U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Final Report: JFSP Project Number 10-3-01


US government work.


This document is a summary of a mixed methods dissertation that examined the communicative construction of safety in wildland firefighting. For the dissertation, I used a twostudy mixed methods approach, examining the communicative accomplishment of safety from two perspectives: high reliability organizing (Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 1999), and safety climate (Zohar, 1980). In Study One, 27 firefighters from two functionally similar wildland firefighting crews were interviewed about their crew-level interactions involved in implementing safety rules and firefighting tasks. These critical incident narratives (Flanagan, 1954; Gremler, 2004) were compared to extract workgroup level similarities and differences in interaction patterns relating to local routines and application of safety rules for managing tasks and space. Findings revealed that the two crews differed substantially in their communicative interactions related to three specific routines: planning, use of safety rules, and authority. The crews also differed in their general interactions with one another related to safety, groupness, and efficiency. For Study Two, a survey assessing workgroup-level safety climate was completed by 379 wildland firefighters representing 220 crews. Safety climate refers to the degree to which an organization’s practices emphasize safety over production pressures (Zohar & Luria, 2005). Safety climate constructs assessed in this study include: safety communication, failure learning behaviors, work safety tension, and psychological safety. Based on findings from Study One, I included additional measures to capture crew staffing patterns (dispersed, co-located), work styles (independent, task interdependent), crew prestige, and the value of after action reviews (AARs). Hypotheses tested and modeled relationships among variables to determine how crew configurations and work styles combined to influence learning behaviors, member comfort with communicating safety concerns, and the value of communication and learning practices. To mix the methods from the two studies, I followed an initiation mixed methods design (Greene, Caracelli, & Graham, 1989), in which I examined areas of incongruence between the two studies in order to prompt new insights, and recast how safety is a communicative accomplishment in wildland firefighting workgroups. Finally, recommendations are presented for enhancing the crew-level safety communication environment.