing groups and communication networks, or established specifically for the trend depending on the nature of the issue. For example, with fire-setting, close liaison with the police and other agencies that maintain relevant data will be important; they may have additional knowledge about individuals or activities.

Strategic Actions