Thursday, June 22, 2017

IGNITE: Take Care of Your People

Always take care of the people who are trying to make you look good (make it as easy as possible for them to do so). – Unknown
Always take care of the people who are trying to make you look good (make it as easy as possible for them to do so). – Unknown
[Photo: Ada County Sheriff’s Office, Mile Marker 14 Fire (2016)]

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Leadership is Action - "You Can't Force Leadership"

Bumble bee in flowering tree
It is of this writer’s belief that one can’t force leadership. We can just plant the seed. Your flower will blossom when it is ready. Flowers bloom all the time.

Living and working in Washington, D.C., for a few months made me think more about our country and our history. I have stared at the White House; I have visited the memorials, I have walked the bridges and can hardly fathom receiving a letter from the President or crossing over the Potomac by foot or by riding a horse. The Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg resonates with me more now than ever, the history of this great city, the architecture on the buildings, the lay-out of the streets, the many circles; originally planned out to confuse the enemy, now confusing mostly tourists, including myself. I study the map of the city wanting to figure out the madness behind the design. Walking around makes me think about how lucky I am to have the basic necessities of life: good health, clothes, food and shelter. Many battles have been lost for us to live in this great country. A Blackhawk helicopter flies overhead as I walk on the Washington Memorial Bridge. I stop to watch the helicopter. Freedom, it is here from the loss of others. I look at the Potomac, the water flows swiftly, I think about the troops who had to cross over the Potomac River to protect Washington, D. C., from the Army of Northern Virginia. With their sacrifice and many others, I stand here today, free.

On driving to Emmitsburg for the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial, one couldn’t help but to think about our fallen firefighters, and then again Gettysburg and the battles of our past. This area is rich in our history. Looking out the window one thought about the placement of the troops only days before the engagement (June 24th - 28th 1863), Stuart clashed with Hancock just West of Centreville and then captured 125 supply wagons just North of Rockville. Troops were hungry and weary but continued to make movement in and around these valleys and hills now used for highways, shopping malls, Starbucks, fast food places, “Metro stops”, etc., all filled with people hurrying to the next location, engulfed in rushing from point A to point B. This makes me think about movement; movement how it has changed over time. Staring out the window, comfortable and grateful, I think about life’s lessons and leadership; life changes all the time, but has leadership changed over time?

By AgnosticPreachersKid, via Wikimedia Commons
Staring at the White House brings a chill to my body. I wonder how George Meade felt when he received a letter from the President Lincoln commanding him as the Commander for the Army of the Potomac. I think about leaders of the past, leaders of the present. I think about the friction between the government, from the past and still today. Will the leaders of this great country ever unite? Is the leadership skills being present today the same as they were in the past? Is leadership being able to deal with the changes and challenges of life? I think so. I reflect on those who have given me the chance to work on this assignment, to learn, to lead and to follow. I am honored to have had this opportunity. I am honored to work for the federal government.

General Longstreet
(Public domain - U.S.; Wikimedia Commons)
While this writer doesn’t believe the fundamental traits of leadership have changed, one believes that we can all develop our leadership traits to the best level of our desire. Developing leadership traits is building the vision, seeing the path, knowing when to execute, knowing when to follow and knowing how to communicate effectively. On July 3rd, Longstreet tells his commander
(Public domain - U.S.; Wikimedia Commons)
General Lee that he doesn’t think the plan will work; Longstreet is displaying great leadership in voicing his opinion about high levels of concern. This is a good example for our fire organization to follow. Speak up in a polite manner to voice your concerns. Too often we are hesitant to voice our concerns. Worried about the outcome, we shy away from speaking up. Enable your leadership skills and speak up when necessary. Even after the Battle of Gettysburg was over, Buford, one of the great leaders of this time, voices his opinion about being worn out and disgusted from the war, wishing to be relieved from the Army of the Potomac. Sometimes, this is all we can do, express our concerns and hope the leader will listen. Upward voicing is a powerful tool and we all need to remember, to listen to those we lead and, voice our concerns to those who lead us. The flower will either bloom or not.

Shawna Legarza
Fire Management Officer - DIVS 08
San Juan Public Lands

We originally ran this post on our blog November 1, 2009, as our seventh post. Shawna is now the Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service and an avid supporter of leadership development.

Leadership is Action - "You Can't Force Leadership"

Monday, June 19, 2017

ALERT: Increase in Heat-Related Illnesses in Wildland Firefighting

NMAC Correspondence 2017-12
June 19, 2017

To: Geographic Area Coordination Group Chairs
From: National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group
Subject: Wildland Firefighter Heat Related Injury Prevention, Awareness, and Rhabdomyolysis

The wildland firefighter community has experienced an alarming increase in heat related and other physiological injuries in the last few days. Heat related injuries and Rhabdomyolysis are not the same, but can occur at the same time. Extreme weather conditions are predicted to continue across western states for the next week. The National Weather Service is issuing Heat Warnings for the SWCC, GBCC, RMCC, OSCC, and ONCC (

Working in the current and predicted weather conditions, regardless of hydration frequency, type and volume, resources will be exposed to an environment where they are at a much higher risk for severe and extreme heat related illnesses. Firefighters unable to offload the heat produced by their working muscles will see an increase in internal temperature, and can quickly reach critical levels, even death!

We need to consider alternatives to meet objectives that minimize time exposed to the extreme conditions. Bottom line! Therefore, the following information should be shared with ALL personnel working in this extreme heat! All resources, IMTs and Fire Managers should understand the signs and symptoms of heat-related injuries and Rhabdomyolysis, be able to assess their risk within their assigned incidents and tasks, and understand their responsibility to mitigate exposure to the extreme heat.

Risks associated with Heat Related Illness:
  • Physical work is the biggest producer of body heat. Physical exertion at the start of work shifts sets the body’s core temperature for the day. Air temperature generally increases from the beginning of normal shift work, thus giving little opportunity to lower body core temperature. 
  • Hydration alone will not prevent a heat-related injury. Hydration must be combined with good physical fitness and adequate recovery time from physical tasks in order to reduce the likelihood of heat-related injuries.
  • Performing physical tasks, such as hiking up hills, as well as PPE weight (including tools and packs) contributes to high physical demands and thus higher body temperatures - to possibly near-critical levels.
  • Having had a prior heat illness (moderate to severe heat exhaustion or heat stroke) puts firefighters at increased risk for repeat heat illness.
  • Utilize shifts, including split, to avoid crews working in the heat of the day.
  • Plan for operations utilizing strategies and tactics necessary to operate during extreme temperatures, including not engaging until temperatures subside, unless absolutely necessary to protect critical values at risk.
  • Consider resource type and home unit and their appropriate levels of physical exertion at the incident.
  • Have resources ‘shade up’ after the morning hike to lower body temperature prior to beginning work for the day.
  • Frequent breaks! Allowing body core temperature to normalize is important. These breaks should include: 
    • Where possible, keep vehicles close to line resources and rotate them through air conditioning.
    • Provide “iced” hydration drinks whenever possible.
Key Points for Rhabdomyolysis: The most significant risk concerns with Rhabdo are related to the buildup of risk factors, lack of recognition of symptoms, and delays in reporting and treatment.
  • Risk Factors that increase Rhabdo potential:
  • Overexertion, poor conditioning
  • Heat stress/stroke 
  • Dehydration, excessive caffeine intake
  • Prescription medications (cholesterol-lowering statins and antidepressants), use of dietary supplements, or over-the-counter medications (antihistamines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen)
  • Use of alcohol or amphetamine
  • Medical conditions such as sickle cell trait, lupus, and concurrent acute viral illnesses such as influenza

  • Muscle pain, cramping, swelling, weakness, stiffness, decreased range-of-motion
  • Pain generally develops in the hours after exercise and peaks between 24 and 48 hours post exercise
  • Nausea or vomiting, fever, rapid heart rate, confusion or lack of consciousness
  • Dark (tea or cola-colored) and minimal urine
Reporting: Rhabdo, Heat Stress NTDP Reporting (there is no PII collected on this form)

For additional information:
  • Heat Related Illness – 2013 Firefighter Refresher Video: 
/s/ Dan Buckley

Chair, NMAC

IGNITE: What is courage?

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen - W. Churchill (Wildland firefighters sitting and talking while a crew is hiking in the background)

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen - W. Churchill
[Photo credit: Kari Greer/USFS]

Thursday, June 15, 2017

IGNITE: Influence through Presence

Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact last in your absence.–  Sheryl Sandberg

Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.– Sheryl Sandberg
Share through your spheres of influence.

[Photo: Wyoming Interagency Hotshots]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

To Suppress, Or Not Suppress, That Is The Question

At about this time a year ago, when I first started this Student of Fire blog, I attended our forests’ IC Refresher. Today, attending this years IC Refresher, was sort of like a Student of Fire anniversary for me. My perspective has changed during that time. I’ve committed many hours to reading, site visits, researching, and, well, actively performing my job as a Forestry Technician. Today I expected your run-of-the-mill delegation of authority, same old thing I’ve heard for the last couple years as an IC5 trainee. What I didn’t expect was to be sitting in my chair having the feeling that I was part of something, something on the verge of some serious change. I’m talking about not suppressing every fire. I’m talking about a fundamental shift that has been talked about and forgotten, talked about but never acted on.

Any wildland firefighter who’s spent time in the woods is either lying, lackluster about their job, or heavily dogmatized for suppression by their previous mentors if they tell you they’ve never questioned or wondered why certain fires are fought. Most of us involved with fire have some sense that it’s a natural, ecological process, oftentimes contributing to a more healthy ecosystem. We do controlled burns in wildlife plots. Why? Yeah, it must be good. So we have these contradictory ideas regarding our mission, us boots on the ground. We know in some circumstances it’s good, but then are directed to suppress all fires. This has persisted since the 70’s. Remember the definition for insanity? Fire management has exhibited some of that illogical rational for decades.

Recently I read Stephen Pyne’s Between Two Fires as a leadership pursuit. What I found in that book was a history of the changing perceptions surrounding fire: how we went from fire control to fire management, how most of the fire research that’s existed has been monopolized by the institutions receiving the majority of their money from suppressing fires, and how the re-introduction of natural fire has been tried, particularly by the national park service, with some failures and successes (both “failure” and “success” are left for interpretation).

This natural fire idea isn’t a new concept, but seeing it finally appear in front of me, from an agency who has historically been the final word on the wildfire business, was hair-raising. It made me think of that scene in Wayne’s World where Garth is playing with a robotic arm and the sleezebag is trying to sell him some lies. Garth, in his unique brand of Dana Carvey weirdness, says “We fear change” and smashes his little robotic creation to pieces. This is what we’ve been doing for a hundred years and we like doing it – why would we change that? Etc.

After the highly-vetted ex-hotshot Supt/National Parks Wildland Fire Use Director (who will remain nameless) gave his presentation, I just couldn’t help but feel like everyone in the room should consider themselves lucky to be given the latitude to seriously approach this change with open minds and support from upper management. It’s rare in big agencies (as far as I can tell) to be presented with options previously locked away. Not only to be given those options, but be supported in their development and implementation.

The big joke for the afternoon was Jonny Farmer, Mr. IC5 Trainee (me?) who shows up on his snag fire and calls dispatch to tell them about the great opportunity he’s found for a natural use fire. He begins drawing ideas on the back of an MRE container with his Crayola crayon, when Mr. Jonny Farmer is politely informed by his immediate supervisor to turn in his gear, take a year of unpaid absence, and apply somewhere else next season on USA Jobs. Funny, because it rings true. And it gets at the larger issue of why this idea hasn’t been implemented throughout the country. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to the status quo, to the way things have always been, and say “I think we can do better, I think we should demand more from ourselves.” I got to see that today, in person. A room full of people voicing their opinions, thoughts, and doubts about a vision for the future, about their role in it, and how it would all play out. Today I witnessed some serious leadership at work and it was awesome.

Reprinted with permission from the author. View the original on the Student of Fire blog. All thoughts are that of the author.

Monday, June 12, 2017

IGNITE: What Leaders Provide

Leaders provide purpose, direction, and motivation to those they lead. - Leading in the Widlland Fire Service, page 22  [Photo credit: Gregg Boydston] (Hotshot crew hiking)
Leaders provide purpose, direction, and motivation to those they lead. - Leading in the Widlland Fire Service, page 22

[Photo credit: Gregg Boydston]

Thursday, June 8, 2017

IGNITE: Leadership and Learning Go Together

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. –John F. Kennedy Photo: Kari Greer/USFS, Pioneer Fire (2016) (Wildland firefighter standing in a burning forest)

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. – John F. Kennedy

[Photo: Kari Greer/USFS, Pioneer Fire (2016)]

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Responding to Your Own Mental Health

Cerro Grande fire near Los Alamos, NM
The trauma that we see as firefighters on a daily basis will take a toll on people. Understanding how to deal with your body’s reactions to trauma may put you ahead of the game. Taking advantage of simple ways to recognize that we’re starting to struggle mentally with what we see on the job may be as important as life or death.

Currently, the number of suicides in the fire service is unprecedented. Organizations such as The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance are trying to tackle these issues. Simple warning signs that you can look out for in yourself are crucial for your career and your overall mental health. So ask yourself: Would I know if I’m struggling mentally? Would you be able to tell if you need some simple mental health help? Here are some of the signs from Mental Health America that you can look out for:
  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms it may be time to ask for help. There are many resources at your disposal. If you’re reading this and you aren’t experiencing any of these symptoms, then ask yourself: If I were experiencing these symptoms would I know what to do? Would I know where to go? If you don’t, then this may be the opportunity to start putting resources in place for your department so that when you or someone in the department is having an issue, your entire crew knows what to do.

Seeking help through your department’s employee action plan (EAP) is a good step. EAPs offer many services that all departments can take advantage of. If you’re in a volunteer department, look at the National Volunteer Fire Council’s “Share the Load” program. There are many resources at your disposal that are free. Establishing a peer support network throughout your department is a good way of having caring individuals who are willing to be there at a moment of crisis. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation also has the 16 Life Safety Initiatives and Initiative 13 focuses on Behavioral Health. They have many different tools that you can put into your behavioral health toolbox.

I personally would like to see behavioral health training required at every fire training center in the country. This type of training should be as important as any other training you are required to attend. Take a look at the resources below and don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help.

Resources and Organizations
MARK LAMPLUGH is a fourth-generation firefighter and former captain with the Lower Chichester, PA, Fire Company. He is the CEO of 360 Wellness Inc. ( and a consultant with Sprout Health Group ( Lamplugh is also nationally recognized in Crisis Stress Intervention through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. He has helped hundreds of firefighters, police officers, veterans, EMS personnel, and civilians nationwide find help for addiction, alcoholism, PTSD, and mental health support. He can be reached for comment at

[Thank you to Firehouse magazine and Editor-in-Chief Tim Sendelbach for allowing the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program to reprint this article on our blog as part of the our wildland fire health and wellness initiative.]

Monday, June 5, 2017

IGNITE: Building a Solid Team

A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together. – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
[Photo credit: BIA Uintah and Ouray Agency]