Just Another Day at the Office

Just as we sat down in the fire station kitchen to interview him, Lieutenant Phil Cetrino had to run.

An automated voice on the public address boomed from the hallway—a Boston resident a few blocks away needed medical attention and Engine 10 was being summoned to help.

Lieutenant Cetrino had three minutes to rush from the fire station’s upstairs kitchen to the fire truck downstairs, where he would meet the rest of his team—three minutes before their fire truck needed to depart their station and wind through Boston’s crowded streets. For Lieutenant Cetrino, it was just another day at the office.

It was a short first interview for our Harvard student team.

We were continuing our class project to improve the Boston Fire Department’s process for reporting carcinogen exposures. Despite its brevity, this first interview highlighted the mission-focused and on-call nature of life in a firehouse—important context for us as we design, prototype, and test solutions for firefighters like Lieutenant Cetrino.

Over the next several hours, we managed to conduct several longer interviews with lieutenants and captains like Lieutenant Cetrino, the first line supervisors charged with leading shifts of three to five firefighters. Their insights provided valuable insights into the life, rhythm, and culture of a firehouse and the current reporting process.

Using these insights, we created a journey map on a whiteboard to describe the existing exposure and injury reporting processes: 

Team Boston’s journey map sketch during a brainstorming session

Team Boston’s journey map sketch during a brainstorming session

Digital version of the journey map

Digital version of the journey map

Several themes emerged from our interviews:

  1. There is strong support for exposure reporting among individual champions, often firefighters or fire department colleagues who have personally experienced cancer.

  2. Firefighters sometimes underestimate the risks of exposure due to a lack of knowledge about typical exposure levels in fires and the long latency period between exposure and negative health outcomes.

  3. Firefighters sometimes do not see the connection between forms and their core work of protecting the public, contributing to a low rate of form completion.

  4. The Boston Fire Department wants to analyze exposure and injury data, but cannot do so currently because forms are often processed on paper and hand-carried to headquarters.

  5. Filling out exposure reports is possible within the constraints of a firefighter’s day. Injury reports use the same form as exposure reports but are completed at a higher rate.

Next week, we will use these insights to brainstorm ways to improve exposure reporting. To generate a wide variety of ideas, we will use the improv-inspired "Yes And" exercise to allow ourselves to imagine solutions both big and small. From there, we will select ideas to develop and prototype with the Boston Fire Department and Citywide Analytics Team.

Sean Cochran, Neel Mehta, Algirde Pipikaite, Charlie Sellew, Chanteclaire Swett