Wednesday, November 30, 2011

“We Will Never Forget You—Remembering Andy Palmer”

Submitted by Jim McMahill (Regional Fire and Aviation Management Officer, Midwest Region - National Park Service and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee NPS Representative) and the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

This—wildland firefighter Andy Palmer’s tragedy—is the story of how we arrived at today’s Dutch Creek Protocol guidelines for emergency medical response and extractions.

Fireline Leadership Challenge:

  1. View the video and share this with your employees and incident management team members, either during your annual fire refresher or at your annual team meetings.
  2. After viewing, discuss the contents of the video, which challenges us with three questions we should ask ourselves each time we are weighing the decision whether or not to engage on a wildland fire incident.
  • What will we do if someone gets hurt?
  • How will we get them out of here?
  • How long will it take to get them to the hospital?”

This is the Wildland Lessons Learned Center's second presentation in this year’s “Firefighter: Remember This” video series. Check out the first, "Firefighter: Remember This - Engine Rollover: Why This Accident Started Months Ago."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stanford's Guiding Principles

Mark Stanford is the Chief, Fire Operations for the Texas Forest Service as well as State representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee.

Stanford’s Guiding Principles

Listed below are some principles that I use to guide me. Some are basic or intuitive while others were learned from mistakes, lapses in judgment or the school of hard knocks. Still others were picked up from people wiser than me and from a few mentors I was fortunate to have.

My core overriding principle is to know what you believe in. This is your foundation. This is your default in times of high stress or when serious decisions must be made quickly. Because of my role in the agency there have been many times when events occurred rapidly with possible severe consequences. I found myself having to react without the luxury of time and stasis to fully evaluate the situation to a comfortable end state. I think of this as a crucible where leaders are tested. I can’t imagine being in a situation like this without having and understanding my core values and beliefs.

Have situational awareness of who you are. Know your strengths and weaknesses and implement based on this knowledge. Own yourself.

Always, always try to do the right thing. Not only is it the correct way to live your life but people sense that this is your motivation. It will become part of your reputation.

Be more concerned about doing the right thing than about not being wrong. Own your mistakes. Most times others will know when you make them and attempts to hide or deny will only make you look foolish, petty and immature.

Tell the truth. Be honest in all your dealings both internal and external to your agency. I will omit information if required by confidentiality or if information will be disruptive to individuals or groups but never lie.

Indecision is a course of action; it is the decision to do nothing. You will be faced with situations that require a decision be made quickly. Make one. If it turns out not to be the best decision or just flat out wrong, observe, analyze, correct and move forward.

Allow your staff to make honest mistakes but insist that they learn from the experiences.

Know what is non-negotiable and what can be negotiated. Know why this is true.

Listen. Listen to your boss, listen to your personnel, listen to your cooperators, listen to your customers; listen, listen listen.

Try not to lose your temper. When you do, make sure it is for the right reason.

Work your boss’ problems. Seems like a simple concept but not really that common a trait. Become your boss’ go-to-person.

Help others be successful. Not only is this a good thing to do, you will also develop allies. This includes your subordinates, peers, and individuals that are in support and administrative jobs.

People are your most valuable asset. You must do your best to understand your personnel; their needs and expectations, both personal and professionally. Communicate this in words and actions.

A challenge is to balance your personnel’s needs with agency missions and requirements. If you take the money, ride for the brand.

Try to be equitable with your personnel in praise, recognition, reward and discipline. This may be difficult to consistently accomplish due to personal bias and limited resources. Do your best and be open to feedback.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Change is constant; embrace it. Become an advocate for change that results in positive effects. However, avoid change for change’s sake. It unsettles people.

Service. Give more than you take.

Be a lifetime leadership student. The road goes on forever.


Mark shared his leadership values and principles. What are yours? Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts here!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

On behalf of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, I would like to wish all readers a safe and Happy Thanksgiving. May each of you take this time to reflect upon all for which you are thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Exposing Our Roots: 1997 - 1998

In 1998, the TriData Corporation completed the four-phase Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study.

  • Phase I -Identifying the Organizational Culture, Leadership, Human Factors, and Other Issues Impacting Firefighter Safety
  • Phase II - Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study - Setting New Goals for the Organizational Culture, Leadership, Human Factors, and Other Areas Impacting Firefighter Safety
  • Phase III - Implementing Cultural Changes for Safety
  • Phase IV - Developing a Cooperative Approach

Wildland Lessons Learned Videos - 10-Year Anniversary

Additional Events from 1999

  • The Safety and Health Working Team (now the Risk Management Committee) sponsors L-180 development.
  • A 40-hour leadership development training course is proposed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Help Wanted

This blog was created as an avenue for wildland fire leaders to share their experiences in writing. Unfortunately, few have contributed. The following Seth Godin interview conducted by Dan Cathy may provide some insight and encourage wildland fire leaders to use their written voice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Communicating Across Generations

I recently had an encounter with a young man of about 13 years of age. I had given him answers for a Halloween station he was to facilitate. As soon as he attempted to read the paper I had given him, I knew we had a serious problem. A deep sense of fear overtook him and he handed the paper back to me saying he could not read what was written. I had used cursive writing instead of printing. Our ability to communicate had taken a direct hit.

While attending L-580 this past spring, a number of participants had discussed the coming trend of public school systems eliminating cursive writing from the curriculum. Little did I know that it would be only a few months until I encountered my first experience with this new barrier to communication.

The new generation firefighter communicates differently. Right, wrong, or indifferently, changes in communication methods generally require that the older generation adapt.

I enabled my young friend to succeed by printing my work; however, there may be times in the future where technological ineptness or other factor(s) may render me unable to communicate. I keep myself open to new ideas and methods; but, I may find myself in a similar situation as my young friend some day.

How do feel about the ever-changing face of communication? How are these changes affecting communication in the wildland fire service?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Exposing Our Roots - 1995/1996

Where were you in 1995? Some of you may have been employed in wildland fire and can remember focus on changing our culture. Every once in a while I think there is great value in "exposing our roots"--letting those new to the wildland fire service know where the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) began. Over the next few weeks, we'll revisit our history.

A Glance Back at 1994

Thirty four lives were lost on wildland fire incidents in 1994. Fourteen of those fatalities occurred on South Canyon fire near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.


The Missoula Technology Development Center (MTDC) hosts the 1st Firefighters Human Factors Workshop.

  • "To begin to address some of the human factors questions, experts in psychology, sociology, organizations, fire safety, and wildland firefighting attended a 5-day workshop in June 1995 to discuss ways of improving firefighter safety" (Finding from the Firefighters Human Factors Workshop, p. 3).

Smokejumpers and pilots participate in Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) training.

Following the deaths on South Canyon, the BLM commissioned the Firefighter Awareness Study--a four-phase study awarded to the TriData Corporation. Phase I - Identifying the Organizational Culture, Leadership, Human Factors, and Other Issues Impacting Firefighter Safety was completed in 1996.


The National Park Service develops and tests a human factors course. The WFLDP now administers L-180 - Human Factors in the Wildland Fire Service. The 2010 video component of L-180 is available on YouTube. The course is currently under development for online delivery.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

When Wrong Feels So Right

"I err therefore I am." - St. Augustine
In this blog entry, I share Kathryn Schulz's video from TED-Ideas Worth Spreading titled "On Being Wrong."