Firefighter’s helmet camera study wins Innovation Award

A firefighter who used helmet-mounted video cameras to show how commanders handled emergencies has won an award for innovation.

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Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, now Deputy Assistant Commissioner with London Fire Brigade, began her research at Cardiff University whilst working for the South Wales Fire Service in the city.

Her study with the School of Psychology showed commanders often rely on intuition under pressure, regardless of whether a situation was complex or routine.

Fire officers’ helmets were fitted with GoPro cameras to gain crucial insight.

The findings have led to the development of national policy changing the way officers deal with incidents. A new ‘decision control’ process now helps commanders communicate goals, consequences, risks and benefits of actions taken under pressure.

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton said: “We are delighted to win this Award. I wish to dedicate this award to all London firefighters who have been working so hard to help everyone touched by the Grenfell Tower incident. The driver for this research was to keep firefighters safe. Recent events have demonstrated to the world just the kind of high-pressure, high-risk situations in which our firefighters find themselves. I dedicate my work to keeping them safe so they can continue to safeguard the public.”

Born in Cardiff, Sabrina went to Bassaleg School in Newport. Leaving school at 16, she joined the fire service at 18, working through the ranks to become Group Commander in the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Sabrina completed a degree in psychology before tackling a PhD at Cardiff. She studied at night, whilst serving as a full-time fire officer and raising a young child. After a secondment to Welsh Government advising ministers and senior civil servants on fire and rescue policy, Dr Cohen-Hatton moved to London 3 years ago as Deputy Assistant Commissioner.

Julie James, Minister for Skills and Science, presented the People’s Choice Award to London Fire Brigade’s Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, National Fire Chiefs Council, and the School of Psychology’s Professor Rob Honey.

The Minister said: “The People’s Choice winner is an outstanding example of how a research study can be translated into practical decision-making advice with the potential to save lives in an emergency. It also highlights the importance of partnerships between academia, government and external organisations in shaping and safeguarding our wider society.”

Rob Honey added: “It has been a real privilege to be part of the innovative work conducted by this dedicated and inspirational team.”

Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan said: “The outstanding quality of this year’s entries demonstrates the quality, ingenuity and determination of Cardiff University researchers in developing world-leading innovation and engagement partnerships.”

The Innovation and Impact Awards, now in their 19th year, highlight the benefits of partnerships between the University’s academics and external organisations.