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