Saturday, April 25, 2015

Follow Along with the Dude Fire Staff Ride

Dude Fire Staff Ride collage

On April 29, 2015, students of fire and leadership will be participating in the Dude Fire Staff Ride. The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (LLC) staff will be sharing their experience as they move through the various stands. The LLC issued the following challenge to those unable to attend:
When: April 29, Starting at 0800 MST
Where: Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center Facebook Page
What: Follow along as we walk through the Dude Fire Staff Ride. Get full descriptions at each stand, see real time photos, and PARTICIPATE in the discussion!
To prepare for participation, students of fire are encouraged to watch the Dude Fire Fatality Case Study video and refer to information found within the Staff Ride Library.

Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center logo

Friday, April 24, 2015

Command Philosophy

Command Philosophy: Our philosophy of command supports the way we manage incidents. To generate effective decision making and to cope with the unpredictable nature of incidents, fire leaders decentralize command. That is, we empower subordinate leaders to make decisions based on their understanding of their leader’s vision for success.

Command Philosophy

Our philosophy of command supports the way we manage incidents. To generate effective decision making and to cope with the unpredictable nature of incidents, fire leaders decentralize command. That is, we empower subordinate leaders to make decisions based on their understanding of their leader’s vision for success.

Command Based on Intent
Translating vision into clear leader’s intent is at the heart of our command philosophy. Describing the task, purpose, and end state is the prerequisite for empowering our people to exercise individual initiative and take appropriate risks and actions as the situation requires.

This philosophy is based on the understanding that competent subordinate leaders who are at the scene of action understand the current situation better than does a senior commander some distance removed. This does not imply, however, that our actions are not coordinated. Fire leaders continually work to achieve coordination and cooperation among all forces toward a commonly understood objective.

Unity of Effort
Our leaders subscribe to unity of effort as a second key component our command philosophy. In a high-risk environment, mixed messages or countermanding directives add to the potential for friction, danger, and uncertainty.

Many times at all levels of the wildland fire service, leaders find themselves in gray areas where jurisdictional lines blur and overlap. No matter the challenges at hand, fire leaders work together to find common ground and act in the best interests of those responding to the incident, the public, and our natural resources.

In these situations, leaders must employ multiple leadership skills to influence decisions, forge effective relationships, facilitate cooperative efforts, and ensure that objectives are achieved.

The longer it takes to develop a unified effort, the greater the vacuum of leadership. Delays increase confusion, which in turn magnify the risk to our people and increase the likelihood that people will take unproductive or independent action without understanding the larger intent.

A unified leadership team sends a powerful message: when all leaders follow the same priorities and reinforce leader’s intent through consistent actions and words, our people develop a strong sense of trust for their leaders. It dispels the propensity to second-guess command decisions as subordinates recognize that the leadership team moves as one and is solidly in charge.

[Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 15]

Thursday, April 23, 2015

IGNITE: Mind, Body, Spirit

The wildland fire service approach to taking care of people encompasses mind, body, and spirit. –Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 45
The wildland fire service approach to taking care of people encompasses mind, body, and spirit. – Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 45
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

‘Staff Ride’ of Santa Barbara Front Country Helps Prepare Local Agencies for Wildfire

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer 

Participants stop at a handful of locations along the South Coast, discussing previous blazes and how to react in similar situations

Santa Barbara County Fire Battalion Chief Steve Oak and Montecito Fire Division Chief Kevin Taylor talk about the Painted Cave Fire in 1990 and decisions made during the incident. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Santa Barbara County Fire Battalion Chief Steve Oak and Montecito Fire Division Chief Kevin Taylor talk about the Painted Cave Fire in 1990 and decisions made during the incident. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Standing on a road surrounded by waist-high brittle grass, dozens of emergency personnel from around Santa Barbara County got together to strategize how they'll react in the next wildfire and also to relive and analyze decisions made in past fires.

It was part of a "staff ride" of the Santa Barbara front country, and the event was spearheaded by Los Padres National Forest Division Chief Mark vonTillow.

VonTillow was part of a Los Padres Forest Service contingent that was sent to training at Quantico in 2001, where he witnessed U.S Marines conducting a similar exercise.

"We immediately saw the value," he said, adding that "this has been rolling around in my brain for years," but Thursday was the first time they've been able to do such a large-scale event.

Staffers from the city and county of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, the California Highway Patrol as well multiple fire agencies from the South Coast area were part of the group.

The event created a caravan of about 60 people who stopped at a handful of locations on the South Coast to talk about major fires in the area, and was meant to have attendees ask how they would react to decision making in a similar situation.

"What do you do when you've lost an entire community of 600 homes?" vonTillow asked.

The day began at Fire Station 18 in Gaviota, where the group discussed the Gaviota Fire in 2004, when the decision had to be made to shut down Highway 101.

The next stop was a bridge that crosses Highway 101 near the San Marcos Foothills Preserve, where Los Padres fire officials explained the area had been a hub for the Gap, Painted Cave and Jesusita fires, right at the edge of the urban interface.

A map shows the edges of each fire that have raged through the Santa Barbara County front country over the years.
A handful of groups were formed around fire and law enforcement officials, who talked about how decisions were made in several historic front country fires, including the Painted Cave Fire in 1990.

Here, the groups discussed strategic decision making and how evacuations were ordered.

Montecito Fire Division Chief Kevin Taylor held up a map showing where mandatory evacuations were required during the Painted Cave Fire, and a red zone showing those evacuations butted right up the north side of Highway 101.

That fire doubled in size every 10 minutes as it raged down from the Painted Cave area, driven rapidly by sundowner winds that pushed the flames closer to homes and neighborhoods.

"If something is moving that quickly, how does that affect your community?" he asked a group of about 10 people, which included staff from county supervisorial offices, local boards and city staff.

The group talked about issuing a reverse 9-1-1 call, and Taylor asked what they would do about residents who didn't want to leave, even in the face of a mandatory evacuation.

"They're on their own," someone replied, and Taylor confirmed that California law says that residents cannot be forced to leave their homes.

Santa Barbara County Fire Battalion Chief Steve Oaks was also in the group, and recalled being there during the fire.

Reverse 9-1-1 had yet to be implemented, so Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies were driving through the neighborhoods with loudspeakers, warning people to get out.

The fire came so near to the Santa Barbara County Jail that the inmates had to be evacuated, and were led across the highway to San Marcos High School to wait out the danger.

The county's dispatch center was also at the County Jail at that time, and had to be evacuated as well.

"The last thing we heard from them over the radio was, 'Good luck, you're on your own,'" Oaks recalled. "It was very fast moving."

The immediate danger of each fire was discussed, as well as the years, and sometimes decades, of rebuilding that each group was asked to consider.

After each fire, city and county officials were deluged with new permits to rebuild.

VonTillow said he hopes that after Thursday's event, each agency will be better able to work together in the next fire event.

"It's important that when the next one does happen, we're ready," he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.
Los Padres National Forest Battalion Chief Jay Enns presenting Stand #2 to Santa Barbara Front Staff Ride particpants.
[Photo credit: Mark vonTillow; not featured in the Noozhawk article]
Thank you to Lara Cooper and Noozhawk for allowing us to reprint this article.

Monday, April 20, 2015

IGNITE: It's About What You Do

Leadership is not about who you are; it’s about what you do. –Kouzes & Posner, The Leadership Challenge
Leadership is not about who you are; it’s about what you do. – Kouzes & Posner, The Leadership Challenge
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Friday, April 17, 2015

What is Your Level of Commitment?

Pig or Chicken - What is Your Level of Commitment?

Pig and chicken arm wrestling
"Once we commit to becoming leaders, our focus is no longer ourselves." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 6)
Inspiration for this post comes from Steven Pressfield's blog on commitment. His piece reminded me of the leadership parable about a ham-and-eggs breakfast and depth of commitment. Here is Agile Jedi's version of the story:

Once Upon a Time....

A chicken and a pig lived on a farm. The farmer was very good to them and they both wanted to do something good for him.

One day the chicken approached the pig and said, "I have a great idea for something we can do for the farmer! Would you like to help?"

The pig, quite intrigued by this, said, "of course! What is it that you propose?"

The chicken knew how much the farmer enjoyed a good healthy breakfast. He also knew how little time the farmer had to make a good breakfast. 

"I think the farmer would be very happy if we made him breakfast." 

The pig thought about this. While not as close to the farmer, he too knew of the farmer's love for a good breakfast. 

"I'd be happy to help you make breakfast for the farmer! What do you suggest we make?"

The chicken, understanding that he had little else to offer suggested, "I could provide some eggs."

The pig knew the farmer might want more, "That's a fine start. What else should we make?"

The chicken looked around...scratched his head...then said, "ham? The farmer loves ham and eggs!"

The pig, very mindful of what this implied, said, "that's fine, but while you're making a contribution I'm making a real commitment!"


You will find commitment spoken of a great deal in Leading in the Wildland Fire ServiceThe following excerpt comes from pages 53-54.

Leaders create teams committed to the mission. To increase the level of commitment, leaders seek input and delegate appropriately.

We involve team members from the start and actively solicit contributions—not just strong backs but also ideas and observations about the work environment. We make people responsible, give them enough authority to accomplish their assignment, and hold them accountable. Although we take a risk when we delegate, the resulting ownership far outweighs the risk. Involvement is the foundation for commitment.

Questions to Ponder
  • What is your level of commitment to your organization, team, or mission?
  • Are you committed or involved?
  • Are you willing to increase your level of commitment?

Original posting: January 14, 2013.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

IGNITE: Doing Your Part

Each team member needs to be able to trust that all team members will do their part to accomplish the mission. –Don Mercer, Follow to Lead
Each team member needs to be able to trust that all team members will do their part to accomplish the mission. – Don Mercer, Follow to Lead
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Richard (Wally) Ochoa, Jr. Receives Lead by Example Award

Richard (Wally) Ochoa Jr.

We are honored to annouce another recipient of the 2014 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award: Richard (Wally) Ochoa Jr. of the Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew. Congratulations on a job well-done, Wally.

Award Citation Excerpt
"You are being recognized for your attention to duty, your dedication to the principles of integrity, and the respect that you give to all those you meet. Regardless of authority or title, you have tirelessly mentored others and built quality teams. As a leader by choice, you have earned the trust and respect of those around you. Your tireless efforts to motivate others, demonstrate a quality work ethic, and maintain a positive attitude in spite of life-altering situations have been an inspiration to previous firefighters and a legacy for leaders of the future to follow." (Ochoa's award citation)
Fremont-Winema National Forests News Release

April 8, 2015

Klamath Falls, Oregon – Richard (Wally) Ochoa Jr., a veteran member of the Winema Interagency Hotshots, was selected as one of the recipients for the 2014 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award. He is being recognized for his attention to duty, work ethic, teamwork, efforts to motivate and mentor others, and positive attitude in spite of his life-altering situation.

Wally Ochoa Jr. receiving 2014 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award

“Wally is respected nationally in the wildland firefighting community,” said Connie Cummins, Forest Supervisor for the Fremont-Winema National Forest. “His work ethic is something we all strive to achieve and his natural leadership ability is something we all wish we had.”

Ochoa has been the lead chainsaw operator on the Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew since 1995. His dedication to the crew is evident by his record of maintaining his physical fitness in the off-season; sharing his chainsaw experience; caring for the needs of his crew members; recognizing accomplishments and efforts of others, taking responsibility for his actions; resolving conflict tactfully; and bringing attention to hazards and concerns with crew members and supervisors.

Richard (Wally) Ochoa Jr. operating chainsaw

“To see him come back year after year and day after day motivated, fit, and ready to work his hardest has made him a role model for countless crew members over the years,” said Dave Lilly, Winema Interagency Hotshot Superintendent.

In 2014, Ochoa was severely injured by a falling tree while working on the Freezeout Ridge Fire in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Idaho. He was transported to a heli-spot via long-line under a helicopter then flown to the Freezeout Ridge heli-base where an air ambulance was waiting to fly him to Boise, Idaho.

“I’m not a firefighter for the recognition. I’m one because of the crew and other firefighters I work with. They are my family,” said Ochoa. “It’s because of each and every one of them working together that I am here today!”

Still recovering from his injuries, Ochoa will not be able to fight fire this summer. He has made great strides in his recovery and even ran a half marathon, but Ochoa and his doctors agree he still has room for improvement. The outpouring of support from the wildland firefighting community has really helped with his recovery.

“I fully intend to return to firefighting for one more season,” said Ochoa. “My goal is to be on the Winema Interagency Hotshots for a total of 20 seasons.”

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s (NWCG) Annual Lead by Example Award was created to honor Paul Gleason, a wildland firefighter whose career spanned several decades. Gleason is best known for developing the LCES (Lookout, Communication, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) concept that became the foundation of wildland firefighter safety. The award highlights Gleason’s influence on and contribution to wildland fire management, while honoring those who demonstrate the spirit of leadership for which he was known. 

The entire Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew was the recipient of the NWCG’s 2014 Wildfire Emergency Medical Service Award for their emergency response when Ochoa was injured. Medically trained crew members immediately performed a patient assessment and determined the significance of the injuries and the threat they posed. Other crew members constructed an emergency medical landing zone. 

Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew

The three members of the Winema Interagency Hotshots who provided Ochoa with immediate medical care was also awarded the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Regional Forester’s 2014 Wildland Fire Team Safety Award for Excellence. The actions taken by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) Jeremy Surprenant and James Evans and former paramedic Philip Capurro ensured Ochoa’s condition and treatment needs were appropriately evaluated and emergency care was provided in a timely manner.

“The entire Fremont-Winema National Forest family is thankful to our Winema Interagency Hotshots for their care of Wally,” said Margaret David Bailey, Klamath District Ranger. “Having Wally back at work is the best possible outcome.”

Contact: Erica Hupp, 541-883-6714 or Lisa Swinney, 541-947-6261

Monday, April 13, 2015

IGNITE: Why do you choose to lead?

With all the burdens that come with being a leader, WHY do you choose to lead?
With all the burdens that come with being a leader, WHY do you choose to lead?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Why Would Anyone Follow You?

"People will not believe the message if they
 don't believe in the messenger." - Barry Posner

Are you leading or on a walk? In "Why Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership," Barry Posner discusses the qualities a leader must possess for followers to follower. If you don't possess them and you are "leading" others, you are probably just out for a walk because no one is following you!

Check out what Leading in the Wildland Fire Service has to say that is similar to Posner:

  • Leaders honestly appraise their own strengths and weaknesses. (p. 59)
  • Our followers assess our character every day; they know if we are open and honest; they see if we are indecisive, lazy or selfish. (p. 63)
  • Our command philosophy is based on the understanding that competent subordinate leaders who are at the scene of action understand the current situation better than does a senior commander some distance removed. Actions are coordinated. (p. 15)
  • Much of the work in the wildland fire service is technical. In demonstrating technical proficiency, fire leaders adhere to professional standard operating procedures, following established best practices. (p. 25)
  • Competent leaders develop plans to accomplish given objectives and communicate plans throughout the chain of command. Leaders exercise good judgment to ensure that the plan matches the objectives, employing people, equipment, and time wisely. (p. 26)
  • When the mission takes our people into harm's way, fire leaders redeem their people's trust by looking out for their well being: doing our best to make decisions hat appropriately balance risk and potential gain, being watchful for unfolding conditions that may jeopardize their safety, and being present to share the risks and hardships. (p. 46)
  • Leaders in the wildland fire service chose to reach beyond the challenges of learning the craft of firefighting by stepping forward to lead people in complex and dangerous environments. Fire leaders trade the indulgences of complacency, second-guessing, and fault-finding for the responsibilities of bringing order out of chaos, improving our people, and building our organizations. (p. 67)
  • Wildland fire leaders inspire by being committed leaders and avid pupils of the art of leadership. (p. 9)
  • Leaders inspire, guide, and support their subordinates, gaining their commitment to the vision and mission and encouraging them, within established limits, to perform creatively. (p. 9)
  • Wildland fire leaders inspire confidence among team members by demonstrating a strong and effective command presence. (p. 20)
Student for Life
  • We accept the responsibility of making ourselves the best leaders that we can be, continuously embracing opportunities to learn the art of leadership through formal training, field experience, and self development. The best leaders are life-long students of leadership. (p. 60)
  • Wildland fire leaders demonstrate moral courage by adhering to high ethical standards and choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong. We avoid ethical dilemmas by directing team members to operate in ways that are consistent with our professional standards and by directing them only to actions they can achieve ethically. (p. 63)
  • Leaders of people act to develop credibility as leaders: placing the team ahead of themselves, demonstrating trustworthiness, mastering essential technical skills, and instilling the values of the organization in their teams. (p. 21)