Managing the Unexpected

High Reliability develops an organization’s strengths through individual actions.
Shared attitudes fill the gap between organization and the individual to determine High Reliability.

Quotations and Sayings


  • A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.  Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744) in An Essay on Criticism [The Pierian Spring, in Greek Mythology, fives knowledge and inspiration]
  • For everyone there is a first time.  Kaldhen Sherpa, Sherpa Trekking Service, Kathmandu, Nepal www.sts.com.np
  • If you want to learn how to ski, watch the bad skiers then don’t do what they do.  You will never see what makes a good skier good.  Rod Terasaki, MD, Bellevue, WA
  • Never use malice if ignorance will explain the member’s behavior.  Joe Martin, Batt. Chief, LAFD, (ret.) quoting a chief fire officer
  • Synergy, from syn which means together and erg which means work.  We do more when we work together.  William J. “Bill” Corr, Capt. II, LAFD (1915-2005) on taking command of a new firehouse
  • Don’t run.  You will never help anybody with a broken ankle.  William J. “Bill” Corr, Capt. II, LAFD (1915-2005) to a rookie rescue ambulance driver running to his rig.
  • If you feel your eyes glaze over or your body moving faster than you can think, then stop and breathe.  William J. “Bill” Corr, Capt. II, LAFD (1915-2005)
  • We don’t fight fires.  What the fire department does is solve problems the public cannot or will not solve themselves.  William J. “Bill” Corr, Capt. II, LAFD (1915-2005)
  • What you do every day is what you do in an emergency.  Joe Martin, Battalion Chief, Los Angeles City Fire Department, Retired
  • There are a thousand things happening on scene; you can only see a hundred and act on ten.  I will see a different hundred and act on a different ten.  It doesn’t mean I am right or that you are wrong.  It only means we are different.  LAFD Fire Captain, FS 11
  • In the presence of a void move forward.  James "Jim" Denney, Captain, Los Angeles Fire Department (Retired) and OSS Group (1947- 2006)
  • After all, an earthquake is just a big victim generator.  James "Jim" Denney, Captain, Los Angeles Fire Department (Retired) and OSS Group (1947- 2006)
  • It's in their inherent nature that people are drawn to a problem and, while around the problem, they begin to solve it.  Gary Provansal, Division Chief, San Bernardino County Fire Department
  • HRO is just problem solving.  Racquel Calderon, BS, RRCP [with Karlene Roberts addendum, “The organization must let you problem solve.]
  • Sometimes the most effective use of overwhelming force is the conspicuous decision not to use it.  Tony Hare, PhD, Oakland PD (ret)
  • Are policies a concrete wall that keeps reality out or a picket fence that lets reality through?  Joe Martin, Battalion Chief, Los Angeles City Fire Department, Retired
  • They push you until you pop your cork [become angry].  That way they know how much it takes to make you angry and what you look like when you get angry.  After that, they leave you alone at a fire but watch for the signs.  When they see them they step in to help you.  Jerry Goens, Rescue Ambulance Attendant, LAFD
  • Your success is my success and your failure is my failure.  Dywane Thomas, RCP, and Chief Warrant Officer, US Marine Corps, retired
  • When a fire captain picks up a firehose he is no longer a fire captain, he is a firefighter.  Randy Ammons, Capt., Rialto (CA) Fire Department
  • Do you want to feel right or be right?  Daved van Stralen, MD, Loma Linda University School of Medicine
  • How do you identify when you are wrong?  Daved van Stralen, MD, Loma Linda University School of Medicine


  • Just because I’m wrong doesn’t make you right.  Firehouse saying, LAFD
  • If you can’t trust me then you cannot be trusted.  Firehouse saying, LAFD
  • Communication is a behavior.  If I don’t want you to know something you will never know it.  If I don’t want to listen to you I will never hear you.  US Forest Service Wildland Firefighter
  • There are no secrets in the Forest Service, only time delay. John Caffin, Another US Forest Service Wildland Firefighter
  • What’s the use in being very precise if you are way off of the target? David Christenson, MA, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (On the difference between precision & accuracy in communications)
  • Ready, Fire, Aim

Sayings that block thinking

  • Let’s not reinvent the wheel.
  • Association does not mean causation.
  • Assume makes an ass out of you and me.  (A paramedic student uses the word “assumption” as it makes an ass out of you and umption.)
  • What were you thinking?
  • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
  • Before we trust you we have to get to know you.

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