Friday, January 31, 2014

Mound House Staff Ride - Remembering Keith Lemmons

Mound fire sketch
(Photo credit: Always Remember)
Looking Back and Remembering Our Fallen

In 1983, on the Carson City District, NV BLM, the Mound House fire claimed the life of Keith Lemmons. During the winter months of 2013, the staff of the Carson City District developed the Mound House Staff Ride. Staff reviewed the accident report, made multiple site visits, and conducted interviews with people involved with the fire including the supervisor of the affected fire engine. Once all the information was compiled, the staff developed four different stands to complete the staff ride.

During the spring and early summer of 2013, the Mound House Staff Ride was presented multiple times to over 175 total people. Those attending were from the local district and local cooperators.

What We Noted
  • The Bureau of Land Management’s Carson City District was experiencing an above average fire season. 
  • Fire danger indices were at very high to extreme levels. 
  • Acres burned were twice the annual average, and fire starts are well above average. 
  • Cooperative agreements were “old and weak between agencies” suggesting that they were out of date and/or not meeting the needs of the agencies involved. Most weren't even familiar with them.
  • Communication along the front country was very poor. 
    • Eleven different departments responded to the Mound House fire, all having their own frequencies.  
    • No mutually agreed command or tactical frequencies were assigned. 
    • BLM had one command frequency and one simplex frequency. 
    • No dedicated air-to-ground was available.
  • The engine crew involved in the burnover on the Mound House fire was a "thrown-together" crew. 
  • It was Keith Lemmons’ first day on the engine.
What We Learned from Developing and Delivering a Local Staff Ride
  • Remembering and learning from our District’s history helps bring the importance of what we do closer to heart.
  • Helped create District cohesion.
  • Helped in the understanding of high reliability organizations (HROs). 
    • Provided plenty of examples of HRO and where understanding the concepts of HRO may have helped.
  • Helped create even more District pride to see where we have come from.
  • Helped identify areas that need focused attention.
  • Provided an opportunity for the District’s cooperators to come together and learn and continue to develop positive working relationships.

From the Field for the Field logo

Thanks to the Carson City District, Nevada BLM for this From the Field for the Field submission. Contact Shane McDonald, FMO, regarding the process Carson City used to created their staff ride.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Good - The Bad - The Ugly

Influence: You can make a difference
(Photo credit: Asymmetrical Communication)
Read the first paragraph of the "Preface" of Leading in the Wildland Fire Service below and ask yourself, "Does the term leadership infer a positive or negative picture in your mind?"
"Leadership is the art of influencing people in order to achieve a result. The most essential element for success in the wildland fire service is good leadership." ~ Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 1
If you do an image internet search for "famous leaders," you get pictures of everyone from Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela to Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. Each of these individuals influenced large numbers of people; however, their end results were very different and changed the course of history.

We tend to associate the term "leadership" with a positive presence, but influence can produce very destructive and negative environments. Success in the wildland fire service, however, is defined by "good leadership."

Knowing what to look for in a "good leader" is critical. Mike DeGrosky, Guidance Group, Inc., share some insight in "Choose Your Role Models Carefully." Mike doesn't talk so much about the "toxic leader" as he does about the best leader for "contemporary and cultural relevance."

Article Excerpts
  • Supervisory or leadership techniques, styles or practices are secondary to character. Employing techniques or embracing a style without an appropriate character foundation can represent the dividing point between influence and manipulation, or leadership and coercion.
  • Contrary to popular belief, I find that most supervisors, managers and other potential leaders are trying hard, wanting to do a good job and are doing the best they can. More often than not, when a person engages in ineffective leadership behaviors, I find them simply emulating the behaviors and habits of the people who influenced them. We all tend to believe we have developed some unique leadership style, all our own. However, the evidence suggests that our character as a leader, as well as our leadership style, is much more like an accumulation of our influences. 
  • When I find a promising person struggling with “the leadership thing,” I often also find their role models coming up short, even though they are usually quite admirable people. Again, not because the role models were not excellent folk, but more likely because the role model came from an earlier point in the would-be leader’s career. What worked well for that person, at that time, in that place, won’t address the contemporary leader’s challenges. 
  • We can learn from the experience of great leaders only to the extent that we can draw contemporary lessons from historic experience.
  • When people emulate less-than-relevant role models, this proves quite frustrating and stressful for both the would-be leader and those they attempt to lead. It also proves unhealthy for the organization.
DeGrosky's advice is to make sure that these role models, at very least:
  • Brought about needed change that reflected people’s mutual interests
  • Communicated about issues that connected them to their followers
  • Went beyond the typical boss-subordinate connection to develop relationships
  • Inspired accomplishment and commitment
  • Modeled leadership behavior
  • Grew leaders in their organization
  • Focused on important issues
  • Connected their group to the outside world
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Each one of us has the power to influence. Determine what type of leader you want to be.

I challenge students of leadership and fire to read Chris Widener's The Art of Influence - Persuading Others Begins With You

Dr. Mike DeGrosky is Chief Executive Officer of the Guidance Group, a consulting organization specializing in the human and organizational aspects of the fire service, and an adjunct instructor in leadership studies for Fort Hays State University. Follow Mike on Twitter @guidegroup or via LinkedIn.

Blog compliments of Pam McDonald, Writer/Editor BLM Fire Training and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. All expressions are those of the authors.

Friday, January 24, 2014

"Breaking Down Barriers to Create Barriers"

Fuel reduction near Boise, ID
Reducing and removing hazardous fuels help to build a sustainable fire/fuel break around communities in Boise, Idaho.
Photo credit: Jerry McAdams
"We can plan and plan and plan; but without action, that is all it is, planning. The plan is only as good as the project that you can produce as an end state."
Leadership development does not have to be within our units. In today's From the Field for the Field Friday post, we share a success story from the Bureau of Land Management's Boise District as featured by Nick Yturri in "Breaking Down Barriers to Create Barriers" the January 2013 issue of Fire Chief. The Boise BLM worked with local agencies, politicians, and homeowners to show how unity of effort can move plans to action.

The Priority: Strengthen relationships with cooperators and find a common vision that all could work toward.

The Vision: Take homes and other values at risk out of the equation by creating sustainable fuel breaks around these areas.

What Was Done:

  • Land management cooperators signed a Memorandum of Understanding to proactively mitigate the risks through a cooperative planning process.
  • Increased public trust through education and technical guidance to implement projects designed to reduce wildfire risk.
  • Plans became action.
  • Buy-in was achieved from agencies and homeowners.
  • Sense of personal responsibility was instilled in homeowners.

IGNITE the Spark for Leadership - From the Field for the Field logo

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Duty, Respect & Integrity in the Classroom

National Wildland Fire Training logo
(Photo credit: National Wildland Fire Training)
With fire season and the holiday season behind us, wildland fire training centers are gearing up in every geographic area to begin training season. Thousands of our fire and aviation management employees will participate in some form of formal training session in the next several months. The quality of our training depends largely on the commitment to support training at all levels of the wildland fire community. Everyone has something to contribute to the success of training. Whether you are serving on a cadre or as a student, be present and professional every time you are in the classroom. The result will be a more interactive and comprehensive learning environment. Our culture thrives on storytelling and learning from each other. Full participation and dedication in the classroom is one of the best opportunities to facilitate this learning process. 

Fire managers and agency administrators play a key role in the success of our wildland fire training programs as well. With tight budgets, travel restrictions and tough decisions to be made for funding priorities, support for training is one of the first things that faces cuts. By eliminating training one year, we create a gap in experience and positions to support fire management activities on the local unit as well as geographically and nationally that can reverberate for years after. We may inadvertently hold employees back from advancing to the next logical position and may lose opportunities into the next year as well because not all courses are held every year. Restricting training due to budgets or other limitations should be done on a case-by-case basis rather than applying an across the board restriction in order to ensure that we are building our programs for the future.

About the Author:
Kelly Woods is the Great Basin Training Unit Leader and an advisor on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Leading Up and Paying Forward

2013 Eagle Rock School Citizen Science Class
2013 Eagle Rock School Citizen Science Class
Through their actions, ethics, and traditions the Alpine Hotshots exemplify the firefighter leadership core values of safety, duty, respect, integrity, and teamwork. ~ Alpine IHC Vision
For today's "From the Field for the Field Friday" entry, we share another leadership best practice from the Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC).

Eagle Rock School Fire Management Curriculum 

The Alpine IHC partnered with Eagle Rock School of Estes Park, CO and the Continental Divide Research Learning Center in 2011 to provide a mechanism in which to foster relationships with young adults. The program built upon the existing relationship between the school, the park, and the hotshot crew while providing a pilot course of formal educational curriculum for the 2013 winter trimester.

The curriculum focused on history, tactics and objectives, organizational control, and firefighting fundamentals while emphasizing forest health and ecology, leadership, physical fitness, IHC tradition, and NPS mission and values.

The initial idea of the pilot course was to put students through a 40-hour basic wildland fire curriculum, ultimately obtaining certification as wildland firefighters. However, it became apparent that these non-traditional students would gain more from a hands-on, field-based learning environment supplemented by lecture. 

Achievements included:
  • Completion of the Fire Fit Challenge.
  • Field exercise of firefighting fundamentals through application of handline construction.
  • Fuels treatment mitigation efforts demonstrated through live fire activity within the Bear Lake Road Corridor Burn Unit.
  • Site visit focusing on fire effects and forest health accomplishments as related to the Fern Lake Fire within Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Lessons learned in relation to fatality fires demonstrated through field application of fire entrapment and deployment scenarios.

Thanks to Paul Cerda, Alpine IHC, and Jim McMahill, Chief of Fire and Aviaton, NPS - Midwest Region and NWCG Leadership Committee Agency Representative, for this post.

We know you are doing great things with leadership and want to hear your stories "From the Field for the Field." For more information about sharing your story, contact Pam McDonald, NWCG Leadership Committee Logistics and Social Media Coordinator at or 208-387-5318.

From the Field for the Field

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Toxic Leadership Will Not be Tolerated

Toxic leadership
(Photo credit: Career Success for Newbies)
"When leadership fails and command climate breaks down, tragic things can happen." ~ Major Anthony Kern
A Definition

In his article "Toxic Leadership," Colonel George E. Reed shares his perspective on toxic leadership – a virus plaguing many cultures and organizations. Reed uses analyst Gillian Flynn's definition of a toxic leader: the "manager who bullies, threatens, yells. The manager whose mood swings determines the climate of the workplace on any given workday. Who forces employees to whisper in sympathy…he is the backbiting, belittling boss from hell.'"

According to Reed, three key elements lead to toxic leader syndrome:
  • An apparent lack of concern for the well being of subordinates.
  • A personality or interpersonal technique that negatively affects organizational climate.
  • A conviction by subordinates that the leader is motivated primarily by self-interest.
Toxicity is not a leader-only problem. The above elements can be associated with followers whose toxic behaviors negatively affect the health of their organizations. 

Why Are Toxic Leaders Tolerated?

Toxic leaders undoubtedly exist in every organization. So why are these type of leaders tolerated. Reed shares a few reasons:
  • Culture
    • Loyalty militates against airing dirty laundry.
    • Lack of reporting by subordinates.
    • Respect for rank (position).
    • Esteem for technical competence over leadership style.
  • Personnel policies
    • Waiting for the toxic leader to move on or be replaced.
    • Lack of a comprehensive evaluation system to get subordinate feedback.
Addressing Toxicity

What can be done to improve an environment plagued by toxic behavior? Reed suggests the following:
  • Purge individuals with leadership styles that promote toxicity. 
  • Promote a culture that fosters a positive command climate.
  • Identify and purge toxic leaders.
  • Be on the lookout for toxic behavior in subordinates.
  • Deal with the toxic leader. 
Leader's Intent

Review Colonel George Reed’s article "Toxic Leadership."

Purpose: Recognizing the organizational impact resulting from toxic leadership.

End State: Toxic leaders need not be tolerated and need to be dealt with.

A special thanks to guest blogger Brian Fennessy, Assistant Fire Chief, Emergency Operations - San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee agency representative. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

"No Easy Day" for Alpine IHC

Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew logo

Through their actions, ethics, and traditions the Alpine Hotshots exemplify the firefighter leadership core values of safety, duty, respect, integrity, and teamwork. ~ Alpine IHC Vision
Wildland firefighters are a humble group. We know you are doing great things to IGNITE the Spark for Leadership and look forward to sharing with you best practices in a new feature called "From the Field for the Field Fridays." With your help, we can show the cultural change and influence the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has made throughout the wildland fire service and beyond.

We appreciate Paul Cerda and the Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew for their willingness to provide snippets from their annual report for use on this blog. Our request is that other members of the wildland fire service submit their leadership development ideas and practices so others may benefit.

Leadership and Training

During the 2013 fire season, The Alpine IHC conducted a season long leadership training project that centered on the memoir of SEAL Team Six Member Mark Owen. The book and examples of life lessons during fundamental moments in time generated excellent discussion among the crew. Below is the outline of this leadership exercise.

No Easy Day

Task: All Alpine IHC personnel will read No Easy Day written by Mark Owen, in its entirety. Reading to be completed by May 21, 2013.
As you are reading, make notes on behaviors, actions and or emotions within the book that parallel the wildland fire “operators” environment. Once you have completed your reading assignment, revisit each chapter and make notes on your “lessons learned.”

Be prepared to discuss in depth your “lessons learned” in a group environment.
  • Subjects to focus on but are not limited to:
    • Duty, Respect, and Integrity
    • Team Work and Cohesion
    • Training and Lessons Learned
    • Fitness (Mental and Physical)
    • Balance of Life
    • Planning and Equipment
    • Attitude
    • Communication
    • Chain of Command
    • Situational Awareness
  • You will be called upon randomly after the date listed above to share to the group your individual lessons learned from your reading; also be prepared to discuss how you may have dealt with similar challenges.
  • Example 1: Balance of Life – The demands of your chosen profession may present some challenges this summer for you and your spouse. This is mentioned in the reading. How did that effect operations? How have others within your team dealt with this?
  • Example 2: Hurry Up and Wait – Why does this always happen? How do you personally deal with this as to not disrupt others with your frustrations?
  • Example 3: Management – Why can’t IMTs make a decision? How does that impact crews on the ground? How does one lead up to assist with the decision making process?
Purpose: The intent of the Alpine IHC Leadership Development Reading Program is to provide all staff regardless of career position with a greater depth and breadth of leadership development.

End State: Review the lessons learned from external organizations (military) and relate them to the wildland fire arena.

A special thank you to Jim McMahill, Chief of Fire and Aviation, NPS - Midwest Region, and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee agency representative, and the Alpine IHCs for this submission.

From the Field for the Field logo

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Grit and the Growth Mindset

26.2: It's more than a distance. It's desire, determination and dedication.
(Photo credit: MyHeartYourHands.Org)
 “Grit is like living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.” ~ Angela Lee Duckworth
In the TED Talks presentation “The Key to Success? Grit,” Angela Lee Duckworth shares her research on the concept of “grit” and how it affects performance in children. There are parallels to wildland firefighting.

Video Highlights:
  • Students can learn if they work hard and long enough.
  • Doing well in school and life depends on much more than our ability to learn quickly and easily.
  • Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.
  • Grit is usually unrelated or inversely related to measures of talent.
  • Growth mindset: The belief that the ability to learn is not fixed—that it can change with your effort. (Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford University)
  • Failure should not be a permanent condition.
The Growth Mindset
For more Dr. Dweck's research on fixed versus growth mindsets, check out her YouTube interview with ParentMap.

Angela's Challenge:

"We need to take our best ideas or strongest intuitions, and we need to test them. We need to measure whether we have been successful, and we have to be willing to fail—to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned." 

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Courage to Create a New Culture

Minidoka Ranger District Fire Management
"Leading change in any organization requires the courage to start, commitment to stay the course, and the character to set the bar and more importantly to admit when we are wrong. Firefighting is the province of danger and courage is a critical element of the firefighter. Courage is hard to describe but easily noticeable when displayed."
Between 2012 and 2013 the Minidoka Ranger District fire management organization saw significant turnover in several key leadership position including the fire management officer, assistant fire management officer, as well as several new faces on the three engine modules. With so many new individuals in the organization, the timing was right to create a new future for the organization. The goal of this endeavor was to create a culture based on shared values and principles with transparency in leadership to guide the organization in a positive direction in all actions. We took several steps to accomplish this lofty goal.

We started this endeavor by creating a vision for the organization; building on past successes while overcoming the lingering barriers, and anticipating ways to capitalize on the future. Our vision is to create a resilient organization that capitalizes on the strengths and differences of the individual, encouraging diversity in ideas and approaches to solving problems and achieving goals. From this vision, as an organization we fashioned a mission statement that defined who and what we are as an organization. After we defined our mission we identified and described values that would serve as the foundation for our organization to carry out that mission. We used our values and principles to develop standard operating procedures and guidelines for the organization and modules to create a common operating picture.

  • Safety: Safety is the outcome of our culture of shared beliefs, practices, and positive attitudes and is reflected in all that we do.
  • Respect: Know your subordinates and look out for them. Build the team.
  • Integrity:  Do the right thing even when no one is looking.
  • Accountability: Make decisions with the knowledge that your actions control not only your destiny, but the programs also.
  • Professionalism: Take pride in your appearance, work ethic, and attitude.
  • Innovation: Recognize new ideas, support those ideas, have the courage to act. 
  • People: Value the individual; treat each other with dignity, respect, and honor. 
  • Team: Come together, share together, and succeed together.

After we identified the values and principles that we hold ourselves to, we began the process of developing training curriculum that would build on these values. The training curriculum was designed with all levels of experience in mind with a focus on building leadership skills and overall organization capacity in fire management. The process of developing and delivering our own training content served two purposes:

  • First and foremost it provided our employees with an in-depth refresher and expanded their knowledge base and skill sets. 
  • Secondarily those individuals who helped build the curriculum were able to work on small unit leadership skills. 
The training was delivered over a two-week time frame with emphasis on extensive drills in the field creating a shared experience and establishing a common operating picture for the fire management organization.  For a large part of the leadership-focused training, we used Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment and Band of Brothers as an impetus for discussing leadership principles and values. Every employee received a copy of The Leadership Moment. We utilized various sections of the book to facilitate discussions on designated training days. Throughout the summer, sand table exercises and tactical decision games where used in the morning briefing in conjunction with 6 Minutes for Safety's “This Day in History” and “Lead Time” topics.

Leading change in any organization requires the courage to start, commitment to stay the course, and the character to set the bar and more importantly to admit when we are wrong. Firefighting is the province of danger and courage is a critical element of the firefighter. Courage is hard to describe but easily noticeable when displayed.  

Courage comes in two kinds. First is physical courage that is courage in the face of danger. Next is moral courage the courage above the values of duty, respect and integrity. It is the responsibility to make those values real for others to see creating the character of the leader.  In the publication Leading in the Wildland Fire Service "moral courage" is describe as “adhering to high ethical standards choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong. To avoid ethical dilemmas by directing team members to operate in way that are consistent with our professional values.”

Another part of moving the organization into the future was creating a new image.  To brand the organization a new logo was created that would represent and unify individuals as part of the Minidoka Ranger District Fire Management organization.  This logo is worn with pride by all members of the group.

The above information was adapted from the Minidoka Ranger District's application for the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - From the Field for the Field contest. A special thanks to Heath Cota, Fire Management Officer, for this write-up.