Monday, January 7, 2013

The importance of a well written incident report

Composing an incident report is most likely your least favorite part of running calls. I know it is for me. Even though this is not a favorite part of the job for firefighters, it is important that you give it your all. I have been to court two times in my career, both of which I was a nervous wreck. I was very luck that in both cases, the case was settled with some interviews with lawyers and prosecutors, which kept me from having to take the witness stand. Had I taken the stand, I may have been made to look like a fool since my report documentation was not anything to be proud of.

Every report that you compose must tell the whole story. You need to write what would almost be called a story. You need to document everything you can think of from each incident. If you use an incident reporting software, make sure you fill in as many fields as possible. You want to ensure that when you are called to court in two years, you can refresh yourself and have information to assist you, as you likely will have forgotten much of the incident details.

- Avoid making statements that as a firefighter you cannot determine:

Statements such as the patient was “drunk” or diagnosing a medical condition is not wise. Unless you carry a breath test device in your med bag, and you are trained to administer those tests, you cannot determine without a shadow of a doubt that the patient was intoxicated, even if common sense would tell you different. Doctors diagnose medical conditions. As EMTs, Paramedics, First Responders, etc.… we treat symptoms. You may know exactly the problem that a patient is encountering, but in a court, we are not in the business of making a diagnosis.

- Avoid making statements about what others did on scene, unless it directly pertains to the decisions and tactics you and your company employed:

Your incident report is about what your company did on scene. Each company, police unit, EMS unit, etc.… has to do their report. Unless the actions of another unit affected an action your company made, limit its entry into your report.

- Stick to the facts, no matter how small they seem right now:

Include what you and your company did, what you and your company members saw, and give the details of those areas. Something that may seem like a small item now, may be something huge if you end up in a courtroom. No information is too small to include.

- Ensure your grammar and spelling is correct and that the content is educated and easy for anyone to interpret:

Misspellings and grammatical errors can hurt your credibility in a courtroom. Steer clear of using fire service slang terminology

For example:

Firefighter Donny grabbed the can and hit the fire.

A better way of wording that in a report would be:

Firefighter Donny used a water extinguisher and extinguished the fire.

Avoid using codes and stick to plain text when composing your report.

- Enter reports in a timely manner:

You may run several incidents in a tour of duty. Take the time to enter your reports in a timely manner. It doesn’t take long for call specifics to mesh together over the course of running several calls. If at all possible, enter them as quickly as possible when you return to the firehouse to ensure their validity and accuracy.

Incident reporting is very important. Take the time to ensure your report is the best it can be. If you are a company officer, include your crew in the reporting process. They might have some vital information that you need to include in the report. After some time goes by, your well-written incident report may be all you have to guide you when something comes up about the call. 

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