Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eyes Forward

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.

As our careers progress, some move from being a leader of people to being a leader of leaders to being a leader of an organization. At each level, we rise to meet the challenges of adhering to our values of duty, respect, and integrity and assume the responsibility of instilling those values in others.

A leader’s accomplishments are measured in lifetimes. Our character, decisions, and actions create powerful ripple effects that continue to influence people and organizations long after we are gone. This is the legacy that each generation passes on and entrusts to our successors.

(Taken from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 67.)


Your legacy begins now. Consider using the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign - Leading with Courage as a means to create your legacy!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Heroic Efforts Save Property and Resources on Charlotte Fire

2012 Accomplishment Story: Idaho
In the early afternoon of June 28, 2012, a wildfire ignited in the wildland urban interface (WUI) near the city of Pocatello, Idaho. As soon as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Idaho Falls District Fire Management Officer Rick Belger heard the fire's location, he knew it would be difficult to manage…

Smoke plume from the Charlotte fire as seen from Interstate 15 South Bound.

Aerial view of the Charlotte fire.
"The topography in the area combined with difficult road access and the number of residential units at play was going to be incredibly challenging to deal with," said Belger. "We told our crews to remember their training, stay safe and that no home was worth a life."

The hot dry winds, rugged terrain, dry fuels and high temperatures posed major operational problems for firefighters in the initial attack phase. In just a few hours, the fire burned over 1,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of over 1,500 residents.

Austin Catlin, engine captain for E3421, had just been assigned to the east division when an owner asked them to save his house. Moments later, the juniper around the house ignited, creating such extreme radiant heat that the fire crew and home owner had to leave the area due to safety concerns. Fortunately, the home survived the flame. "While it was impossible to save every house, I was impressed with how everyone functioned during the initial attack phase of the operation," said Catlin. "We've worked hard over the years to ensure good coordination between city, county and federal firefighting agencies, and I feel that all those practice drills paid off."

Helicopter completing bucket drops on internal hotspots.
While the Bannock County Sheriff's Office and Idaho State Patrol conducted evacuations, the American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at the Holt Arena (Idaho State University football stadium). An outpouring of support from the community was extended to all those impacted by the blaze. When the smoke cleared on Saturday, the Pocatello Fire Department reported the loss of 66 homes and 29 additional outbuildings and barns.

Idaho Falls District Fire Management Officer Rick Belger accompanies Idaho Falls District Manager Joe Kraayenbrink on a tour around the burned BLM acres.
 Firefighters took heroic measures to work the line and prevent as much damage as they could. Without their quick response, more homes and resources would have been lost. BLM spent countless hours assisting the city and county in mop-up activities. They even held Fire Wise events following the wildfire.

Statewide, Idaho BLM fire resources responded to 367 fire incidents duing the 2012 fire season, which burned nearly twice the ten-year average. Of the 367 fires, 242 were human caused and 125 were lightning caused. These fires burned a total of 683,000 acres.

BLM Idaho accomplished 109,000 acres of fuels work, 102 percent of the fiscal year (FY) 2012 target. Of this, 106,000 acres were within the WUI and 2,800 outside the WUI. Other notable successes include the partnerships with Mule Deer Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States (US) Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever and Idaho Department of Game and Fish. Critical planning was completed for out-year projects in community watersheds, notably in the areas of Downey and Pocatello. Existing fuels treatments were effective in changing fire behavior to aid suppression efforts in a variety of locations, both WUI and non-WUI projects in various locations.

Story by: Sarah Wheeler, Public Affairs Specialist, BLM Idaho Falls District

Reprint from "The BLM Daily," December 28, 2012.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Digging Deeper: Leadership - TriData Report

As we dig a little deeper into the Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, we examine "Leadership" findings from Phase I. Is this still true today or have we been successful to change our culture? Do we still have work to do?

Leadership (taken directly from the study)
Good leadership - getting people to do the right thing - is crucial in emergencies of all types. There is a generally high regard for incident commanders, and a feeling that most people in supervisory positions are suitable. But there also is a strong feeling that a small but non-trivial fraction of supervisors are either too inexperienced, or of the wrong temperament, or simply not good leaders. Only about 10-20 percent of division supervisors and crew supervisors were thought to be unsatisfactory, but that small fraction represented a significant amount of exposure to potentially unsafe decisions.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WOW is Here!

What is Women of Wildfire?

WOW is a collaborative movement led by women within the wildland fire service to create a network showcasing female leadership, sharing resources and success stories, providing a system of support and mentoring, and furthering the mission of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP).

The Inspirations Behind WOW

Pam McDonald, Logistics Coordinator for the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee and visionary for the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Leading with Courage, wanted to create an example of what individuals and units could do to support the campaign as well as submit as an idea for the "IGNITE the Spark for Leadership - From the Field for the Field" contest.* Riding the social media buzz around the Public Broadcast System's spotlight initiative on women Makers, Pam initiated a test pilot feature via the WFLDP's Facebook page which received little attention.

In the spirit of the campaign theme, Pam got up the courage to ask the coordinator of Women of Wildfire (WOW) at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) if she could adopt the name for a leadership initiative and build upon the success of local efforts of creating a network of women who have walked together every September since 2006 in the  St. Luke's Women's Fitness Celebration. Kris King, NIFC WOW Coordinator, agreed and the plans were set in motion to launch the initiative once Jenn Smith, NIFC External Affairs and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Communication, developed an identity for the initiative through a logo. With that, WOW was born.

Foundational Principles of the WOW Initiative

As well as the WFLDP Values and Principles, WOW follows "The Five Practices and Ten Commitments of Leadership" developed in The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner.

(Photo: The Leadership Challenge)
The Five Practices:
  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Challenge the Process
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Encourage the Heart
The Ten Commitments:
  1. Find your voice by clarifying your personal values.
  2. Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.
  3. Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.
  4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
  5. Search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve.
  6. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.
  7. Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.
  8. Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion.
  9. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
  10. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community. 
What Now?

Every movement starts with an individual who has an idea and grows from there. WOW will become what the women of the wildland fire service want it to be. The sky is the limit to what those empowered can do and create. In the weeks and months ahead, women (and men) from around the globe will come together to create a grassroots effort to build a network supporting the WFLDP as well as promote female leadership development and collaboration. Here are some ideas to start an individual or local movement:
  • Share the news about WOW with those within your sphere of influence.
  • Help promote the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign by sharing the Reference Guide by sharing to your fire leaders.
  • Create a local unit Women of Wildfire support network and inspire a shared vision and enable others to act.
  • Read Kouzes' and Posner's The Leadership Challenge.
  • Use the "Women of Wildfire" forum at the top of the WFLDP Facebook page to share your stories and begin to network.
  • Contact Pam McDonald, NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Logistics Coordinator, at or 208-387-5318 for more information.
  • Dream!

A Look at the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Leading with Courage

Campaign 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.
Campaign Purpose:

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.
Campaign End State:

Creation of a wildland fire service culture that willingly shares leadership best practices in order to maintain superior service-wide leadership.
* WOW is exempt from contest consideration.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The King's Speech - Leadership in Cinema

(Photo credit: The Churchill Center)

Our partners at Drexel's LeBow College of Business have finished their winter course and are in the process of finalizing a series of lesson plans for the Leadership in Cinema program. Their first installment is "The King's Speech." Check it out in the Leadership in Cinema LeBow College of Business library today!

Building Dikes of Courage

IGNITE the Spark for Leadership today!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Remembering the Dream

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Michael Hyatt wrote a great piece on Martin Luther King, Jr. titled "Eight Leadership Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr." in which he presents what he believes King's "I Have a Dream" speech provides insights into what it takes to be a truly great leader. Be sure to watch the video and then reflect upon how do you measure up to Hyatt's eight characteristics?
  1. Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality.
  2. Great leaders engage the heart.
  3. Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo.
  4. Great leaders create a sense of urgency.
  5. Great leaders call people to act in accord with their highest values.
  6. Great leaders refuse to settle.
  7. Great leaders acknowledge the sacrifice of their followers.
  8. Great leaders paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow.

Digging Deeper: Problem Areas - TriData Report

In this installment of Digging Deeper, we'll look at the "Problem Areas" survey participants identified in Phase I of the Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study (also known as the TriData report). As student of fire, analyze the following excerpts. Have we made changes or do the problem areas still exist?

Problem Areas (taken directly from the study)
There are widespread concerns that the organizational culture has undergone significant changes that contribute to a decrease in safety. The experience level of the firefighting work force and leadership is perceived to have dropped. That has many impacts, none were more important than in crisis decision making, which depends on experienced personnel making good decisions under stress. The experienced personnel leaving firefighting are not all retiring. Some are being driven out of firefighting by loss of incentives and lack of encouragement, and they are not being replaced fast enough by adequately qualified personnel.

There also are grave concerns that the high public visibility of wildland firefighting puts political pressures on field leadership that in turn influence strategy and tactics, and increase danger to firefighters. There is a perception that the situation is worsening as federal firefighting budgets and resources are declining without a concurrent lessening of public expectations. The trend continues toward more severe wildland fires, and more people being at risk in the urban/wildland interface. The increasing number of fires in the urban/wildland interface, coupled with the changes of tactics needed to protect structures; more pressure to perform and not retreat; and the lack of training on the risks around structures (e.g., hidden propane tanks, electrical wires) combine into a major concern. There is a demand for more knowledge about fighting fires around structures, and a need to further educate the public on mitigation measures they can take.

Among other key aspects of the organizational culture as it affects safety are the following:
  • There is a tendency to try to do as much as before with less resources, which sometimes pushes the envelope of safety. The safety issue is further exacerbated by declining forest health, accumulation of fuels from years of fire exclusion and lack of an adequately sized prescribed burn program. Fewer firefighters are available to handle more frequent and more severe fires while feeling less than fully supported, and while experience levels drop. This was considered another dangerous confluence, especially by the most experienced people interviewed.
  • Too many firefighters still feel uncomfortable in raising safety issues. They perceive that the organizational culture does not allow them to point out safety problems in the field without fear of retribution, despite assurances to the contrary. There has not been acceptance and practice of a philosophy like that used in flight operations (the crew resource management system), in which it is not only acceptable to point out safety problems, but one is expected to do so. On the other hand, there is concern about letting the pendulum swing too far the other way, and having crews frequently balk at assignments, with the potential for disruption of operations and increasing danger to those crews that remain.
  • There is a broad perception that to bridge the experience gap, some managers have been fast-tracked into positions of responsibility that are above their ability to handle safely. Some of those fast-tracked were among those raising the alarm. This perception was shared by 82 percent of the overall firefighter population, and by 84 percent of women and minorities.
  • There are feelings that seasonal employees are not adequately appreciated, trained or given incentives to return in the current organizational culture, which reduces the experience base.
  • There is a perception that firefighters today have less woodland experience and therefore are more prone to accidents. More scientists (‘ologists) fill positions, and a smaller portion of the workforce is interested in firefighting. It is no longer considered necessary for all or most to participate in firefighting. Those who do participate feel they do not get enough  encouragement, and may be given subtle or not so subtle signs that they are abandoning their real jobs when they go to fight fires.
  • There is not a high enough degree of confidence that key information gets through to crews during a fire, especially regarding weather, fuel conditions, and when requested resources will arrive. The culture is such that crews do not have a checklist of information they should expect, and they do not always ask for what they do not receive. A highly ranked communication problem was the lack of adequate exchange of information between crew shifts, and a lack of adequate briefings en route to fires and at fires, with too little input allowed or solicited from crew supervisors.
  • There is concern that the organizational culture allows red-card certification for some who do not merit it. The culture does not take the certifications seriously enough, and the experience standards for IMT positions are thought by many to be too low.
  • About a third of women and minorities reported feeling they get less information than others at fires − but overall, the women and minorities surveyed expressed the same safety concerns as all others. The response profiles of male, female, Hispanic, Native American, and other firefighters regarding safety issues were remarkably similar, to the point that it could be  considered a tribute to the change in organizational culture in the direction of fairness.
  • Equipment drew relatively little criticism except in two areas: radios and shelters. There is not yet universal provision of radios for each Type II crew or squad, and these are problems of signal clarity, interference and inadequate channels at times. Obviously all people must be able to be reached expeditiously for safe operations. The second major equipment concern was shelters, especially the lack of realistic training with them, their being viewed as a backup that allows one to take risks, and the confusion about what constitutes an adequately sized safety zone in which to deploy a shelter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Courage - The Willingness to Say "Yes"

IGNITE the Spark for Leadership today!
Disclaimer: This reference is intended to reflect the opinion of the WFLDP, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Pig or Chicken - What is Your Level of Commitment?

(Image: Business Setup Group)
"Once we commit to becoming leaders, our focus is no longer ourselves." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 6)
My 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 Service. The 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?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mentors Help Us Stretch Our Awareness

Fire leaders are committed to building a high level of competence in team members. Their satisfaction depends on it as does the future of the organization. Some of today’s team members are the leaders of tomorrow; it is the leader’s responsibility to mentor and help them cultivate the right tools and skills that they will need to face the challenges of the future. ~ Leading in the Wildland Fire Service
"Leaders also help their people grow by mentoring and sharing experiences. Mentoring them begins their journey from followership to leadership. Fire leaders coach and then step back to allow people to take on new responsibilities.

Providing the opportunity to test new waters and try new behaviors is important in developing people for the future."

In this video, Jon Young speaks about mentoring and awareness. Humans are interconnected. How do you stretch and mentor your subordinates.

Are you a DOI fire employee? Join the DOI Fire and Aviation Mentoring Program today!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Palomar Hotshots - Leadership in Motion

We are proud to present this awesome video by the Palomar Hotshots! They involved their entire organization to showcase how the develop their leaders. Way to go, Palomar!

Show us what your team can do for IGNITING the Spark for Leadership! Contact NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Logistics Coordinator Pam McDonald at or 208-387-5318 for more details.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Release Date: Jan 7, 2013
DATE: January 7, 2013
PHONE: 208-737-3262

TWIN FALLS, ID. . . .The Sawtooth National Forest will conduct a workshop for individuals interested in summer employment on a Fire Crew for the next field season. The day will begin with employment opportunities and an introduction to the application process.

The following classes will be introduced: Basic Firefighter, Intro to Fire Behavior, Introduction to the Incident Command System, and an Introduction to Leadership. We will also discuss the physical preparation that you will need to prepare for as a Wildland Firefighter. The classes that will be introduced are web based and after the class students will be able to work on those classes individually and be able to show on a resume and application that they have taken and passed the classes when job openings become available.

There will be two classes offered for this opportunity. On January 12, 2013 from 9:00 to 4:30 at the College of Southern Idaho, Shields Bldg, Room 105, Twin Falls, Idaho. On January 26, 2013 in Hailey, Idaho at the Community Campus, Room 509, South Wing from 9:00 to 4:30.

Please call 208-737-3248 to reserve your seat today, this is a first come first serve basis, you must be registered.

Reprinted from the Sawtooth National Forest website.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Share Your Courage With Others

Digging Deeper: Priorities - TriData Report

(Photo credit:
In October, we ran a series on the Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study (also known as the TriData report) which took a systematic look at firefighters and their culture. If you missed the series, be sure to check it out on the WFLDP blog. What we are as a wildland fire service today is a result of the 86 goals and nearly 200 recommendations contained in the report. In 2013, we'll dig a little deeper into the study and expose those less familiar to the study's value and influence (or lack of) on changing our culture.

What is Corporate Culture?
Let's take a look at corporate culture by watching "It's All About Culture - What is Corporate Culture."

Thoughts to Ponder
  • What is the personality of your organization?
  • What are your culture's norms of behavior?
  • Does your culture feel right?
  • Does your culture bind your time together?
  • Is your culture influenced by your leaders?
  • Do you fit within your culture?
  • Do you know what type of culture you work within?
TriData Report - Phase I Priorities

Over 1,000 federal (and some state) wildland firefighters were surveyed in the study. In addition to "the lack of adequate accountability in the current culture," study participants identified the following high-priority needs: 
  • Improving the experience level, training, and physical fitness of the individual firefighters;
  • Improving the attitude toward safety of the minority of firefightrers who do ot seem to have th necessary passion for safety;
  • Making sure that crew and division supervisors have the temperament, training and experience to supervise during emergencies; and
  • Holding all ranks accountable for unsafe performance or decisions.
In our next installment of Digging Deeper, we will look at the "Problem Areas" revealed by study participants.


Friday, January 4, 2013

"Where Rattlesnakes Wear Sombreros"

by Bob Schoultz

“It’s so hot out there, the rattlesnakes wear sombreros and carry canteens.” This is how one of the U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter described a firefighting environment into which he was being sent.

I recently returned from helping to lead a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) leadership course designed to be part of the curriculum at the Wildland Apprentice Firefighting Program – or ‘the Academy’ as the firefighters call it, at the old McClelland Air Force Base in Sacramento. In the aftermath of the South Canyon Fire in Colorado in 1994, in which 14 firefighters died, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group created a leadership curriculum for firefighters, and NOLS had been asked to help teach their advanced leadership course. There were 52 firefighters and eight mentors participating in this week long, field-based leadership course. We were broken down into 6 different groups that went into the field separately. Each group was led by two NOLS instructors and one or two mid-to-senior grade firefighting mentor, and included between 9 and 11 wildland firefighters who were assigned as students to the Academy.

“Where rattlesnakes wear sombreros and carry canteens” is a colorful phrase to be sure, but it tells me that the guys and gals who fight our wildland fires spend days, and sometimes weeks working in really hot places. Fighting forest and other wildland fires is serious and dangerous business – and not only the firefighters, but also our country takes their work very seriously. Since the South Canyon fire in 1994, more than 300 wildland firefighters have died in the line of duty.

Wildland firefighters are federal employees, working for the Forest Service and are called upon to respond, often on very short notice, to fight fires all over the country. Not surprisingly, in recent years most wildland fires have been in the West and other drought-stricken areas. The fire season normally begins in May, and has usually run its course by November, at which time full-time firefighters are able to slow down, spend some time with their families, take care of their gear and, and when appropriate, get further professional training (which is what we were doing with them). Between May and November, most wildland firefighters are away from home fighting fires or responding to other emergencies from 50% to 70% of the time.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the wildland firefighter and military cultures have a lot in common, given that both require coordinating significant resources to respond to threats to our communities and ways of life, putting fighters at great risk, often far away from where they live. Indeed firefighting has been a popular destination for military veterans who are looking for the camaraderie, structure, discipline, and sense of purpose that brings a group of men and women together in the face of danger. As in the military, there are elite firefighters – the ‘hotshots’ and the ‘smoke jumpers’ who are the first ones sent in to assess and hopefully contain a fire in its early stages – and there are the essential, but not quite as ‘elite’ support and logistics personnel on whom those on the line depend. And as in the military, there is an ongoing tension between those on the ground who do the (fire)fighting, and those in the rear, who decide when and how to deploy them, and make resource and policy decisions when, as always, everyone can’t get all they want. Both the military and firefighting cultures share an ethos which demands that personal and other concerns be set aside to accomplish a mission that serves the larger community.

For our expedition, I was the #2 NOLS instructor – our course leader was an impressive young man who several years ago had left the Coast Guard to become a full time NOLS instructor and spend nearly 25 weeks a year in the field instructing NOLS courses. Our team of nine ‘hotshot’ firefighters, all men, average age around 30, were still completing other classes at the Academy when we first met them. A couple of days later, early on a Sunday morning, they joined us with their gear ready to go. We packed our packs, loaded the vehicles and departed on a 4 hour drive to a remote road-head in the Lassen National forest, northeast of Chico, California.

We had 7 days and 6 nights to hike from the south to the north end of the Ishi Wilderness, and to teach a very full plate of leadership curriculum, in addition to all the hiking, cooking, and camping skills we had to teach. Though wildland firefighters spend days and weeks in the outdoors fighting fires, they normally have a support infrastructure not too far from the firefighting line, where they go to eat and sleep at the end of their shift, before they are sent back onto the line for 12 more hours. Backpacking, cooking meals over a whisper-lite stove, and off trail navigation, are not normally part of the wildland firefighters training and skill set, which is partly why this course was to be a test of their resilience and leadership.

As on every NOLS course I’ve been on, ‘kaka’ just seems to happen in the field to make things challenging and interesting, and which tests our resilience and leadership. When the trails on the map did not match the trails on the ground (we purposefully don’t use GPS) we got lost, and had to deal with different reactions to uncertainty, fatigue, and discomfort in our hiking group. When my hiking group was unable to make the end-of-day rendezvous with the other group, we realized that the leaders-of-the-day had not divided up the gear properly – the other group had three tents, we had one – so we jammed 5 large men into a tent made for, at most, 4. The next day, a cold front moved in, and in 10 short minutes, the temperatures dropped from a comfortable high fifties to low thirties, with almost gale force winds, snow and sleet blowing sideways. That night, we camped cold and ‘dry’ (there was no water source nearby,) so while we learned about hypothermia prevention, we also learned about melting snow for water, keeping our boots from freezing, and other important cold weather skills.

‘Tolerance for uncertainty and adversity’ is one of the NOLS leadership skills, and indeed these ‘adversities’ were the highlights of the week. In the retelling, I enjoyed listening to how 30 degrees became 20, then 10 degrees, and how we had trudged, head down through a white-out snow blizzard, facing all but certain death! Yep, these are the same kind of guys I spent my career with in the military!

We were in the field over 7 and 8 November – national Election Day. We were carrying a satphone and discussed the option of calling in to learn the results, but our firefighters opted NOT to find out who won the national election until after we returned. They preferred to keep our wilderness experience ‘pure,’ unadulterated by the chaos we knew was going on in the ‘front country.’ We often remarked to ourselves how, in our simple lives of hiking, cooking, eating, sleeping – the election seemed so remote and irrelevant. At the end of the week, sitting at the road-head waiting for our pick up vehicle, many had all but forgotten about the election. But I stopped a passing hunter in his pick-up truck, and learned the news.

In our group, just like in the rest of America, there were some who were elated, some who were disappointed, others who were indifferent. But the results had no impact on our expedition, or what we had learned, or how we felt about each other. We had just spent a week sleeping, cooking, eating, and hiking together, taking care of each other, in good times and bad, and in the process, we became better men together. And as a result, I believe they also became better firefighters, more resilient and effective leaders, better able to protect the rest of us and our wildlands from the scourge of uncontrolled fires. To us, in that time and place, that is what was most important, most immediate, most relevant. And, we didn’t see any rattlesnakes, with or without sombreros!
Wildland Firefighters on our week-long expedition

Note: The Ishi Wilderness where we hiked is named after the last primitive Native American to come into civilization. During the late 1800’s the Yana and Yahi Indians were all but wiped out by white settlers and vigilantes. The few survivors stayed hidden in the mountains, scrupulously avoiding any contact with whites, hunting, fishing, and living the way they had for millennia. In 1911, all the rest of his tribe having died, a nearly 50 year old man, ‘Ishi,’ came out of the same mountains that we had hiked in, into white man’s civilization, expecting to be killed. Instead, he was brought to San Francisco, and there began a fascinating meeting of Neolithic and 20th century man. Ishi learned our ways, as he taught us his. He died 4 years later of tuberculosis, one of the white man’s diseases that killed a large proportion of all Native Americans. Those who got to know Ishi during his short time in Western Civilization, said that in many ways, he was more ‘civilized’- in his manners, morals, and character – than most of us. A good summary of the story is in Wikipedia under ‘Ishi,’ and I’d recommend the book “Ishi in Two Worlds” by Theodora Kroeber.
The WFLDP would like to thank Bob Schoultz, retired Navy Seal commander and certified NOLS instructor, for allowing us to reprint his blog post. Check out other articles on Bob's blog, "Bob Schoultz's Corner."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Taking the Power Out of Wildfire

Texas A&M University may be onto an innovation that will help reduce the number of fires started by powerlines. We'll be following this technological advancement to see if how the testing phase goes.

See the full story "A&M Researchers Look to Prevent Wildfires Caused by Downed Power Lines" at

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Leaders are Readers Challenge - January 2013

Last summer we presented a bold challenge to students of fire in the form of a Professional Reading Program challenge. Those participating in the challenge read Doris Kearns Goodwin's' "Team of Rivals." This 750-page read chronicled the life and leadership of President Abraham Lincoln. The challenge concluded with a tie-in to the release of Steven Spielberg's movie "Lincoln."

Photo credit: Defense Media Network
2013 PRP Challenge #1 - "It Worked For Me"

Our first selection for 2013 is "It Worked for Me - In Life and Leadership" by General Colin Powell. We have featured some of General Powell's thoughts in our "Leaving a Leadership Legacy" series.

A neighborhood called  "It Worked For Me" has been set up within the My Fire Community forum where students of fire can develop and post discussion questions and participate in discussion with one another. Who knows, maybe the author himself would consider becoming a member of the group. We'll pose that question on his Facebook page.

Think of ways that you can tie this book into the 2013 Leading with Courage campaign. Together we can make a difference and lead through a crisis situation.

In His Own Words

From Conflict to Teamwork: Ranchers Form Idaho's First Rangeland Fire Protection Association with BLM and State

In the spring of 2012, BLM Boise District's Fire Management and IDL provided eighteen RFPA members with basic fire training, to include principles of fighting wildland fires. This training opened the door for a positive working relationship for all parties involved. Prior to forming the RFPA, local ranchers had no way to help the BLM fight fires on public rangelands. They lacked the training, personal protective equipment, and radios for communication. And ranchers' independent, uncoordinated actions created an unsafe environment. As a fire organization, the ranchers now work with BLM fire crews to reach common objectives while enhancing safety and firefighting efficiency.
Mountain Home ranchers participating in wildland fire suppression training with Idaho Department of Lands and the Bureau of Land Management.
In southern Idaho, there are currently 2.2 million acres that lack any formal fire protection. The RFPA helps fill part of this gap since ranchers are often first on scene and can help until the BLM arrives to form a coordinated effort. "We do make a living off this land," says Charlie Lyons, a Mountain Home rancher. Mountain Home rancher John McGrew agrees. "If we can keep that range productive, it's good for us and it's good for the game animals. That's my primary concern. It's such a waste of resources to watch it go up in smoke."
Map showing boundaries of the Mountain Home Rangeland Fire Protection Association area in southwestern Idaho.
The agreement between the RFPA and BLM Idaho was put to use for the first time on the Stout Fire near Mountain Home in July, when ranchers helped battle the lightning-caused blaze. "This was the first fire we interacted on and incorporated the Rangeland Fire Protection Association into suppression operations, and it went very well," says Steve Acarregui, fire operations manager for the BLM Boise District. "Some of the actual firefighting resources they provided were dozers, water tenders and engines; they did a lot of line construction; and it was very beneficial." The training and coordination on fires has drastically changed the working relationships between ranchers and the BLM.

Other groups have noticed the success of this organization and have expressed interest in forming similar associations in southwestern Idaho.

Story by: Nick Yturri, BLM Boise District Fire Mitigation Specialist

Reprinted from "The BLM Daily," December 20, 2012

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

(Photo credit: