Friday, February 28, 2014

Carson City BLM Fire Staff Takes to the Ropes

Carson City BLM Fire Staff

During the spring of 2013, the Carson City BLM fire staff got together for a day on the Project Discovery's Ropes Challenge Course before the fire season got under way. The day started with introductions and a safety briefing focused on working together and spotting each other through the course. We performed a couple of activities focused on identifying how we worked together as a group before we moved to the low course.

Carson City BLM Fire Staff

The low course consisted of obstacles no more than 3-4 feet off the ground and each of the obstacles required all of us to support each other in order to successfully navigate the challenge. The low course was particularly insightful because no individual effort could achieve success. As a matter of fact we, quickly discovered that if any one person tried to do it on their own the whole group failed. We had to work hand-in-hand to overcome the obstacles. After we had completed each component of the course, we would sit down as a group and go over what we had learned, building a "tool box" to take forward into the more complex parts of the course.

Carson City BLM Fire Staff

After lunch, we moved onto the high course which consisted of belaying our teammates as they climbed up onto complex balancing and even jumping maneuvers far above the ground. This part of the course was more focused on the group supporting individuals to push the boundaries of their comfort zones and on working as smaller teams to navigate more difficult problems.

High ropes course

This was an excellent learning opportunity for the Carson City fire staff that gave us insight into how we worked together, the importance of the team, and how we could support our peers as they overcame challenges. The tool box that we developed as the day progressed highlighted our strengths and I believe it gave us some valuable lessons that we took into the workplace and into the 2013 fire season.

High ropes course

Thanks to the Carson City District BLM Fire Staff for this From the Field for the Field submission. This blog entry is not an endorsement of the vendor. For more information on this leadership event, contact Shane McDonald, Carson City FMO. All photos are courtesy of Carson City BLM Fire.

From the Field for the Field logo

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"You Are the Example"

Leather boots
by Travis Dotson

When I was a first year Type 2 crewmember, I looked up to anyone who had already been on a fire. They showed me what to pack and which MREs to avoid. When I first got on the Shot crew, I watched the vets demonstrate how to “act like a hotshot.” When I rookied as a smokejumper, I emulated those with more “salt.”

Most of those folks had no idea how closely I was paying attention to them.

Who’s watching you? Somebody is. Whether you know it or not, someone is learning from how you behave. What do you want them to learn?

Have you ever heard someone say: “Man, I remember when I was a sawyer. Best job I ever had. Wish I was still doing that!” And you think: “Really? OK, here you go. You lug this stupid thing up the hill!”

It’s a pretty classic exchange. Lots of us have been on either side of that conversation. People who remember their time on the saw as their best job ever are obviously focusing on all the cool parts of the “good old days.” We all do that.

Think about how you feel three-quarters of the way through the season. At that moment, what are your feelings about coming back next year?

Fast forward to when it’s time to get your boots out of storage after skiing, hunting, or traveling all winter.

As we grease our boots we remember all the great laughs, awesome fires, and fat checks—not the personality conflicts, endless mop up, and base 80 pay periods.

People looking back on their saw time usually reminisce about “having no responsibility.” I know what we mean when we say that, but it’s just not accurate.

Recognizing Your Responsibility

We all have responsibility; but not all of us recognize it in the moment. I certainly didn’t for a long time.

I remember when I realized it, though. I was a sawyer on the crew when it finally dawned on me: “Those new crewmembers are watching me. I’m giving them permission to do everything I’m doing.” (And if you knew some of the things I was doing…well, that’s a different story!)

That realization was a real game changer for me. I had to pause and think about what it meant. To be honest, I didn’t like it, it worried me. It certainly didn’t change my behavior overnight—or much at all, for the most part. But I finally understood what “set the example” actually means.

Just know you are being studied. Lead from where you are. Help a rookie out, do quality work every time, and be smart after hours.

Eventually you’re going to have to deal with the behavior you’ve modeled.

Dig on tool swingers.

Travis Dotson is a Fire Management Specialist with the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

The article is reprinted from the spring 2013 edition of “Two More Chains.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Reframing HRO: A Focus on Behavior

BLM HRO Training
(Photo credit: BLM/John Owens)
In March 2013, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Fire and Aviation Directorate’s Division of Fire Operations hosted a three-day training session on high reliability organizing (HRO). National, state, and unit level fire managers from throughout the BLM met in Boise, Idaho to build upon the success of the 2010 effort: High Reliability Organizing – What It is, Why It Works, How to Lead It.

Why HRO Training?

BLM Fire and Aviation has committed to becoming a highly reliable organization and incorporated the goal into the BLM Fire and Aviation Strategy Plan.

Goal 5 – A High Reliability Fire and Aviation Organization

  1. Have a fire culture and processes that reduce system errors.
  2. When failures occur responses are effective and resilient.
  3. Have fire and aviation leaders that understand and promote HRO principles.
  4. Have a reward system in place that supports HRO principles.
  5. Have all employees understand that safety is the priority BLM fire management objective.

Mike DeGrosky
(Mike DeGrosky; photo credit: BLM/John Owens)

The Training Session

The training was conducted in workshop format with special presentations by, and assistance of, high reliability organizing and risk management experts supplemented with small group discussion and activities. The training focused on building highly reliable BLM wildland fire organizations at the national, state, and district levels by preparing the participants to extend behaviors and practices associated with high reliability throughout their organizations.

Dr. Jody Jahn
(Dr. Jody Jahn; photo credit: BLM/John Owens)
Topics included:
  • Five Behavioral Lessons Learned (Mike DeGrosky)
  • A Focus on Behavior (Dr. Jody Jahn)
  • How HRO Enhances the Risk Management Process (Michelle Ryerson)
  • Leadership and HRO – Becoming the Culture We Want (Mike DeGrosky)
  • Enhancing High Reliability Through Key Operational Questions (Mike DeGrosky)
  • Enhancing High Reliability During Briefings and After Action Reviews (Mike DeGrosky)
  • P.L.O.W.S. – An Alternate Approach to the Standard AAR (Craig Cunningham)
Craig Cunningham and Tim Murphy
(Craig Cunningham receiving the 2012 National Safety Award)
To learn more about the training session and topics covered, refer to Reframing HRO: A Focus on Behavior.

A special thanks to John Glenn, Division Chief BLM Fire Operations, for this submission.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

From Earth to Outer Space - LinC Gets Bigger!

Wall Street and Star Trek movie posters
(Photo credits: Young Adult Finances and IMP Awards)
Our partners at Drexel's LeBow College of Business have submitted two new lesson plans for the Leadership in Cinema program: Wall Street (1987) and Star Trek (2009).  Check them out today in the Leadership in Cinema LeBow College of Business library!

Drexel University's LeBow College of Business

Friday, February 14, 2014

Palomar IHC Embraces "Wooden on Leadership"

Coach John Wooden
(Photo credit: UCLA)
The Palomar Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) chose legendary coach John Wooden's book Wooden on Leadership as the basis for their 2013 leadership training.

Winter/Beginning of Fire Season (2012/2013)

Prior to leaving for season in 2012, returning crew members were encouraged to read Wooden On Leadership by Coach John Wooden, one of the most revered basketball coaches of all time. Crew members were asked to reflect on how the message could better themselves, their team, and their relationships in life. Crew members were told that the book would become the basis of the 2013 leadership training efforts for Palomar Hotshots.

Refresher Training and Beyond (May 2013)

Wooden on Leadership was woven into refresher training.  The crew spent time digging deeper into Wooden material.

On the Road with Wooden on Leadership  (June 2013)

Even though Palomar IHC was busy with fires, they brought Wooden along on their journey. The crew dove into each chapter of Wooden On Leadership. They found it as a great framework to leadership and a successful organization. Two members of the crew were selected to overview and present each chapter.


Palomar Interagency Hotshot Crew logo

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What We Already Know

Rowdy Muir
(Rowdy Muir, Fire and Aviation Safety Team during the Beaver Creek fire near Sun Valley, Idaho, 2013. Photo credit: Bureau of Indian Affairs)

What We Already Know 
by Rowdy Muir, Agency Administrator Representative, National Interagency Hotshot Committee

[Editor’s note: This article was written several months before the investigation report was completed and released. Reprinted from Smoke Signals, February 2014]

On the evening of June 30, 2013, the news confirming that nineteen hotshots had died on the Yarnell Hill fire shocked not only the fire community but the whole nation. I know there were others like myself who were wondering how something so tragic could happen to nineteen hotshots. 

In 1994, after the South Canyon fire fatalities, people were asking the same question. Many were convinced that the investigation report would tell a story of some unrealistic, freakish event that claimed the lives of fourteen wildland firefighters. Yet nothing came out in the report that was unusual, phenomenal or bizarre. It wasn’t an act of God. Instead, the reality is that as a culture we read about things we were familiar with—things we should have already known.

I anticipate the same realization when we find out what happened to the Granite Mountain 19 on the Yarnell Hill fire once the investigative report is published. My bet is the report won’t tell us anything new has happened. We will once again find out something we already know.

Make no mistake, the investigation report is valid and essential to a learning culture—perhaps even more so if it is predictable. The content will likely focus on LCES, human factors, situational awareness, values, crew cohesion, bowls, chutes, chimneys, down drafts, column collapse, point protection, tactics, strategies, independent action, WUI, structure protection and downhill egress. All topics we’ve heard before and have had many discussions about. Yet for a small amount of time, topics that were not remembered.

Gordon Graham says this “there are no new ways to get into trouble.” This rings true for the wildland fire culture. I don’t think there will be anything that will happen which is so new or different from what has happened in the past. Somewhere down the line, we’ll see that we’ve made the same mistakes as before.

I appreciate the honest openness of Darrell Willis (Cofounder Granite Mountain Hotshots) in his interview with the news media. What he shares gives me a lot of personal mental anguish. No one has all the answers to all the questions. But the following are some things we already know:


In the news conference with crew cofounder Darrell Willis he mentions that “one of the most emphasized things we do is to establish LCES.” Yet, in the same sentence he mentions that “there are points during the day that we didn’t have [LCES] in place.”

How many times have we heard that said? If we don’t have LCES in place then there is something wrong. Even if it’s only for a moment—one might bring to the attention of others the need to establish LCES. LCES needs to be continually monitored throughout the shift. If they are not in place, then we don’t engage until they are in place.

Tactics and Strategy

In the same interview, Darrell talks about the crew abandoning a tactic of anchor and flank to address some independent action (to do point protection on the structures). Most agree that independent action is critical to the success of catching many wildfires. What we need to learn from this is that when we change tactics and strategies that are working, we need to evaluate the risk vs. gain. We need to think things out before we engage in another tactic. Someone might ask, “Why are we leaving something that’s working to take the risk of something that may not work?”

Downhill through Bowls, Chutes, and Chimneys

Eric Hipke, the only survivor from the uphill run that proved fatal for others at South Canyon, may tell you that the there is only a 1 in 14 chance of out-running a fire burning up hill. Anytime we commit to any type of downhill egress, the option of successfully going back up the hill in an emergency is “slim to none.”

This is partly because it is so difficult to measure how long it takes to get back up, and then over or through these geographical barriers. We should reevaluate any type of downhill operation, knowing that the only way to safety is back up the hill.

The Value of Situational Awareness

In an interview with Juliann Ashcraft, she mentions the text she received from Andrew about how “things are getting wild,” and how “Yarnell was looking to burn.” She acknowledges that those words weren’t common language for Andrew. It was a different scenario which she hadn’t heard from him before. Her situational awareness told her that something was different.

Why is it that Andrew didn’t recognize the same awareness? Many of us recognize changes in our surroundings, and have “situational awareness.” However, even though we are aware of our surroundings, we sometimes fail to take intelligent action based on what we observe. We get caught up in the moment and sometimes our field of focus narrows, and we don’t rely on someone else to help us with our blind spots.

We need to recognize that when the slightest thing changes we need to adjust. When I first learned to ride bulls, I was taught that when a bull makes a move you need to make a counter move equal to the bull’s move. If you made a move that was too extreme or not equal to the bull’s move, it was much harder to react to the next move the bull made. In most cases, if you can’t make counter moves equal to the bull, the consequences are you got thrown off. It takes many years of practice to be able to compensate for either over-aggression or the lack of equal aggression.

I find this to be true with situational awareness. We need to be able to recognize the change and make decisions to equalize the change. Sometimes we either overreact to the change or ignore it; the consequences are the same. We become out of balance.

Weather and the Collapse of Columns

In discussions with personnel who were on the Dude Fire, I found out that no one really recognized the collapsing column that brought about what they thought was a weather event with rain, hail and strong down drafts.

I am currently the District Ranger on a district that had three fatalities related to a similar weather event. I was on an incident in Utah a few years ago in which a homeowner had me come look at his residence which had burned down. He wanted to know why.

He couldn’t understand why the front of the yard where he had parked a truck and tractor was still green and the vehicles untouched. The front of the residence would have been the head of the fire being pushed down valley from down drafts. One would have thought all his property would have been lost. In reality the weather event caused spotting way ahead and down valley of the main fire and when finished, the fire consumed the residence from the back side because the fire took a normal route of burning uphill.

The Yarnell Hill fire had experienced some of the same types of weather events throughout the day. Those events were broadcast by radio to those on the fireline.

Whether what happened was caused by a column collapsing, a frontal passage, or the buildup of clouds which resulted in down drafts, fires that experience these types of weather occurrences should make us mindful that there is really no main or head of the fire. An established fire can, and will come from all directions once down drafts occur.

WUI and the Values at Risk

The days of “anchor, flank and pinch” were the days of firefighters being out in the woods chasing fire that didn’t have much in the way of “values at risk.” The only “values” we were asked to watch out for were ourselves. It’s rare anymore to have a fire that doesn’t include many different “values at risk” that need protecting. The perception of these “values” takes away from the real mission, and that is again, to protect ourselves as we are the real and primary “value at risk.”

Our training curriculum is fairly narrow and focuses on the mission of wildland fire. Keep this in mind: you are truly the only “value at risk.” We are truly the only value that needs to be protected. And yes, I would say the protection of others falls into the category of “we.”

No one would ever downplay the value of other lives at risk. Somewhere in our culture, our perception changed and we took upon ourselves the responsibility of structure protection. This has never been our mission or our responsibility.

I believe when we get into a WUI situation, we really need to evaluate our thought process. This situation gets our adrenaline pumping, and blurs our ability to make sound and rational decisions. Especially if we are familiar with the community or know who lives in the houses. It’s much harder for us to disengage when we have an emotional attachment to the structures in addition to the people who inhabit them.

I know all too well the emotional aspect. When I was in Florida in 1998, working in and around various communities, I grew to know and like the people in those communities. As time moved on, the aspiration of trying to save every home in every community became a personal challenge and obligation. On one occasion, we were being run over by fire and doing the best we could to save structures. During the heat of the battle, I recognized my shortcoming and pulled everyone out of the situation. The need to reassess the situation is obvious now—yet for that small momen,t I was caught up in an unrealistic task. Pulling back was the best move I ever made. The perception is real. Don’t think for a moment you can’t get caught up in it.

Values and Crew Cohesion

All decisions are based on values. I believe we should share our personal values with our co-workers and team members. The more we share our values, the more cohesive we become. If we know and understand the values of our team members, we can appreciate and accept their decisions more easily. I find this to be critical in our quest to become better team players.

Teams, as a group, also have shared values. We make decisions based on what our team’s values are. If we accept the team values, then the team reaps the rewards or pays the consequences as a team. If we only navigate by our own values, then the rewards or consequences are only ours.

There are a lot of rewards from being on a team that succeeds or excels. We see this in the film story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team winning gold or Shackleton’s crew navigating their way home through the Antarctic. We see it in our modules, crews, sections, and staffs.

Each individual had to give up some personal values for the team to be successful; some personal and team values don’t mix. The reality is when decisions are made as a team—when there is a consensus that “this is what we are going to do, or not do"—a team owns the decision; and the team may lose. Our value system can compromise our situational awareness.

There are no new ways to get into trouble. Our culture has been here before and I’m quite certain we will be here again—an acknowledgment that may or may not help us heal depending on how we choose to process the information—the “what we know.”

If we take what we already know and put it to good use, it will help us come to the full understanding of the real, tangible, human values at risk.

A special thanks to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Rowdy Muir for permission to repost. Rowdy Muir is also an L-380 instructor.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Ready, Set, Go! Program 2014 Awards Announcement

Ready, Set, Go logo
(Photo credit: RSG website)
The International Association of Fire Chiefs’ (IAFC) Ready, Set, Go! Program announces the inaugural Ready, Set, Go! Program Awards. The awards have been designed to recognize exceptional efforts and achievements of the fire departments and individual fire service members associated with implementing and maintaining a successful Ready, Set, Go! Program in their community. These awards recognize outstanding efforts by volunteer and paid/combination departments and state forestry agencies in using the RSG! pre-fire mitigation and preparedness outreach program to improve the dialogue on widlland fire preparedness between fire departments and the residents they serve.

The RSG Fire Department Award for Excellence: 

  • Paid Department - Colorado Springs Fire Department – Wildfire Mitigation Administrator Christina Randall Volunteer Department - Barnegat 
  • Volunteer Fire Company - NJ Forest Fire Warden & Trustee John Cowie 

The RSG Innovation Award: 

  • Texas A&M Forest Service Forest Resource Protection – Wildland Urban Interface Staff Forester III Nick Harrison 

The RSG Leadership Award: 

  • Ventura County Fire Department - Public Information Officer Bill Nash
The above information was taken from the RSG Award announcement. For more information visit the RSG website.

(A special thanks to Mark Stanford, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee for this blog post.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

2014 National Reading Challenge - The Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor book cover
(Photo credit:
As part of the 2014 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign - The Resilient Team, the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFDLP) has issued a national reading challenge for Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robertson's, "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10." "Lone Survivor" highlights the courage of SEAL Team 10 as they fight a desperate and doomed battle in the mountains of Afghanistan. There are many lessons to be learned from the leadership and teamwork displayed by such a resilient and elite group of fighters.

The intent is to read and discuss the book throughout the spring and summer. As a capstone to the discussion, readers will be encouraged to venture into the Leadership in Cinema realm and watch and discuss Peter Berg's, "Lone Survivor," currently in theaters and estimated to be released on DVD/Blu-ray in May 2014.

"Lone Survivor - The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10” Reading Schedule

Sign up now and become a part of the neighborhood to join the discussions! Discussions will be hosted in the Fireline Leadership Reading Room.
  • March discussion - Chapters 1-3 (pages 1-123 paperback)
  • April discussion - Chapters 4-6 (pages 123-223 paperback)
  • May discussion - Chapters 7-9 (pages 223-330 paperback)
  • June discussion - Chapters 10-12 (pages 330-444 paperback)
  • July discussion - Comparing the movie "Lone Survivor" to the book "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10." 
If you have questions regarding the Professional Reading Program, send an e-mail to

Friday, February 7, 2014

Building Leaders - From the Field for the Field

Leadership in the Making
(Photo credit:
by Ben Eby

One thing I do to promote leadership and initiative in my employees starts with their performance appraisals. I add several performance measures that require them to be in a leadership role of one form or another. I will put them either in the performance measures to meet “Fully Successful” or the performance measures to exceed “Fully Successful” or both. I develop the performance measures based on the individual’s position description (PD) as well as their leadership skill/comfort level. The measures don’t have to be overly complex or high levels of leadership. Start off small and as they build their comfort level, and then ramp it up season after season. Since the performance appraisals are living documents, you can always add measures or accomplishments during a mid-year review. This is helpful if you set the bar a little low or a little too high for a new, unknown employee. I have provided some examples to get you started.

Examples of measures I use for a GS-6 Engine Operator:
  • Prepare and lead at least four crew training sessions, scenarios, and/or drills. Training must be fire related and not daily project training.
  • Lead at least five physical training sessions
  • Lead or assist with at least one zone training day.
  • Serve as project leader for at least one multi-day project, from beginning to completion (or end of your season). 
  • Perform as Incident Commander (IC) on at least one fire where unified command is utilized.
  • Develop and lead at least one crew cohesion activity for the district.
Examples of measure for temporary employees (Typically GS-03 and GS-04 fire PDs)
  • Provide input and proposed solutions to assist with the completion of a work assignment and/or make processes more efficient.
  • Lead crew training and/or drills with which you have knowledge or experience two or more times.
  • Lead at least two crew After Action Reviews on a wildfire or prescribed burn or other incident.
  • Lead at least one training session in use of engine and/or engine tactics.
  • Prepare and conduct at least five morning briefings. 
  • Coordinate one training day with an engine or another resource on the fire zone or the helicopter crew.
So, the options are pretty wide open as to what you can use to “coax” your folks into a leadership role. The nice thing with using the performance appraisal, especially for returning temporary and permanent employees, is it gives you are record of their leadership accomplishments as well as gives you a way to reward them when they go above and beyond.

A special thank you to Ben Eby, Engine Captain - Huron Manistee NF/USFS and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee advisor, for this submission. The expressions are those of the author.

Every Friday, we showcase a leadership development activity "from the field for the field." What are you doing to develop your leaders that other leaders can adapt for their programs. Send your ideas to

From the Field for the Field logo

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Forest Service Celebrates Working Side-by-Side with Indian Tribes

Leech Lake Wildland Fire Crew
(Leech Lake Wildland Fire Crew members George Jacobs, Tim Bebeau, Charlie Blackwell and Daniel Wind. (Courtesy Leech Lake Wildland Fire Crew)
Establishing trust and building relationships are key factors in working with Indian Tribes across the country. One of the most historic partnerships between the U.S. Forest Service and an Indian Tribe has been forged between the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Chippewa National Forest.

“This [partnership] essentially took more than 100 years to craft,” said Fred Clark, director of Office Tribal Relations for the Forest Service. “It allows the Forest Service and the Tribe to move toward a positive future, while not forgetting the history that brought us all this far.”

The Chippewa National Forest and the Tribe have worked together on road maintenance, non-native species control, fuels treatments, tree planting and prescribed fire support since 2010.

By blending western science with the traditional knowledge of American Indians and Alaska Natives, the Forest Service is building relationships and creating a sustainable environment for tribal members and non-Native Americans for present and future generations.

The partnership pledges to work together in many areas, including hiring tribal members, contracting with the Tribe, technology transfer, training and more.

In 1908, the Federation of Women’s Clubs lobbied to create the Minnesota National Forest on the Leech Lake Reservation, now known as the Chippewa National Forest. Although many national forests were carved out of ancestral Indian lands and several still overlap and/or interlace with tribal lands, the Chippewa National Forest is the only national forest which encompasses nearly an entire Indian Reservation within its boundaries.

The federal government recognizes 566 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. The Forest Service works with Tribes in areas such as creating a tribal road map on climate change; creating a guide for Tribes who work on partnership projects; understanding how sacred sites overlap with historic preservation laws; and recruiting into the Forest Service indigenous people who are committed to giving back to their tribal communities.

“Many Tribes have no land, no reservation, no treaty rights and yet they still have vibrant cultures,” said Clark. “Our agency has a trust responsibility to them as well as to those with land and treaties.”

“We owe it to ourselves and to this great land of ours to continue building relationships with Tribes, as we carry out our Forest Service motto of ‘Caring for the Land and Serving People.’”

Reprinted with permission from the U.S. Forest Service. This article ran on the USDA blog on January 14, 2014.