Volume 22 Issue 2, 2007

Is a contained fire less risky than a going fire? Career and volunteer firefighters’ perception of risk

Paul Sadler, Alina Holgate, David Clancy

Peer-reviewed Article

Sadler, Holgate & Clancy investigate how career and volunteer firefighters perceive risk in different scenarios

Archived Article


Since fighting fires can pose a great risk to the lives of firefighters, it is important to understand how they perceive risks in dynamic wildfire situations. The aim of the current study was to determine whether career and volunteer firefighters differ in their perception of the risk of a going vs. contained fire and whether descriptions of a fire as either going or contained affected perceptions of risk. It was expected that career firefighters would rate a contained fire as significantly riskier than would volunteer firefighters. The sample consisted of 55 career and 84 volunteer CFA Victorian firefighters (134 males and 5 females). An ambiguous wildfire scenario was presented and described as either going or contained and risk ratings were recorded. Two-way ANOVA results showed that career firefighters rated a going fire as equally risky as a contained fire. On the other hand, volunteer firefighters perceived a fire described as contained to be significantly less risky than a fire described as going, despite the fact that the same fireground conditions were described in both cases. It was concluded that a framing effect had occurred and that career firefighters demonstrated a higher level of situation awareness than volunteer firefighters due to their heightened levels of risk perception when exposed to contained wildfire scenarios. A practical implication of the current research is that those conducting firefighting briefings need to be aware of possible framing effects in the way information is presented to firefighters and need to ensure that all briefings make risks cognitively salient to firefighters.