Friday, March 28, 2014

From the Field for the Field - Clay Springs Burnover

“These men who volunteer their time to protect their homes and community paid a precious price for those whom they serve. They have now offered to you an opportunity to learn from their experience. It is their hope you will learn from their story and another tragedy that could be yours will be avoided.” ~ Rowdy Muir, District Ranger, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Ashley National Forest, Qualified Type 1 IC


Time and time again we hear the same story:

  • Firefighters had many years of experience.
  • Fire initially did not seem out of the ordinary.
  • Area was in an extended period of drought.
  • Red flag conditions existed.
  • Watchout Situations were present.
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge
Watch the video with your team and discuss the lessons you learned and what you will do differently in the future to avoid a similar situation. 

Click here for more on the Clay Springs burnover

A huge shoutout to Utah Department of Natural Resources - Forestry, Fire and State Lands for sharing this video with the wildland fire community.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Meaning Behind the Mountain

I have been involved with the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program; however, I was not a part of the team that developed the logo. I will do a little research to find the history behind the logo; in the mean time, I ask our readers, "What is the meaning behind the mountain?"

A following story shared in a post by Chery Gegelman on her Simply Understanding blog was my inspiration for today's blog; the story embodies some of my thoughts behind our logo.

“We are on a journey together.  We are going to a majestic castle.  It is so far away that I can’t describe it in detail, but on a clear day, the towers and flags that are billowing in the distance are evidence that it exists.  As we journey toward the castle together, we are going to experience new lands, slay dragons, and cross rivers.  Sometimes we will be afraid.  Sometimes we will disagree.  Sometimes we will have more fun than we can imagine.  The journey is whatever we make of it, it is ours to own, ours to experience, ours to celebrate.”  Then we reviewed the organization’s vision and core values, the department’s objectives and the desire to create a customer focused, fun environment that would embrace and unleash their individual strengths while building a strong team. The castle became the symbol for our goals. The foundation of the castle became the symbol of our core values. The journey served as a dual reminder that:
  • We were on an adventure together and that we needed to be curious, joyful and courageous.
  • No matter how prepared we were there would be times of challenge, defeat and loss, as well as times of discovery, growth, uncommon camaraderie and victory.
[Thanks for the inspiration, Chery!]

Friday, March 21, 2014

From the Field for the Field - A Storm is Building

Boulder County Sheriff's Office fire management staff at South Canyon
(Photo credit: Jay Stalnacker)
by Jay Stalnacker

As we rolled into Glenwood Springs I looked across South Canyon and upwards towards Storm King Mountain. I had hiked the trail and visited the crosses numerous times in my career, but for my crew this was the first time here. Inside my head I was questioning the success of our trip as our plans to travel south to Arizona fell through, I felt like I had maybe let my team down. The ominous view and descending mountain snow storm did not help my feelings of pending failure.

Our original plan was to visit the Yarnell Hill Fire fatality site in Arizona but due to distance and time we were eventually dissuaded. After pleading for a “stay of execution” on the idea for a crew off site critical 40 training, Tommy granted my pardon and while meeting me for coffee he shared that he still supported the idea and would reconsider a more local option. I immediately thought of the South Canyon and Battlement Creek Fires, both located just outside of Glenwood Springs, CO.

Although both incidents are separated by over 30 years the common themes and lesson learned resonate as you look upwards at the dense steep hillsides of gamble oak, piƱon juniper and rock. The mountain snow clear runoff flows effortlessly through the Colorado River below both sites. For most, the idea of a deadly fire(s) in this serene environment is all but impossible to accept and understand.

Our first stop was the park memorial for the fallen firefighters. We jumped out of the trucks, walked over to the statue and plaques, almost immediately the sounds of the outside world faded and soon each of us were reading, thinking and pointing upwards towards the mountain . I knew from this point forward our trip would be more than I could have ever planned. Arriving late at our remote campsite, we immediately went into operations mode, setting up camp, unpacking and beginning to explore. I soon “yellowed up” , threw my pack on and headed west towards the highest ridge in sight. My voice crackled over the radio and quickly I could see from a distance through my binoculars the crew gathering their packs, pointing west and beginning the long hike towards me. By sunset, they had navigated to just below my ridge-line perch. We rallied at the bottom and hiked back to camp by an incredible full moon. This first day set the stage for three more intensely intimate long days of training, bonding, sharing and learning. Day by day, we slowly moved from a bunch of guys and gals to a cohesive and resilient team.

Our trip culminated with our planned return visit and hike up to the fatality site in South Canyon just below Storm King Mountain. As we hiked upwards occasionally stopping to talk and read about the chain of events that occurred both leading up to and the day of the tragic event it was obvious our team was one. The hike pulled each of us differently, some struggled physically after the three previous days of training, limited sleep, blisters and camp food, we were all very drained. For others, normally talkative and engaging, they just hiked upwards in silence. For me, I had both tear in my eye and a smile on my face. I felt 10-years younger, remembering a time when my back and knees didn’t hurt so damn bad, running up this trail hoping to find an answer to a question I had not yet the knowledge to ask. Now, here I was many years later, full of questions and wondering if I could provide enough answers to the folks I would lead to the top. I was humbled to be leading us out, the crew asked for me to walk out front. Not a typical position in the line for leaders in my role, usually we are way out front scouting or holding in back like a mother duck, watching as her ducklings waddle safely across the road. Being at the front felt good, I felt alive and free, I felt like I was in the team not just around them.

Arriving at the “overlook” we engaged in some facilitated conversation, reading and sharing. Pointing across the slope we visualized in wonder and horror the frantic movement of our brothers and sisters that tragic day. Soon the sun was setting and it was time to head back. Arriving back at the trail head we each had a moment to pray, give thanks, ask for forgiveness, reflect on the past three days and why we were here today.

Resilience is one thought that continually rushed through my thoughts. Imagining the resilience the families of these and the many other lost firefighters must have developed to survive. Overcoming change, adversity, set backs and challenges but always moving forward, moving north. Our team is now ready to move in this direction, taking this unique three days of isolation, selfishness and commitment to re-establish our foundation.

This next week consider taking time not only with your team but also with your family. Maybe it’s not possible to take three days to go away on a remote trip but at least take three minutes to reflect, rebuild, and begin to set the stage for resilience within your group.

Reprinted with permission by Jay Stalnacker, FMO Boulder County Sheriff's Office, from his blog "The North Star Foundation." All expressions are those of the author.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Band of Brothers - Remembering Their Leadership Legacy

Airborne logo
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently as I watched the national evening news, the anchor announced that William “Wild Bill” Guarnere had passed away one month shy of his 91st birthday. Just a few months back, I remembered seeing the same announcement on the evening news when Edward “Babe” Heffron passed away at the age of 90. Both were lifelong friends who made their homes in Philadelphia. 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hearing this news caused me to reflect on what I knew of the men and their story of selflessness and courage. Both men were World War II veterans who gained fame when historian Stephen Ambrose wrote Band of Brothers about their shared war experience as well as that of the others from their famed unit. 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
HBO turned the book into a highly popular Band of Brothers miniseries in 2001 and is now featured in our Leadership in Cinema library for those who would like to use it. The HBO mini-series tells the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army. Both Mr. Guarnere and Mr. Heffron served in the famed Easy Company during World War II, where they participated in some of the biggest battles in the European theater. They parachuted into Normandy the night before D-Day, fought in Operation Market Garden and helped hold the critical Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Guarnere’s war ended in Bastogne when he lost a leg while trying to help another wounded soldier, and he returned home having been awarded the Silver Star—the nation’s third-highest award for valor—two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat.

One of Easy Company's most charismatic officers was Major Richard “Dick” Winters, who passed away in 2011, and was a compassionate leader who entered Army service as a private and returned home after World War II as a major. The unit experienced heavy turnover because of battlefield casualties. One Easy Company soldier later wrote that among his colleagues, the Purple Heart "was not a decoration but a badge of office."

My leadership studies often lead me to other books that are related to leadership such as Band of Brothers. That is where I came across Major Winter’s book, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Richard “Dick” Winters. Within his book Winters laid out his "10 Leadership Principles for Success" which I have share with you here:
  1. Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.
  2. Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.
  3. Stay in top physical shape. Physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.
  4. Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.
  5. Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.
  6. Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.
  7. Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.
  8. Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.
  9. True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect—not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.
  10. Hang Tough!—Never, ever, give up.
The Leadership in Cinema Library is intended to provide a selection of films that will support continuing education efforts within the wildland fire service. Films not only entertain but also provide a medium to teach leadership at all levels in the leadership development process—self or team development. Teaching ideas are presented that work with “students of leadership in any setting.” Facilitators can adapt lesson plans to correlate with the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles. The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has partnered with Drexel University's LeBow College of Business, and their students are continually adding to the Leadership in Cinema library.

Leadership in Cinema is not intended to be a stand-alone leadership program; however, used in conjunction with other leadership tools, Leadership in Cinema can be a powerful self or team development tool. Successful use of the tool requires time and dedication of the facilitator. Discussion of leadership lessons within the film is vital to the program. I had just recently used Band of Brothers as a leadership development tool with my own team so Easy Company’s story was still fresh in my memory. Fire staff from the Black Hills National Forest have developed 10 lesson plans that can be used as you view the miniseries.

About the Author:
Jim McMahill is a National Park Service Regional Fire & Aviation Fire Management Officer and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions above are those of the author.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Defines Your Team?

Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program banner

Ethos n. The distinguishing charter, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group or institution. (Merriam-Webster)

Ethos defines how crew members embody the values of the mission-driven culture within the leadership environment. This ethos represents a professional code of conduct clarifying expectations for member behavior and forming the foundation for relationships. A team committed to exemplify these values stand the best chance of building synergy and successfully achieving their mission. Examples include:
  • Service for the common good
  • High trust state
  • Pursuit of truth
  • Form function defined by the end state
  • Individual initiative
  • Continuous improvement
What Defines Us as a Wildland Fire Service

The following values and principles define the wildland fire service:

  • Be proficient in your job, both technically and as a leader. 
  • Make sound and timely decisions. 
  • Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, accomplished. 
  • Develop your subordinates for the future. 
  • Know your subordinates and look out for their well-being. 
  • Keep your subordinates informed. 
  • Build the team. 
  • Employ your subordinates in accordance with their capabilities. 
  • Know yourself and seek improvement. 
  • Seek responsibility and accept responsibility for your actions. 
  • Set the example.
For the complete list and downloads visit our website.

An Example Within Our Organization

The following example was taken from the 2011 Standards for Interagency Hotshot Crew Operations:

Professional Ethics
IHCs acknowledge their responsibility to sponsor agencies and to the wildland fire community as a whole. IHCs subscribe to a Code of Ethics to guide them in their practice as wildland fire professionals. IHCs will:
  • Perform only services they are qualified, trained, and equipped in which can be accomplished safely. Continue to educate themselves in order to improve their qualifications and performance. Give earnest effort and provide their best professional advice in the performance of their duties.
  • Build their professional reputations based on the leadership values of duty, respect, integrity. Ensure the quality and cost effectiveness of our programs. Be accountable to host unit supervisors, incident management teams, other IHCs and to any hosting unit as a safe, productive and professional resource.
  • Conduct themselves and their programs in accordance with the Standards for Interagency Hotshot Crew Operations, relevant Agency, State and Federal policies and all required operational and safety procedures.
  • Ensure the civil rights of constituents and employees by treating every person with respect. Hazing, harassment of any kind, verbal abuse or physical abuse by any employee toward any other person will not be tolerated. Professional behavior will be exhibited at all times. 
  • Endeavor to enhance public knowledge and promote understanding of the functions and achievements of the wildland fire community.
Benchmarking Another Organization

Wiss & Company, an East Coast accounting firm, created a clever way to present their ethos. 

Wiss & Company ethos graphic
(Photo credit: Wiss & Company)

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge
Thank you Shane Olpin, USFS Leadership Development Specialist and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee representative, for this blog submission. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Leadership Traits, Core Values, and Expectations Associated with HROs

LTC Mitch Utterback, U.S. Army, 5th Battalion, 19th SFG
(LTC Mitch Utterback, U.S. Army, 5th Battalion, 19th SFG)
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
Today's "From the Field for the Field Friday" entry is once again courtesy of the Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC). Thanks for your leadership and willingness to put yourself out there.

A Leadership Workshop with Lieutenant Colonel Mitch Utterback

Alpine IHC facilitated a leadership workshop with commanding officer LTC Utterback. This workshop focused on parallels of leadership traits, core values, and expectations associated of high reliability organizations (HRO).

LTC Utterback spoke to experiences within his profession while extending lessons learned over his career which applied to the risk management process within wildland fire management. Many similarities could be associated between U.S. military operations and wildland fire management attesting to the subject matter and relevancy of discussion points presented in his lecture.

Discussion topics included but were not limited to:

• Leadership - Supporting the Boots on the Ground
• Fitness: Physical/Mental - How One Endures and Overcomes
• Teamwork - Cohesion
• Communication - Chain of Command
• Setting Priorities vs. Responsibilities

What are you doing to IGNITE the Spark for Leadership that can be used as an example of leadership in action?

LTC Mitch Utterback a commanding officer with the U.S. Army, 5th Battalion, 19th SFG

From the Field for the Field

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Awaken the Leader Within

"There is only one moment in time when it is necessary to awaken. That moment is NOW."  - Buddha
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of firefighters about leadership. The comment I hear more often than I would like is, "I don't want to be a leader." Due to the high-risk, high-complexity nature of our business, this comment concerns me. Leadership is about influence and choice. Many of us choose to accept the the title of leader; however, we are all leaders.

At a minimum, every wildland firefighter is a leader of self. No matter your position or title, you make personal decisions--choose what you will and will not do, perform how you will, and trust who you want to trust. You have a personal ethos. You are the master of your domain.

Whether on the fireline or living life, situations will arise that require each of us to embrace a leadership moment. The fact that you don't have a title to lead doesn't mean that you won't be presented with a decision to lead. That decision to lead may be what saves a life--that life may be your own, a stranger, or someone you love.

Therefore, I challenge each of you to awaken the leader within. As a wildland fire leader, you have a duty to other members of the community to be ready when called upon. With or without a title, we are counting on you to be there when you see something that others don't. We need you to practice the art of influence and lead.

Here are a few things you can do now to prepare for the ultimate leadership moment:

  • Embrace the leader within. 
    • You don't need a title, but you need to accept the inevitable. You may need to lead.
  • Initiate or expand your self-development plan. 
  • Know yourself and seek improvement. 
    • Know your strengths and weaknesses in your character and skill level.
    • Ask questions of peers and supervisors.
    • Actively listen to feedback.
  • Seek responsibility and accept responsibility for your actions.
    • Accept full responsibility for and correct poor team performance.
    • Credit others with good performance.
    • Keep others informed of your actions.
  • Set the example.
    •  Share the hazard and hardships with others.
    • Don't show discouragement when facing setbacks.
    • Choose the difficult right over the easy wrong.
About the Author:
Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.