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 ( 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.

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Leading with Courage logo

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