Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Doing the "Right" Thing

Moral compass
(Photo credit: Inc.com)
Choosing between right and wrong should be easy. Do the right thing. However, have you ever had to choose between two "rights"? This can be really confusing, leave you feeling conflicted and can result in a poor decision or simply indecision. 

I've found the most common right versus right decision involves loyalty versus ethics. But, if you are really honest with yourself and with your evaluation of the situation, you'll usually find that there are not really two "right" decisions. It may be hard to make the call but you know what right should look like. Let your moral compass guide you and do the right thing. – Mark Stanford


About the Author:
Mark Stanford is the Fire Chief for Texas A&M Forest Service and an agency representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

Friday, December 27, 2013

IGNITING the Spark for Leadership – A Look at our 2013 Winner

Survival training
(Boulder County Sheriff's Office Special Operations personnel during survival training. Photo credit: BCSO)
"This year-long effort encouraged our organization to take leadership development to the next level and has provided a consistent and cohesive message of followership and leadership through the entire organization.” ~ Jay Stalnacker, Fire Management Officer
Jay Stalnacker, Fire Management Officer for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), took a risk when he brought his wildland fire team together with other Special Operations personnel from the Boulder County Sheriff’s office. Inspired by the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign – Leading with Courage, 75 individuals from wildland fire management, SWAT, and search and rescue embarked on an 11-month leadership development effort.

In December 2013, the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee selected BSCO as the winners of the IGNITE the Spark for Leadership – From the Field for the Field Contest. BSCO's innovative approach, incorporation of various components of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program, and sphere of influence is to be commended.

BSCO Fire Management is to be commended for having the courage to create an interdisciplinary approach where leaders and followers shared their skill sets across disciplines.

Leadership Program Summary*
(taken from BCSO’s contest application)

During 2013, Boulder County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations began a journey of leadership development. Special Operations includes units from Wildland Fire Management, SWAT and Search and Rescue. Most involved are paid full time professional but the group does include numerous volunteer members.

Among many primary law enforcement responsibilities, the Sheriff’s Office in all Colorado counties maintains statutory responsibility for all wildland fire, mountain search and rescue and special law enforcement operations. As the Fire Management Officer (FMO), I encourage our organization to look at the “Leading with Courage” campaign for a guide to develop our internal special operations leadership development program.

Classroom training
(Facilitation of video-based discussion groups on leadership concepts. Photo credit: BCSO)
The program combined numerous leadership principles and was presented in classrooms, in the field and via video facilitated learning. Over the course of 11-months 75 special operations members completed the three part series of leadership development.

In late March of 2013, the first training began in the remote mountains of Colorado. The group snow machined and hiked to cabins at about 12,000’. We began the 36-hour training with an evening facilitated video discussion on followership using the movie “Band of Brothers” as examples of followership principles. Then we broke into small groups, using “Human Synergistics” teambuilding survival simulations (http://bit.ly/1dS4vSs) to demonstrate teambuilding through followership. Lastly, we had a guest speaker discuss values and the effect on teams. The next morning, the small groups worked through a series of survival challenges, competing for the best time.

Survival training
(Wildland firefighters, SWAT and SAR teammates build "emergency shelters" in timed competition. Photo credit: BCSO)
The second training began in June; again, we headed to a remote mountain location. We invited Larimer County SWAT to join our SWAT team and fire management Staff to complete the second leadership developmental training. This 36-hour training was to focus on operational readiness and mission planning.

This training began with a short lecture on how leaders develop goals, objectives and strategy. We then divided into small groups, using STEX principles, we used sand tables and “glass house” simulations to build and develop a plan for a simulated mission that would be part of the next day’s training. The purpose was to demonstrate the advantages of simulations, readiness and ultimately, pre-planning, to ensure for a successful outcome. This was the first time law enforcement was exposed to STEX learning and Fire Staff facilitated the training, sharing wildland fire planning principles with law enforcement. The training concluded with an 8-hour mission, including small team open field navigation, off-highway vehicle training and simulated combat assault of an illegal marijuana grow operation.

Introduction to urban combat
(Wildland firefighters prepare to enter the "live fire" shoot house for an introduction to urban combat. Photo credit: BCSO)
The last 36-hour training was held in October of 2013 at the Fort Carson Army training center. This training focused on leadership problem identification, prioritization and delegation. Using video from the movie “Blackhawk Down,” I facilitated small group discussion of these leadership qualities. The team then headed into the open field environment, competing in a simulated and live fire “combat shooting challenge,” testing their teams ability to prioritize and delegate.

This year-long training combining not only wildland firefighters but also members of other elite special operations groups has not only further developed existing leaders but also enhanced followership throughout our organization. Many single phases of the training have been found so valuable, we have been asked to present this to nonoperational groups such as administrative staff. This year-long effort encouraged our organization to take leadership development to the next level and has provided a consistent and cohesive message of followership and leadership through the entire organization.

BCSO resources will be available on the WFLDP website at a future date.

We will be sharing with you more about our winner, the runner-up, and other examples of leadership in action in a new feature we call "From the Field for the Field Fridays." We want to showcase our leadership development successes and share ideas and best practices throughout the wildland fire service and beyond.

Boulder County Sheriff's Office logo

Leading with Courage logo

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2014 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign - The Resilient Team

The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) proudly announces the theme for the 2014 wildland fire leadership campaign: "The Resilient Team."

"The ultimate team result is resilience: teams that can bounce back when problems or errors threaten cohesion and synergy." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 55)

This year’s campaign is dedicated to the memory of the 14 firefighters who lost their lives on the South Canyon fire on July 6, 1994, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This tragedy was one of the pivotal factors behind the creation of the WFLDP.

“May we all be energized and inspired to be ever aware of the lessons learned
 from their sacrifice.” (South Canyon Fire Investigation, August, 1994)

Kathi Beck
Tami Bickett
Scott Blecha
Levi Brinkley
Robert Browning
Doug Dunbar
Terri Hagen
Bonnie Holtby
Rob Johnson
Jon Kelso
Don Mackey
Roger Roth
James Thrash
Richard Tyler


Task: Provide an opportunity for wildland fire service personnel to focus leadership development activities on a nationally-sponsored, centrally-themed leadership campaign and recognize local leadership participation efforts.

  • To foster a cohesive effort to promote leadership across the wildland fire service.
  • To provide a template that can be used to encourage leadership development at the local level.
  • To provide a mechanism to collect leadership best practices and share throughout the wildland fire service.
End State: Creation of a wildland fire service culture that willingly shares leadership best practices in order to maintain superior service-wide leadership.

Dates of Campaign: Between January 1 and November 30, 2014

Length of Campaign: Determined locally to meet the goals and the objectives of the local unit or crew.

Audience: The campaign is not limited to wildland firefighters. All members of the wildland fire service are invited to participate.

Implementation: Wildland fire leaders and/or managers at the local unit or crew level devote time between January 1 and November 30, 2014, to promote leadership development specifically targeted at “The Resilient Team.”

The campaign is flexible. Local units or crews may use or adapt any or all materials contained within this document or develop a program or activity spotlighting the campaign theme and the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles. Campaign coordinators are encouraged to think outside the confines of the template and develop a program that meets local and individual needs.


See the WFLDP website for contest information.


Pam McDonald
Writer/Editor, BLM Fire Training Unit, NIFC
Logistics and Social Media Coordinator, NWCG Leadership Subcommittee
3833 South Development Avenue
Boise, ID 83705
(208) 387-5318 – office
(208) 387-5378 – fax

Happy Holidays

Friday, December 20, 2013

LAST CALL: 2013 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award

Know any firefighters who are good mentors? Provide motivation or vision? Initiate or innovate? Now's the time for recognition by nominating them for the Lead by Example Award! (LBE Award nomination form)

The Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award is presented by the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee to remember Paul Gleason's many contributions to the wildland fire community and recognize individuals or groups that exhibit the same spirit and dedication to leadership...those who lead by example. This national recognition will acknowledge those in the wildland fire service who exemplify the wildland fire leadership values and principles.

Nominations will be accepted in three categories:

Mentoring and Teamwork: This award recognizes an individual or group for outstanding effort or accomplishment related to the wildland fire leadership principles of developing others for the future and building the team.

Motivation and Vision: This award recognizes an individual or group for providing inspired vision and clear intent. This could be demonstrated by influencing others to achieve an exceptionally difficult mission or improve the organization.

Initiative and Innovation: This award recognizes an individual or group for executing an outstanding initiative or innovation related to the implementation of the wildland fire leadership development program.

Evaluation of nominees will be based on the following criteria: Demonstration of significant accomplishment in the stated category; alignment with the wildland fire leadership values and principles; and the scope of the accomplishment, considering available resources. Evaluations will be accomplished through a five-member cadre that represent a cross-section of the wildland fire service.

Nominations must be received by December 31st. Selections will be made by January 31st. Awards will be presented in the spring. Presentations will be made by a Leadership Subcommittee representative at an appropriate venue for each recipient.

The Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award program will:
  • Recognize actions associated with wildland fire; 
  • Recognize actions within the last two years; 
  • Recognize individuals or groups at all levels; and 
  • Promote the wildland fire leadership values and principles.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"From the Field for the Field" Contest Winner Announced

IGNITE  the Spark for Leadership "From the Field for the Field"

The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program announces the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) Special Operations as recipient of the “From the Field for the Field” contest. The contest complements the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign – Leading with Courage. Honorable mention goes out to the Minidoka Ranger District - Sawtooth National Forest.

Boulder County Sheriff's Office logo

A Glimpse at our Winner
Early in 2013, Jay Stalnacker, BCSO Fire Management Officer, challenged his organization to use the ‘Leading with Courage’ campaign as “a guide to develop our internal special operations leadership development program.” Over an 11-month period, 75 special operations members from fire management, SWAT, and search and rescue completed a 3-part leadership development program. This interdisciplinary team experience “provided a consistent and cohesive message of followership and leadership through the entire organization.”

Eyes forward

Looking Forward
Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing with you leadership nuggets and best practices from both groups. In January, we’ll kick off the 2014 campaign: The Resilient Team.

Congratulations, BCSO Special Operations and Minidoka Ranger District, on a job well-done!

BCSO maintains statutory responsibility for all wildland fire, mountain search and rescue, and special operations.

2013 Leading with Courage campaign logo

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Far Would You Go to Do the Right Thing?

Vice Admiral James Stockdale collage
(Photo credit: US Naval Academy)
"The ultimate purpose of the wildland fire service is to protect life, property, and natural resources while engaging the forces of nature. Most of us made a commitment to serve our communities, our states, or our nation. We willingly accepted this unique obligation to place ourselves at risk and to put the interests of others before our own."
 ~ Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 5 ~

As stated above, being a leader means placing ourselves at risk and putting the interest of others before our own. One of the most inspirational and courageous shows of personal sacrifice is that of naval officer James Stockdale. One of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the U.S. Navy, Stockdale was the highest-ranking officer held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973. His example of moral courage during his imprisonment earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. (Wikipedia)

The YouTube video Moral Courage: An Evening in Honor Vice Admiral Stockdale (a multi-part video) features the Stockdale story. Few individuals would risk self harm to do the right thing to resist interrogation and sabotage Vietnamese propaganda efforts. His leadership to develop a prison underground and establish of a code of conduct for fellow prisoners undoubtedly eased the torture of fellow prisoners.

Do you have the moral courage to do the right thing?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Leading by Example Award - Time is Running Out!

(Paul Gleason conducting a crew briefing)
Know any firefighters who are good mentors? Provide motivation or vision? Initiate or innovate? Now's the time for recognition by nominating them for the Lead by Example Award! (LBE Award nomination form)

The Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award is presented by the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee to remember Paul Gleason's many contributions to the wildland fire community and recognize individuals or groups that exhibit the same spirit and dedication to leadership...those who lead by example. This national recognition will acknowledge those in the wildland fire service who exemplify the wildland fire leadership values and principles.

Nominations will be accepted in three categories:

Mentoring and Teamwork: This award recognizes an individual or group for outstanding effort or accomplishment related to the wildland fire leadership principles of developing others for the future and building the team.

Motivation and Vision: This award recognizes an individual or group for providing inspired vision and clear intent. This could be demonstrated by influencing others to achieve an exceptionally difficult mission or improve the organization.

Initiative and Innovation: This award recognizes an individual or group for executing an outstanding initiative or innovation related to the implementation of the wildland fire leadership development program.

Evaluation of nominees will be based on the following criteria: Demonstration of significant accomplishment in the stated category; alignment with the wildland fire leadership values and principles; and the scope of the accomplishment, considering available resources. Evaluations will be accomplished through a five-member cadre that represent a cross-section of the wildland fire service.

Nominations must be received by December 31st. Selections will be made by January 31st. Awards will be presented in the spring. Presentations will be made by a Leadership Subcommittee member at an appropriate venue for each recipient.

The Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award program will:
  • Recognize actions associated with wildland fire;
  • Recognize actions within the last two years;
  • Recognize individuals or groups at all levels;
  • Promote the wildland fire leadership values and principles.

Email form as an attachment to:  BLM_FA_Leadership_Feedback@blm.gov
Mail this form to:

BLM Training Unit
Attn: Pam McDonald
3833 S. Development Ave.
Boise, ID 83705

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

At the Heart of the Matter

Heart in palms
(Photo credit: Well Commons)
Servant leaders lead with the heart. Threads of servant leadership are woven throughout the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program's values and principles and foundation. Abiding by the values of duty, respect, and integrity naturally creates a servant heart.

In his article "The Most Powerful Habit You Can Imagine," servant leader Bruce Kasanoff shares his perspective on what guides his career and personal decisions. He developed a single sentence as his guide:
Be generous and expert, trustworthy and clear, open-minded and adaptable, persistent and present."
Kasanoff expands upon his blog in "Simplify Your Future: Simple Principles for Complicated Times." He uses the following definitions to complement the sentence above:
  • Generous means to help others long before - and after - you need their help.
  • Expert means to be very competent in one or more areas that others value. It also means that whenever you take on a new task, do your best.
  • Trustworthy means to take ownership of your words and actions, and recognize that you live in a world in which they will increasingly be recorded, remembered, analyzed, and replayed.
  • Clear means to know what you want and to be able to communicate it effectively.
  • Open-minded means no matter how expert or successful you become, never stop listening and learning.
  • Adaptable means to keep your options open, so that when the world surprises you, it won't be that surprising.
  • Persistent means to keep trying, even when times are tough and you are tempted to quit.
  • Present means that although you should learn from the past and be prepared for the future, you should pay close attention to the present moment as it unfolds - otherwise, you will miss a great deal.
If you want to learn more about simplifying your future, download the short guide from Kasanoff's website

Applying the Elements to the Wildland Fire Service

Chris Graves, Captain/Paramedic, Reno Fire Department Operations Division, not only shared this article with us, but took Kasanoff's philosophy and applied them to the wildland fire service. 

Be generous and expert...
  • Duty ~  Develop your subordinates for the future. Be proficient in your job, both technically and as a leader.
  • Respect ~ Know your subordinates and look out for their well-being. Build the team.
trustworthy and clear...
  • Integrity ~ Set the example. Seek responsibility and accept responsibility for your actions.
  • Respect ~ Keep your subordinates informed. 
open-minded and adaptable...
  • Respect ~ Employ your subordinates in accordance with their capabilities. 
  • Duty - Make sound and timely decisions. 
  • Integrity ~ Know yourself and seek improvement.
persistent and present.
  • Duty ~ Ensure tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished. 
  • Duty/Leader's Intent ~ Provide purpose, direction, and motivation for subordinates.
  • Making Sound and Timely Decisions ~ Maintain situation awareness.
Thanks to Chris Graves, Captain/Paramedic, Reno Fire Department Operations Division, for this contribution! The expressions within this blog are those of the author.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Inaja Fire and the Standard Firefighting Orders

"Surely these men gave their lives in defense of this country, for without the strength of our forests, water, and other natural resources, this Nation would not be a leader in the free world today." ~ Richard E. McArdle, Chief, Forest Service, January 1957
The Fire
On November 24, 1956, a teenager who wanted to know if a match thrown into dry grass would burn had no concept of the unintended consequences of his actions. Within minutes, this "test" fire  blowup and forever be known as the Inaja fire, claiming the lives of 11 firefighters. We will never forget the sacrifice of our fellow firefighters.
  • Albert W. Anderson (45)
  • Carlton Ray Lingo (19)
  • Forrest B. Maxwell (30)
  • LeRoy Wehrung (41)
  • Miles Daniels (33)
  • Wm. D. Fallin (22)
  • George A. Garcia (41)
  • Virgil L. Hamilton (26)
  • Joesph P. O'Hara (45)
  • Lonnie L. Shepherd (26)
  • Joe Tibbitts (34)
The Fire Orders were developed following the Inaja tragedy.

The Original Standard Firefighting Orders (FIRE SCALDS)
  1. Fire Weather ~ Keep informed of fire weather conditions and predictions.
  2. Instructions ~ Know exactly what my instructions are and to follow them at all times.
  3. Right things first ~ Identify the key points of my assignment and take actions in order of priority.
  4. Escape plan ~ Have an escape plan in mind and direct subordinates in event of blow-up.
  5. Scouting ~ Thoroughly scout the fire areas for which I am responsible.
  6. Communication ~ Establish and maintain regular communication with adjoining forces, subordinates, and superior officers. 
  7. Alertness ~ Quickly recognize changed conditions and immediately revise plans to handle.
  8. Lookout ~ Post a lookout for every possible dangerous situation.
  9. Discipline ~ Establish and maintain control of all men under my supervision and at all times know where they are and what they are doing.
  10. Supervision ~ Be sure men I commit to any fire job have clear instructions and adequate overhead.
The Standard Firefighting Orders Today
  1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts. 
  2. Know what your fire is doing at all times. 
  3. Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire. 
  4. Identify escape routes and safety zones, and make them known. 
  5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger. 
  6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively. 
  7. Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor and adjoining forces. 
  8. Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood. 
  9. Maintain control of your forces at all times. 
  10. Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.
The History and Evolution of the 10 Standard Fire Orders

A lot has changed since the Fire Orders were introduced in 1957. The original intent and evolution of the Fire Orders was a module in the 2009 Annual Fireline Safety Refresher. The video, Facilitator Guide, and Student Workbook can be download from the WFSTAR website.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

272 Words that Changed History

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln would utter 272 words in dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA, following one of the deadliest battles of the Civil War. His brief words would forever change history and honor our fallen for generations to come.

The Gettysburg Address 

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Additional Resources

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Last Chase

Carl Young and Tim Samaras
(Photo credit: DCL via Discovery Channel)
The Last Chase
by Rick Connell

In the November 2013 issue of National Geographic, Robert Draper shares an article about Tim Samaras a “storm chaser” who specializes in gathering data and photos of tornadoes, and was a member of the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers show.

The article describes Samaras as being “known for evangelizing about safety and for bringing an abundance of caution to his vocation.” (p. 37)  It continues to illustrate that he wouldn’t deploy sensors in front of tornadoes that were rain wrapped or if an escape route could be compromised, and had a history of stopping the chase for safety. Yet, with years of experience, knowledge and a dedication to safety on May 31st of this year he choices cost him, his son and a third chaser their lives.

The article recreates the last 20 minutes of the “known” facts including the recognition by Samaras that they were in a bad place. There was no way for Tim to know/forecast the tornado growing from ½ mile to 2.6 miles wide in a very short time. The parallels to fire incidents such as 1937 Blackwater, 1994 South Canyon, 2012 White Draw, and 2013 Yarnell is obvious.

As ICs and managers what is our role in maintaining situational awareness about weather. The majority of incidents (99%, dare I say) do not have an Incident Meteorologist focused on weather impacts to fire behavior. When the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a weather warning what is their criteria? How far or close is the threat before its impacts are expected? Do we have time to respond?

After the Yarnell fire, it became clear to me that we lack specifically developed actions related to weather impacts to our events. Is it enough to “keep informed on fire weather and conditions” and then “base all actions of current and expected fire behavior.” How well are we accomplishing these tenants of fire?

As an Operations Section Chief on the Western Montana Incident Management Team, I initiated a weather response plan for the incident with sections for operations, incident command post (ICP) and aviation. The plan lays out a warning response, say thunderstorms within 25 miles of the incident, that expects line resources to re-evaluate escape routes and safety zones, camp to “batten down the hatches,” and aviation to evaluate missions and movement of aircraft. 

At the implementation stage, say thunderstorm within 10 miles, line resources move to safety zones, aircraft return to base, etc. We implemented this plan on the Rough Creek fire where we added an “all clear” response. We also came to realize on this incident, where the majority of resources were at a spike camp where morning briefing was held, that the majority of folks in camp were not getting messages. It has been an assumption that sections/units provide a briefing. So we’ve asked those leaders to review the pertinent portions of the incident action plan (IAP) during morning meetings with their sections to increase the awareness of issues related to safety, weather or other topics that pertain to their safety. We’ve shared this plan with IMETs and local NWS forecasters for input.

We will never know why Granite Mountain moved to the ranch or Tim Samaras continued into the path of the tornado but maybe we can use these events to instill an enhanced respect that weather is the game changer that can happen quickly and decisively.

So the question for us as leaders is "what is your severe weather plan?"

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Read Draper's article "The Last Chance" and watch Tim Samara's story for yourself on the National Geographic website.

Rick Connell is the Forest Fire, Fuels, Aviation & Air Program Manager for the Flathead National Forest. The expressions within this blog are those of the author.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Building a Foundation of Trust

(Payette N.F. Fire & Aviation, L-280, 2013)
Trust (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 53)

Leaders start by building a foundation of trust in teams. Trust is the underpinning of all cohesive teams; without it, teams are merely collections of individuals hat can never hope to achieve synergy.

Recognizing that communication is the key to building trust, we communicate openly with teams and make sure we convey the essence of our values, mission, and vision. In doing so, we also communicate information about ourselves because our teams must, first and foremost, trust us.

Digging a Little Deeper

In "Trust is a Mighty Big Word," Steve Keating contends:

  • Trust - or lack of it - matters and it matters in everything we do and say.
  • When a leader does what they say they will, credibility follows. When credibility is present, integrity can grow. When integrity grows, trust flourishes.

  • We encourage you to read "Trust is a Mighty Big Word" in its entirety and answer Steve's parting question: "What have you done in the past 30 days to earn the trust of those you would lead?"

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    Turning Information into Knowledge

    (Photo credit: Langwitches.org)
    "To make sound and timely decisions, fire leaders assess the situation, seek out relevant information, weigh options, make judgments, and initiate action as required to create a positive outcome within inevitable time constraints." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 30)
    It seems humans have always had more information than they could process. The type of information and volume may have changed, but the reality is we have always had to analyze information to make sound and timely decisions. The things that have changed are the technology and methods we use to obtain and filter information. Our inability to filter information may lead to a loss of situation awareness and an inaccurate view of the current reality.

    Information and Situation Awareness

    In Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, we define Situation Awareness (SA) as "how well perception matches reality. Everyone starts with an initial perception of any given situation and then continuously updates it with new information. People gather information through both observation, which includes input from the senses, and communication, which includes face-to-face conversation, written comunication, and radio or telephone exchanges.

    Simply paying attention is an important part of maintaining good situation awareness, but even more important is determining what to pay attention to. All perceptions are subject to filtering and focusing: people constantly filter information and shift focus. People also produce a lot of internal inputs such as thoughts about what to do next, stress, memories of similar experiences, fear. Those with more experience in an environment often can more easily filter out distractions and unimportant details and focus on the most salient information. [pp. 31-32]

    Overcoming Information Overload through Collective Curation 

    Fire leaders want as much information as they can get in order to make a sound and timely decision. The inability to filter information decrease the amount of time fire leaders have to make those decisions. Effective fire leaders learn to filter information and surround themselves with individuals tasked with filtering information. Individuals who make decisions in a "bubble" or "vacuum," may subject themselves, their people, and the communities they serve to unnecessary risk and serious consequences.

    Check out this short video on collective curation...

    Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

    We challenge fire leaders to
    • Be open to the views and perspectives of others. 
    • Develop collective curation teams to filter what can seem like information overload. 
    • Assess your filtering systems to ensure that a broken filter does not exist. 
    • Turn information into knowledge.

    Digging a Little Deeper

    Carl Shirky gives us his perspective of the information overload/filter failure debate and a glimpse into a possible paradigm shift regarding education and information.

    Friday, November 1, 2013

    Looking Back on the Loop Fire - November 1966

    Loop fire

    On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots, a U.S. Forest Service Interregional Wildland Firefighting Crew, was trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon on the Angeles National Forest.

    The crew was constructing fireline downhill into a chimney canyon and were within 200 feet of completing their assignment when a sudden shift of winds caused a spot fire directly below where they were working. Within seconds flames raced uphill, engulfing the firefighters in temperatures estimated to reach 2,500 degrees F. The fire flashed through the 2,200 foot long chimney canyon in less than one minute, catching the crew while they attempted to reach their safety zones.
    Loop fire survivors
    (Photo Credit: Herald Examiner)
    Ten members of the crew perished on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.

    Much of the knowledge gained about wildland fire has come through the high cost of firefighter lives. Lessons learned from the Loop Fire resulted in improved firefighting equipment, better fire behavior training, and the implementation of new firefighter safety protocols.

    We Will Never Forget
    We will never forget the 12 firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty on November 1, 1966.
    • Kenneth Barnhill - 19
    • Raymond Chee - 23
    • Fredrick Danner - 18
    • John P. Figlo - 18
    • Joel A. Hill - 19
    • Daniel J. Moore - 21
    • James A. Moreland - 22
    • Carl J. Shilcutt - 26
    • John D. Verdugo - 19
    • William J. Waller - 21
    • Michael R. White - 20
    • Stephen White - 18
    Loop and Glen Allen Fires Fatality Case Study Video

    (Note: The Loop fire ends at 11:41)

    Loop Fire Resources

    Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    A Framework for Leadership

    (Photo credit: GGP.com)
    Today's blog was inspired by Ted Coine's blog "This Leadership Framework Helped Lincoln Save the Union. You Should Try It."

    Ted uses the lessons he learned studying President Abraham Lincoln's leadership legacy. He believes that Lincoln's leadership success is attributed to what he calls a "Principles-to-Practices Framework." Those who took the 2012 Leaders are Readers challenge and read Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals are well aware of Lincoln's simplicity and focused leadership. Here is how Ted Coines views Lincoln's leadership using his Principles-to-Practices framework.
    • Principles - the view from space
      • Lincoln's Principle: Save the Union.
    • Strategies - the view from 30,000 feet up
      • Lincoln's Strategy: Wear the confederacy down until they surrender.
    • Tactics - the view from a second-story balcony
      • Lincoln's Tactic: Charge head-on, and don't let up until the enemy is driven to flee.
    • Practices - the view if you lie on your stomach and look down
      • Lincoln's Practice: Give the soldiers 50 rounds of ammunition each, and resupply them as needed.

    Team of Rivals book cover

    Wildland Fire Service's Leadership Framework

    The ultimate purpose of leading in the wildland fire service is to protect life, property, and natural resources.

    Leading here requires that we manage uncertainty and events that are not within our control. A framework to understand this leadership environment is critical to enable fire leaders to make effective decisions and communicate those decisions in dynamic situations.

    The decision to lead and be successful within this framework requires an avid commitment to self-development.

    The wildland fire service's framework is built upon the following foundational concepts:
    • The Authority to Lead versus the Decision to Lead
      • The authority to lead is established by law. 
      • The ability to lead is something that cannot be legislated.
      • A leader's journey is a perpetual cycle of acquiring, shaping, and honing the knowledge and skills of leadership. 
      • Leaders choose to sacrifice their own needs for those of their teams an organizations.
    •  Art of Leadership
      • Committed leaders can inspire others and make an enormous difference in people's lives, on the results of the team, and in the progress of the organization.
      • The art of leadership requires a constant interchange of theory and application.
      • The art includes being able to view the larger picture.
      • The art of leadership requires successfully balancing many factors in the real world, based on the situation at hand, to achieve a successful outcome.
    • Wildland Fire - A High-Risk Environment
      • We are asked to make tough decisions under a compressed time frame, given limited information, in a complex and high-risk environment.
      • Fire leaders must have the ability to integrate varied resources into effective and responsive temporary teams.
    • Leadership Environment
      • The leadership environment is made up of four elements: 
        • The leader
        • His/her people
        • The situation
        • The consequences (short- and long-term effects of the leader's actions)
    • Command Philosophy
      • Translating vision into clear leader's intent is at the heart of our command philosophy.
      • Our leaders subscribe to unity of effort.
    • Command Climate
      • Command presence sets the tone for the command climate.
      • Communication is the primary tool for establishing an effective command climate.
    • Levels of Leadership
      • Four levels of leadership exist in our leadership framework:
        • Followers
        • Leaders of people
        • Leaders of leaders
        • Leaders of organizations
    [Adapted from "Leading in the Wildland Fire Service", pp. 5-24]

    Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

    Friday, October 25, 2013

    A Look Back at The Cedar Fire - 10 Years Later

    (Photo credit: San Diego Fire-Rescue Department)

    "The Cedar Fire was reported on Saturday, October 25, 2003, at approximately 5:37 P.M. The fire, burning under a Santa Ana wind condition eventually consumed 280,278 acres and destroyed 2,232 structures, 22 commercial buildings, and 566 outbuildings, damaging another 53 structures and 10 outbuildings. There was 1 fire fighter fatality, 13 civilian fatalities and 107 injuries. The fire was under Unified Command with the United States Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and local government.” ~ 2003 Cedar Fire Green Sheet, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
    Sandra Millers Younger shares her perspective of the Cedar fire in her recently released book "The Fire Outside My Window." Younger does a great job sharing her experience as a homeowner and complementing her story with excerpts from individuals involved with fire suppression and emergency operations. 

    In 2007, the Cedar fire engine crew entrapment that took the life of Steven Rucker was a featured module in the Annual Fireline Safety Refresher. Take time to familiarize yourself and your crew with this tragedy.

    Group Exercise: 

    Assume you are a crew member on Engine 6162. Given the scenario and the information below, what is your assessment of the current situation? Do you have any concerns you wish to voice to your Captain or do you agree with the plan to continue burning out and defending the structure?

    Additional Information to Consider:

    • There was a fire weather watch issued by the San Diego National Weather Service at 0930 hours on October 29, 2003, that did not reach the crew of Engine 6162.
    • IAP weather forecast for October 29, 2003: Temperature, upper 70s to 80s; RH, 8-20%; ridge top winds, 5-15 mph in the morning becoming southwest to west 15-25 mph in the afternoon; fire danger, very high to extreme.
    • During the 36 months prior to the incident, the area received between 50-70 percent of normal precipitation.
    • The elevation of 920 Orchard Lane is 200 feet higher than the ridge to the west and 400 feet above the bottom of the San Diego River drainage.
    • The Task Force Leader had trouble reaching the Division Supervisor on the assigned frequencies.
    • The Engine 6162 crew had only a mobile radio pack in the engine; the Engine Captain carried a handheld radio.
    • The residents of 920 Orchard Lane were not home.
    • The IAP documented the span of control for Division I as 27:1.
    • The Engine 6162 crew was not aware of the firing operations conducted by the CDF Captain and Engineer at 930 Orchard Lane.
    • The strip burning operation below the driveway created approximately 140 feet of black line.
    • The Engine 6162 crew originally identified the meadow (east of Orchard Lane—about 200 yards away and directly across from the bottom of the driveway) as a safety zone prior to being assigned to 920 Orchard Lane.
    • Once at 920 Orchard Lane, Engine 6162’s Captain identified the house as a refuge.
    • Resources assigned to Orchard Lane observed the fire from individual vantage points.
    • There was no dedicated lookout for the Branch, the Division, the Orchard Lane area, the Strike Team, or the Engine 6162 crew.
    What do you think the fire is going to do? Which fire indicators are you using to make your prediction?
      Communication on the division was poor. What can be done to improve it?
        Do you have any trigger points established for disengagement or withdrawal?
          Engine 6162 was not aware of the fire weather watch issued or the firing operation happening around them on Orchard Lane. Assuming you did not have the additional information, would your assessment differ?


          Read and discuss the "Safety Issues for Review" found within the Green Sheet regarding the 10 Standard Fire Orders and 18 Watch Out Situations that were identified as applicable. Using lessons learned from the Cedar fire, what will you do on your local unit to avoid a similar situation?

          Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Resources:
          • Cedar Fire Green Sheet
          • Cedar Fire Fatality NIOSH Report
          • Navato Fire Department 72-hour Report 

          Tuesday, October 22, 2013

          An Education in Fire - A Look Back at Yellowstone

          “Wildland fire is a phenomenon essential to nature’s design. But fire, whether caused by natural force or human beings, can also pose a threat to people and communities.”~ Leading in the Wildland Fire Service

          The fires that plagued Yellowstone National Park in 1988 may be a distant memory for some; however, fire leaders charged with leading the effort are well aware of the challenges this chaotic leadership environment presented.

          The New York Times reflects upon the summer of ’88 and paints a picture of what has shaped the leadership environment for today’s leaders—especially those facing similar circumstances with this year’s Rim fire in Yosemite National Park.

          Fire leaders lead because leading is where they make a difference. The job of bringing order to chaos is not always easy. Those who choose to lead know their decisions may impact the fire service for years to come, but the willing accept their role in order to improve their people's lives and strengthen our organizations. (adapted from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service)

          Thursday, October 17, 2013

          Powering Your Influence

          marbles linked to show influence
          (Photo credit. Alphia)
           Situational Leadership (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, pp. 38-39)

          Leaders use a variety of power sources and leadership styles to influence others. Being able to select the most effective leadership tools in a given situation is an application of situational leadership.

          Power can be defined as a person’s ability to influence the actions of others. How leaders use power shapes others’ perception of their ability to lead. A leader’s ability to read a situation and apply the appropriate source of power enhances their ability to lead.

          The more visible power is, the less it works. The less explicitly leaders rely on power to accomplish tasks, the greater their power actually is.

          Those who rely on position, reward, or discipline power have less real influence on others. On the other hand, those who are able to rely on expert power and respect power—less overt forms of power—often influence in ways that have more far-reaching and deep effects.

          To gain power, the most effective leaders give it away. By giving away some power to team members, leaders actually increase their influence and strengthen their ability to lead.

          Leaders also use different leadership styles as appropriate for the level of experience of the people involved and the situation.

          With inexperienced people or time-critical situations, leaders use a directing style, explicitly telling people what needs to be done. As team members gain experience, leaders increasingly seek team members’ participation in discussions and decision making, working together to devise plans and actions.

          Leaders keep sight of the long-term goal of being able to delegate most tasks and responsibilities to experienced and capable team members, setting the conditions that enable them to grow as leaders.

          At every step of the way, leaders judiciously employ the amount of supervision required. They provide adequate feedback to make sure people can successfully accomplish the mission yet avoid micro-managing competent team members.

          A Video Example
          Dr. Kevin Nourse briefly talks about power and influence in this YouTube video:

          Discussion Questions
        • How does the authority to lead influence the ability to lead? Or does it?
        • How does situation awareness fit into a leader's source of power selection?
        • Give an example of how you have given power away to team members.
        • Tuesday, September 24, 2013

          Leaving Your Fingerprints Behind

          Do you remember the moment when you realized you had something worth sharing with others and made the decision to lead? I call these "leadership awakenings." They are the moments when followers decide to become leaders and focus moves from self to others.

          I'm not sure I can pinpoint my exact leadership awakening moment, but I do know my desire occurred very early in life—some might say I was a natural or a born leader. My leadership journey began as a Brownie in my small church's Girl Scout program. Even at the age of 8 or 9, I believed in working together, exploring my community, participating in meetings, and moving out into the community and wider world.

          (Where it all began...)
          As I progressed through grade school and into high school, I added 4-H, FFA, and various student organization leadership positions to my resume. To this day, my position as senior class president lives on. In fact, I just organized and hosted my 30th class reunion.

          When I became a junior/senior high school teacher, I began doing what the individuals who led and mentored me did—I began leaving my “fingerprints” on others. I became a class advisor, student council advisor, and established a local chapter of Business Professionals of America for my students. I mentored many students who are now paying it forward and leaving their “fingerprints” on society.

          My seasonal fire career began as a timekeeper in 1984. Over 15 years, I worked up to an assistant center manager teaching others the "fine art" of dispatching. In 2000, I took a permanent position with the BLM at NIFC. Today, I am a writer/editor for the BLM Fire Training and Workforce Development Program. My passion lies with the work I do with the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP).  For the last 12 years, I've left my "fingerprints" on more people than I can imagine through the WFLDP blog and Facebook page or the programs and initiatives I've started or administered, including Leadership in Cinema, the annual leadership campaign, and the Professional Reading Program.

          I don't share these things to "toot my own horn," but to give you a sense of who I am and the  leadership journey I have traveled and continue to travel as one of those entrusted to maintain the WFLDP.  I challenge other wildland fire leaders to do the same. I felt it was time for my readers to know who "puts herself out there" on the blog and the Facebook page.

          Each time I've made the decision to lead, I've also made a commitment to develop other leaders. My hope is that my example and passion inspires others to join the grassroots effort to IGNITE the Spark for Leadership.

          Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

          Over that last couple of months, I have sat down with a few wildland fire leaders who shared their leadership awakening moments. Here is what I concluded after they shared their emotional stories:
          • They didn't necessarily want to tell their story, but they did.
          • They were profoundly affected when they realized they had something to share.
          • They are passionate about leadership.
          • They care about those they lead.
          • They want to make a difference.
          Do you remember your leadership awakening moment? Share it with us.

          Do you have something to share and can leave your "fingerprints" on society? If so, find a way in your community (work or otherwise) and make an impression!

          Join the grassroots effort to IGNITE the Spark for Leadership. For more information, contact  BLM_FA_Leadership_Feedback@blm.gov.


          About the Author:
          Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

            Friday, September 20, 2013

            Acknowledging Greatness

            (Photo credit: DP Vintage Posters)
            "To be good is not enough, when you dream of being great."
            Jim Kouzes shares his insight on the power of symbols and the importance of shared values in this On Leadership video minute.

            What gifts or symbols do you share within your sphere of influence to acknowledge greatness?

            Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

            Tuesday, September 17, 2013

            Magic on the Mountain

            (Photo credit: Mountain Guides.com)
            "The most important thing in climbing is the inner strength to help each other, so that not just the strongest but all the members of the group reach the goal."~ Ida Hiroshige
            Over the last couple of months, I have used Roger Snyder's Mt. Everest climbing experience as a backdrop for my blogs. I chose to share my experience with Roger because of the influence his story had on me.

            Much has been written and spoken about the parallels between mountains, mountain climbing and leadership. I've heard Preston Cline brief the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee and L-580 participants about the power of the Wharton MBA Leadership Ventures treks where participants are placed under "authentic levels of stress and uncertainty in order to improve their ability to lead." I've read "Into Thin Air" and witnessed the leadership transformation of many L-380 students of fire.  I've shared other mountain climbing stories with you on this blog. But is was this experience with this Mount Everest storyteller that made an imprint on my soul.

            There is something very powerful about hearing a person's story, especially when it is fresh in their mind and telling it for the first time. Roger had only been away from the mountain for about a week when I heard his story. He had lost weight and was still feeling the physical and mental effects of the climb. He hadn't culled his photographs into a logical sequence. It was a "raw," unscripted, and unrehearsed presentation; and I was swept into the story as if it were a dream.

            Roger had never met most of us to whom he told the story. That didn't stop him from speaking from the heart. He talked of his strengths, his weaknesses, the team that helped him along the way, and the joys and sorrows of life and death on the mountain. His passion became my passion for telling a slightly different stories to you.

            Mountain climbing is not something that I have much knowledge or interest in doing myself; however, Roger brought it to life for me. I may never scale the world's highest peak, but I am confident, the lessons I learned from my experience will be useful for when I need to tackle a problem that seems as impossible as reaching the summit of Mount Everest.

            • The "impossible" is possible.
            • With danger comes opportunity.
            • Fear limits our ability to conquer greatness.
            • Time may be needed to realize the power of an experience.
            • Personal accomplishment often takes a team effort.
            • Telling our stories can inspire others.
            • Respect one another.
            • Do good.
            • Be prepared.

            When asked how it felt to conquer Mount Everest, Roger said, "It's all so surreal; it hasn't sunk in yet." I'm not sure the full effect of hearing Roger's story has been realized. It is the magic on the mountain that has forever changed me and the stories I share with you.

            The magic was in the story, but watch what is impossible for most become the possible for members of Roger's expedition team...

            Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge
            • Stories are powerful. Assemble a group of wildland fire veterans and leaders and listen to their stories. 
            • Do you have a story that others need to hear? Tell it. 
              • If you haven't already, be sure to check out this story from South Canyon that we all need to hear.
            • Attend or watch online leadership presentations featuring stories unrelated to the wildland fire environment. 
            About the Author:
            Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

            Thursday, September 12, 2013

            Remembering Eva

            (Photo credit: Wildland Fire.com)
            “This Day in History” is a brief summary of a powerful learning opportunity. You can use this summary as a foundation and launch point for further dialogue and discussion. Apply these lessons learned to yourself, your crew, your team and your unit.
            Tuolumne Fire - September 12, 2004 - California

            Incident Summary: The Tuolumne Fire is reported by a Stanislaus lookout at 1233 hours. Dispatch initiates a standard response, including the dispatch of a helicopter with helitack crew. 1259 Air Attack (ATGS) arrives over fire and reports fire to be between 5-10 acres, spreading up-slope and up-canyon with a steady 3-5mph wind. The fire is burning near the bottom of the Tuolumne River Canyon, just upstream of a major river confluence at 1450’ elevation in light, flashy fuels, predominantly oak leaf litter, light grass and mixed brush with an oak overstory consistent with Fuel Model 2. FDFM (Fine Dead Fuel Moisture) is 4-5% and live fuel moistures at critical stage. Temperature is 89-94, RH 18-24%, and there is no frontal or thunderstorm activity. The canyon is very steep, observed to be 80-120% slope. At approximately 1335 the helitack crew begins constructing downhill fireline. 10 minutes later they take emergency action when a sudden wind shift that causes a fire flare-up which overruns their position. Of the 7 person crew, 3 firefighters suffer minor injuries and one firefighter is killed.

            (Photo credit: Find A Grave)
            1305 the helicopter arrives over the fire and drops the crew on a gravel bar 3/4 mile downstream of the fire. They hike from the LZ up-canyon to a dirt road that parallels the river and walk the road toward the right flank of the fire. The fire is burning both above and below the road. Their helicopter is directed to begin dropping water on right flank above the road.

            A local Division Chief is dispatched to the fire to be IC and drives past the helitack crew to the right flank. He observes a slow backing fire and returns to the location of the helitack crew, who are still hiking. Talking with the helitack captain, he does not identify himself as IC, announce a strategy or specific tactics. He does state that he wants the crew to find a safe anchor point but the crew understands him to want them to “anchor this fire on the right flank, the road down to the river”.

            1335 the crew arrives at the right flank on the road and looks for access to the river and safe access to the bottom of the fire.

            ATGS and IC decide to continue to use the helicopter on the right flank above the road. The helitack captain hears this exchange on the radio. ATGS receives a radio call about a spot fire and misses discussion about helitack crew working below the road. (In a post-incident interview, the ATGS will state that he thought the crew was above the road.)

            After scouting down the right flank about 70 feet, it is decided to construct indirect fire line downhill for 250 - 300 ft to the river burning out from the road as they go. Safety zones are identified as down to the river, up to the road or into the black. All crew members agree with the plan and inform their helicopter pilot.

            An engine is assigned to support the helitack crew. The crew is not notified that the engine was assigned to support them and that it was close by.

            1340 firefighters located about 30 ft down the line from the road remark that the burn out is pulling in nicely. There is a “flutter” in the wind and the 3 firefighters closest to the road are told to grab backpack pumps just in case.

            1345 a sudden wind shift causes the fire to flare-up, change direction, and overrun the crew. 30 seconds later one crew member is dead. No fire shelters are deployed.

            California Department of Forestry engine tribute to Eva Schicke
            (Photo credit: Not Now Not Ever.com_
            Lessons Learned Discussion Points:

            • During size-up, what fire behavior did the personnel observe? If you were at a fire in a similar setting, what local terrain features and other factors might lead you to distrust the fire behavior seen? (IRPG pg 4)
            • It is common for people to have communication problems. On an incident where these issues can easily compromise anyone’s life safety, what are you going to do to minimize communication errors- as a crewmember? Crew boss? Pilot? IC?
            • Your crew has been dispatched to this fire. How will you handle the “Lookout” aspect of LCES? It is common to hear that “everyone on the crew is a lookout”. Discuss what each person must do to make this an effective alternative to the “traditional” lookout.
            • This fire had an Air Attack and a helicopter. Discuss how aerial resources can be used as additional lookouts and sources of information. What are some downfalls to using them in this role?

            Additional Resources:
            Click here for a printable copy of this information.
            CDF helitack Crew 404 Burnover Accident Investigation Report

            Learn more about this tragedy in the video below produced by the Wildland Lessons Learned Center:

            “This Day in History” is a collaborative project between 6 Minutes for Safety and the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.