Saturday, August 31, 2013

Laboring on Labor Day

The NWCG Leadership Subcommittee extends their heartfelt appreciation to the labors of the wildland fire community. We realize many of our members work long hours during holidays and weekends. We dedicate today to all who "protect life, property, and natural resources while engaging the forces of nature."

Friday, August 30, 2013

What is Your 'Trouble Tree'?

Have you taken the Leading with Courage 2013 Professional Reading Challenge to read "A Captain's Duty" by Richard Phillips? While reading the book, I was captivated by the ritualistic behavior of the Somali pirates who even in the midst of holding Captain Phillips prisoner conducted ceremonial rituals. Certain rituals are vital to cohesiveness and performance of the team.

Bill Miller, Training Specialist at the National Advanced Fire and Resource Institute and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee member, shared the following video of ceremonial rituals taken while conducting leadership training for wildland fire crews in South Africa. This video was taken during their graduation ceremony, but chanting and dancing were a daily ritual for these firefighters.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge:
  • Read The Power of a "Project Beard" and Other Office Rituals by Sue Shellenbarger. Shellenbarger shares her thoughts on how office rituals can be used to reduce anxiety and help individuals perform better.
  • Discuss with other leaders and team members rituals that could have a positive impact on performance.
A Story: Hanging Your Worries on the Trouble Tree
(Original author: Unknown) 

The carpenter who was hired to help a man restore an old farmhouse had just finished his first day on the job and everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. First of all, on his way to work he had a flat tire that cost him an hour’s worth of pay, then his electric saw broke, and after work his old pickup truck refused to start.
His new boss volunteered to give him a lift home and the whole way to his house the carpenter sat in stone silence as he stared out his window. Yet on arriving, he invited his boss in for a few minutes to meet his family. As they walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands. When he opened the door, he underwent an amazing transformation. His tanned face was one big smile as he hugged his two small children and kissed his wife.
Afterwards, the man walked his boss to his car to say thank you. Now on their way out of the house, the boss’ curiosity got the best of him so he had to ask the man about the tree on the front porch. He said, I noticed when you came up on the porch before going into your house you stopped and touched the tree, why?
"Oh, that’s my trouble tree,” he replied. "I know I can’t stop from having troubles out on the job, but one thing’s for sure – my troubles don’t belong in the house with my wife and children. So I just hang them up on the tree every night when I come home. Then in the morning I pick them up again.”
"Funny thing is,” he smiled, "when I come out in the morning to pick ‘em up, they aren’t nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before.”


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Standing Up to Broken Trust

(Photo credit:
If your leader broke your trust by his/her actions, would you have the strength to stand up to him/her? Bret Simmons shares his thoughts on the subject in "A Failure of Leadership."

Peer Accountability (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 54)

Leaders create teams in which team members hold each other accountable. More than any system of reward and discipline, more than any policy, the fear of letting down respected teammates and peers represents the most effective means of accountability.

Peer accountability is an outgrowth of trust and commitment. We set the example by demonstrating that team members can hold us accountable, encouraging them to give us feedback on our own performance in meeting stated goals.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Women of Wildfire Honor Our Female Leaders

(Firefighter Kole Berriochoa and Incident Commander Beth Lund share a hug and a smile between duties on the Beaver Creek Fire. Mountain Express photo by Willy Cook)

Today marks the 93rd anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. In honor of Women's Equality Day, we give a shout out to all our female leaders. Thank you for your leadership and pursuit of success.

Women of Wildfire Spotlight
Check out Mountain Express' "In Incident Commander, Quiet Competence" tribute to Type I Incident Commander Beth Lund" following her leadership during the Beaver Creek fire near Hailey, Idaho.

Thanks to Mike Ellsworth, BLM Fire Training and Workforce Development and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Representative, for sharing this article with us.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tackling our Toolbox - Leaders We Would Like to Meet

Have you ever thought about having the opportunity to interview someone you respected and admired as a leader? To ask them how they handled a critical moment where they had to make a difficult decision; or what they think it takes to be an effective leader; or who helped them along their path to becoming a leader.

We tend to overlook the leaders in our midst. There is no outside source of highly qualified fire leaders, many people in the wildland fire service are widely recognized as extremely effective leaders. But how well are we passing on their accumulated knowledge and how well are we identifying role models for the next generation of leaders?

Most of us, given enough time, can think of one or more leaders we would like to talk to. Our individual choices would be a diverse collection of the obscure and the well known, of the young and old, and everything in between. The intent behind this collection of interviews is to begin recognizing those that have spent their career providing exemplary leadership to firefighters and capturing their lessons for future leaders.

Conducting an Interview

If you are interested in interviewing someone for this feature, contact a member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee or send an email to for further information.

Questions for Leaders We Would Like to Meet Interviews

Start by asking for an overview of the individual’s life history and career progression. Then roll into the questions below. Not all of the questions need to be asked, but at least 10-12 questions are needed to make an interesting interview. Remember the focus of the interview is to pass on wisdom regarding developing oneself as a leader.
  1. What makes you want to follow someone? 
  2. Who do you think is a leadership role model and why? 
  3. If you were to pick the three most important character traits for an effective leader, what would those be? 
  4. Are leaders born or made…explain? 
  5. Regarding leadership, what quote comes to mind? 
  6. Who are some of the individuals that had a significant influence on your life? 
  7. Thinking back to your youth, what other influences in helped you become a leader? 
  8. What do you consider your strengths to be? 
  9. What do you consider your weaknesses to be? 
  10. Since you started in ____, what are the biggest improvements you have witnessed in the wildland fire service? 
  11. What do you consider the worst changes you have seen in the wildland fire service?
  12. Describe a few of the toughest decisions or dilemmas you have faced? 
  13. What helped to guide you through those situations?
  14. Why do think people follow you? 
  15. When did you realize that you had a significant influence on others? 
  16. What handful of “lessons learned” would you offer to a young leader today? 
  17. What is a book you have read recently that you would recommend to others?
  18. What ideas or projects are currently working on? 
  19. How do you go about initiating a new idea in order to put it into practice? 
  20. Do you think a legacy is important and if so, what do want your legacy to be? 
The Leaders We Would Like to Meet Library

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Big Blowup of 1910

(Mouth of tunnel where Ranger Edward Pulaski sheltered his men during the Big Blowup, photo taken September 1910. Photo credit: US. Forest Service History)
In August of 1910 on the Coeur d’Alene National Forest, a group of timber cutters, miners, and assorted individuals looking to make a dollar, found themselves running for their lives down a steep canyon to an unknown end. Ed Pulaski, the Forest Ranger in charge of this group of hastily collected firefighters knew he had some quick decisions to make.

Conditions across the west had been unseasonably dry with below average rainfall since April. Fires, both lightening and human caused, had started in the spring and reached a crescendo in July and again in late August. The group behind the effort to suppress these fires was an organization in its infancy, the newly created United States Forest Service. Forest Supervisors in Idaho and Montana did their best to control the blazes with the resources they had; a handful of recent Forestry graduates, Forest Guards hired from the local populace, and whatever labor could be gathered from the mines, timber camps, and bars throughout the west.

By the time the fires peaked and reached the point known as “The Blowup” on August 20-21, approximately 3 million acres burned across Idaho and into Montana with several towns burned and an estimated 85 people killed both firefighters and public. The impact of this event shaped fire policy and direction within the U.S. Forest Service for decades to come and strongly influenced the public perception of the role of federal agencies in fire suppression and the role of fire within the landscape.

Making a Collective Impact

(Photo credit: i3solutions)
All around the nation, individuals are coming together to make a difference in the communities in which they live and serve. Unity of effort is a component of our command philosophy. We have made a concerted effort to bring community and fire leaders together "to find common ground and act in the best interests of those responding to the incident, the public, and our natural resources." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, pp. 15-16).

Ben Hecht, Harvard Business Review Blog Network contributor, shared his perspective on collaboration in "Collaboration Is the New Competition." He suggests five lesson for driving large-scale social changes through collaboration:
  • Clearly define what you can do together.
  • Transcend parochialism.
  • Adapt to data.
  • Feed the field.
  • Support the backbone.
The Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign was created with these lessons in mind.

Clearly Define What You Can Do Together
The purposes of the campaign are:
  • 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.
With budgetary cutbacks and limited resources, the wildland fire service has to become more efficient at developing our leaders. The best efforts of one unit can be shared with those who may not have the resources or ability to produce leadership development tools.

Transcend Parochialism
The campaign is designed to transcend leadership levels and agency affiliation. All members of the fire service are encouraged to participate and come together to make a difference in the communities for the great good of all. Each participant/unit is encouraged to put aside their interests and focus on the bigger picture.

Adapt to Data
Due to the interagency nature of the fire service, not to mention our involvement in all-hazard response, a one-size-fits all approach is unlikely. What works for one unit/area may not work for another. However, by collecting best practices, individuals can adapt the information to best suit their needs.

Feed the Field
The end state of the campaign is "creation of a wildland fire service culture that willingly shares leadership best practices in order to maintain superior service-wide leadership." Participants should should not only take from the campaign but also give back through the IGNITE the Spark for Leadership - From the Field for the Field contest. Using the spirit of healthy collaboration (competition) among wildland fire crews and personnel, the contest is intended to be one of the mechanisms used to collect leadership best practices to be shared throughout the wildland fire service.

Support the Backbone
The backbone of wildland fire leadership is the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program.

Our history is deeply rooted in products developed by the field for the field. The campaign revitalizes the success of the grassroots effort that began over 10 years ago and keeps the program moving forward.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Reading - A Magic Portal

(Photo credit: Books Direct)
“There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there's so much more to the book than the page you were stuck on.” - Zayn Malik

  1. Mental Stimulation
  2. Stress Reduction
  3. Knowledge
  4. Vocabulary Expansion
  5. Memory Improvement
  6. Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills
  7. Improved Focus and Concentration
  8. Better Writing Skills
  9. Tranquility
  10. Free Entertainment
Additional Resource:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Message from BLM Leadership on the 2013 Fire Season

Photo credit: Northwest Fires, Colockum Tarps fire (July 2013)
The western fire season traditionally peaks in mid-August, and it appears that 2013 will follow that trend. The forecast from BLM’s Predictive Services unit reinforces that we could still experience a high level of fire activity over the next month, and perhaps, extend well into the fall.

We acknowledge the professionalism and hard work of our fire crews, and their peers in other agencies. The work they do is nothing short of amazing. They’re a point of pride for our entire organization. Yet it’s the time of summer when our firefighters may begin to feel the effects of a long season. Fatigue may become an issue. Situational awareness could decline.

It’s a critical time of the year. More than ever in this fire season, we need to be alert, aware of risk, watch out for others, speak up when something seems wrong, get the rest we need, and follow the proper safety protocols. The season may be inching toward its conclusion, but we cannot let our guard down. That’s often when tragedy strikes.

It’s been a tragic and devastating fire year in terms of safety. As of this writing, 30 people have died in the line of duty. Please, let’s join together and recommit to making the remainder of this fire season as safe as possible and ensure, to the best of our ability, that there are no more serious injuries, no more fatalities, and that all of our firefighters and field personnel safely return to their families and friends when the fire season finally comes to an end.

Neil and I both consider the safety of all our employees to be the Bureau's highest priority. We appreciate the remarkable work you do each and every day in support of the BLM. Thank you for your special attention to this important matter.

Steve Ellis, Acting Deputy Director, Bureau of Land Management


All agencies are encouraged to share their messages. Send them to for posting.

Focusing Risk Managment Efforts Using Historical Wildland Fire Accident Trends

August 3, 2013

To:          Geographic Area Coordinating Group Chairs

From:        National Multi Agency Coordinating Group

NMAC Correspondence #2013-06

Subject:    Focusing Risk Management Efforts Using Historical Wildland Fire Accident Trends

Data analysis is an important component of risk management.  Trends identified through data analysis provide a sound foundation for making risk management decisions.  Over the past one hundred years, 90% of wildland fire fatalities can be attributed to five general causes:
  •   Low level flight operations
  •   Vehicle accidents
  •   Entrapments/burnovers
  •   Snags/felling operations
  •   Heart attacks
There is a high probability that most future fatalities will continue to share these causes.  Having experienced 28 fatalities in the fire community to date in in 2013, NMAC is encouraging leaders, managers and everyone throughout the wildland fire community to make every day a training day with an emphasis on our historical accident trends.  This can be achieved through the Six Minutes for Safety program (,  with the following resources addressing the 5 primary wildland fire serious accident causes:
Wildland firefighting continues to become more complex, but the primary causes of fatalities and serious accidents have not changed.   Please use this information to continue to focus your proactive efforts and situational awareness.  

/s/ John Segar
Chair, NMAC

(UPDATE since memo's release: 30 deaths to date)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jenna Berkerman - A WOW Spotlight

Firefighting and the BLM are Family Traditions for the Beckermans 
By: Dennis Godfrey, BLM-Arizona

Jenna Beckerman was reflecting on what it means to be part of the wildland fire community. "Fire is really a close-knit family, that's for sure," she said recently, while working a detail at the Phoenix Interagency Fire Center. She mentioned the so-called 6 degrees of separation that connects humanity. "It seems like in fire, if you know one person, you know the rest of the whole community." The fire family connection is even closer for Jenna than most, and it extends to the Bureau of Land Management. That's because her dad, Dale Beckerman, is part of the fire family and a career BLM employee. In addition, Jenna's grandmother (and Dale's mother-in-law) Garnet Sophocles also worked for the BLM. That makes Jenna a third-generation BLMer…
In 2007, Jenna was a member of the Craig Hotshots and is shown here working on a fire in Montana.
Jenna is an initial attack dispatcher for Craig Interagency Dispatch in Colorado. Dale also works in Craig, as a fire management specialist. "It's pretty cool having your daughter right there," Dale said of the family connection in fire, the BLM and in Craig.
Dale and Jenna Berkerman enjoy a number of outdoor activities together, including distance running.
Dale was a seasonal firefighter for the BLM in northern California when he met the woman who became his wife. Her mother was working for the BLM Colorado State Office as an administrative assistant. "

When my parents got married they were living in California because he was fighting fire out there. My grandmother just hated that they were so far away," Jenna said. Grandma Garnet heard of a job in Colorado and helped Dale get it."

They've been in Craig ever since and I've just followed in my dad's footsteps," Jenna said. She has worked on hotshot crews and initial attack crews, much like her dad. She is in her second year of fire dispatch.

"I'm not even quite sure how that happened," Dale said of his daughter's career choice. "I definitely didn't encourage it. She did it all on her own."

Grandma Garnet worked about 15 years for the BLM in the Colorado State Office, retiring in 1984. She has since passed away.

Jenna has a degree in anthropology from Fort Lewis College, and she's considered pursuing a career in that field. "But so far it has worked out that I stay in fire," she said.

The larger fire family connection was drawn closer to home for Jenna with the deaths of the 19 in the Yarnell Hill Fire. "The Granite Mountain Hotshot thing has been really close to home, for sure," she said. "When I was on the Craig Hotshots, we actually did a fuels reduction project all around the community of Yarnell in 2006. I can just totally picture where those guys were."

For Dale, he is happy that Jenna is following the family tradition in the BLM and in fire. "I am definitely very proud of her," he said.

Reprinted with permission. Article from The BLM Daily, 7/18/2013

Monday, August 5, 2013

Convergence on Hillary Step

(Photo credit:

I recently wrote a blog on listening inspired by a presentation from mountain climber Roger Snyder. In May 2013, Roger become one of highly-determined individuals that can legitimately claim he conquered the summit of Mount Everest. Roger's experience of the gridlock on Hillary Step inspired this blog.

Hillary Step is a 40-foot wall of rock and ice near the summit of Mount Everest that presents the ultimate a challenge for most climbers. Named after Sir Edmund Hillary, first confirmed climber with Tenzing Norgay to reach Mount Everest's summit, the Hillary Step pathway is only wide enough for one climber to pass at a time. As you might guess, this presents a problem for climbers pushing to the top and those returning from the summit who may be in desperate need of medical care and oxygen. Rescue is nearly impossible at this point of the journey. Gridlock on Hillary Step can be as much as 2 to 4 hours. The politics and strategies to manuever the step are as varied as the climbers who make the attempt.

In "Everest Beyond the Limit," we share in the adventure and experience the climbers frustration as they hit the gridlock on Hillary Step (from 29:30 -33:40).

As the numbers of climbers wanting to conquer Mount Everest increase, the gridlock will also. There is only a small window of opportunity to conquer the summit. The Expedition Operators Association has proposed installing permanently fixed ladders as a means of reducing congestion; however, many oppose the idea. Some want to maintain the climb while others recognize a bigger problem: overcrowding on the mountain.

A Wildland Fire Reflection and Take Away

What can we take away from climbing Mount Everest and the Hillary Step gridlock  analogy?

Wildland firefighters, like mountain climbers, are determined. What some refer to as a "can do" attitude can be a strength and a weakness. We do what it takes to get the job done. We push ourselves to the limit to accomplish the mission. Either of which when taken to the extreme can produce negative results. There are areas (gridlocks) in our operations and within our organizations that limit our ability to reach our goals. Knowing where these areas exist and developing a plan to traverse them can help us avoid the gridlock at Hillary Step.

Fireline Leadership Challenge
  • Identify the Hillary Steps within your organization or operation--those places that limit your ability to operate safely and efficiently.
  • Develop a contingency plan for when you encounter a gridlock.
  • Ensure that the plan you develop addresses the real cause of the problem.
  • Share the lessons learned from those who faced gridlocks and paid the ultimate sacrifice on the fireline.
  • Vow to bring everyone safely down the mountain.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Roman Empire in the First Century - Order from Chaos

If you know much about the Roman Empire, you are well aware of Augustus Caesar. This leader transformed the Roman Republic into an empire that spanned many years with many leaders. Augustus was loved by his people--given god-like status. A Leadership in Cinema (LinC) lesson plan is available for your use in studying his transformational leadership. The first episode of PBS's "The Roman Empire in the First Century - Order from Chaos" video series and LinC lesson plan takes an in-depth look at the leadership legacy of Augustus Caesar.

Feel free to use the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program's Facebook page to discuss the movie and promote discussion across the program.

If you would like to create a lesson plan for the program, visit the Leadership in Cinema website.