Friday, May 30, 2014

Thoughts on Resiliency

(Photo credit: Kari Greer/USFS)
by Justin Vernon

Resiliency is something that I think we don’t talk about much in the wildland fire service, and it’s something I never really thought about until recently. The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program’s 2014 campaign is The Resilient Team, and I thought I’d write a bit about my thoughts on the subject.

What is resiliency? I like the definition used in the book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy. They define resilience as “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.” Basically, resiliency is how we react to change and hardship. There’s no hard and fast rule or measurement, but it’s easy to recognize resiliency when we see it. By the same token, there’s no easy way to build resiliency – it’s a personal journey, one that some people have a natural tendency to be better at than others. Some studies have shown that up to two-thirds of the human population is naturally resilient – that is to say they bounce back from change and tragedy more easily than the rest of us.

Many of us are familiar with resiliency in ecological terms, especially in the fuels and fire use/fire for resource benefit arenas, but I’ve rarely seen it discussed in human terms, at least by fire people. There’s been a lot of discussion about social resilience in the disaster response and economic circles in the past few years, and that’s where I’ve formed a lot of my ideas about human factors and resilience. Many of the ideas and principles are universal in nature, and are easy to apply within fire leadership.

So why is it important, especially to us as wildland firefighters? I’d say it’s because we work in an environment where change is near-constant, personally and professionally, and we face a multitude of hardships on a regular basis. When change and hardship are such a large part of our lives, it naturally follows that we should be a culture that promotes the development of resilient individuals and teams.

How then can we as leaders and followers promote this idea among our friends and coworkers, and become more resilient ourselves? I think our leadership program already teaches a few nuggets of wisdom on how to do it.

The most obvious way we encourage resilience in our leadership classes is getting people to go outside of their comfort zones. Now, I’ll be the first to argue that comfort zones are a natural, built-in safety mechanism that shouldn’t be ignored. They exist for a reason, which is to keep us from doing something risky that we’re properly not prepared for. Skydiving is a great example. It’s outside of most people’s comfort zone for good reason, because if done incorrectly it’s extremely dangerous. But we’ve developed systems which mitigate the dangers, and with guidance and close supervision just about anyone can safely step outside their comfort zone and jump out of an airplane with no adverse consequences.

The same applies to fire and leadership. We as leaders should always make sure those we mentor have room to safely push the boundaries of their comfort zones. The more we try, fail, and learn from those failures, the more resistant we become to hardship, because in a sense we’ve been there before, and we are better prepared to deal with it. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, a person who makes mistakes, but never makes the same one twice, is more resilient than someone who’s never made a mistake at all, because they know how to react when faced with adversity, and how to learn from it. Giving ourselves and others room to step out and face new challenges with a safety net in place allows us to learn from our mistakes, and makes us resilient.

It’s the same concept as high-output interval training in physical fitness, I think. As we push ourselves personally and professional, trying new things, new ideas, and new ways of doing business, we grow. We don’t need to be constantly pushing the envelope, and in fact constant stress is a negative thing, but periodically doing so in a safe and smart manner allows us to become stronger and more resilient. There’s always a degree of risk involved with going beyond our comfort zones, be it emotional or physical, but there’s room to mitigate those risks and use them as an opportunity for growth. Overcoming mental challenges can give us confidence for facing future challenges, just as challenging physical training can increase our ability to be safe and productive on the fireline.

I think that as firefighters, we all thrive on challenge to some degree. To quote Taleb again, Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. I think that line applies beautifully to many of us in fire – we benefit from challenges, we do our best work in a random and sometimes chaotic environment, and we love the adventure and uncertainty of it all.

Another area where we also promote resiliency is in giving Leader’s Intent. I personally think as a leader it’s my job to provide clear intent, but to allow plenty of room for innovation. If the desired end state is clear, there’s plenty of room to improvise and still accomplish the task if you face unexpected challenges. The ability to innovate, and to fluidly respond to changes in the mission, the conditions, or the tools we’re given, is very important in our line of work. We are resilient if we give our people the power to react as needed to changing conditions on the fireline, and we foster the ability to think outside the box. Innovation breeds resilience.

I think we’re making progress in giving more people the skills and authority to lead. We’re all leaders in some sense, even if we’re only leading ourselves. Especially in fire our ability and responsibility to lead is not necessarily tied to our day jobs. In my day job I’m the second-line supervisor on a ten-person crew, but on my redcard I’m qualified to lead and be responsible for groups of forty or fifty people on an incident. I know people in fire who have no supervision or leadership authority in their official positions, yet are excellent leaders, and regularly go out the line and lead as Division Supervisors or Helibase Managers.

To use an analogy, it’s like having a deep bench on a football or basketball team. If for some reason the primary leader is unable to lead, you need to have competent and capable folks around who can step in and fill the void. Even if the primary leader is there, it’s often valuable to have others around who can help out as needed. There’s a reason why there’s a deputy Incident Commander on incident management teams. Sometimes we all need a little help, and the more people who are willing and able, the better. Redundancy in leadership is a good thing if everyone realizes there’s a time and a place to step up and lead, and there’s a time and place to hang back and follow. The more capable leaders we have on the ground, the better we are prepared to face the unexpected when it occurs.

I suppose that creating resilience can also be summed up simply as preparing for the worst, hoping for the best, and expecting something completely different. We are resilient when we’re prepared to handle whatever unexpected hardship comes our way. I think that as fire leaders it’s our responsibility to create followers who are able to shine in the face of adversity, professionally and personally. As followers, it should be our goal to become more resilient, to step up and face challenges head on, and to grow and learn when we make mistakes.

Our collective goal should be to create a culture that not only faces adversity and comes through unscathed, but grows stronger from the experience.

If anyone is interested in reading more about resiliency, I highly recommend the two books mentioned above: Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy; and Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Both are currently available through most online book sellers, and some larger brick and mortar stores. The first, Resilience, is an easy read with many examples and case studies that look at disasters and emergency response. The second, Antifragile, is a more in-depth look at the topic by an economist with philosophical leanings. As much as I love the ideas contained in the book, it’s harder to read and often takes off on technical tangents, but contains a wealth of simple ideas about resiliency if you can dig through it and get to them. The author knows and admits it when he gets a bit technical, and is kind enough to point out the parts that you can skip if you’re interested in the more practical sections. My personal copy is bookmarked at every page where I found a good idea or one liner, and there are marks about every twenty pages or so.

Until next time…

Justin Vernon is a regular guest contributor on our blog. Justin is the Assistant Helitack Manager for the Garden Valley Helitack on the Boise National Forest. Check out his Chasing Fire blog.

All expressions are those of the author.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Staff Ride - Building the Future from Our Past

“After South Canyon, we realized we needed to teach leadership. We knew we needed to do this in a low-stress and low-risk environment. To better enable people to perform in high-risk situations, we started looking for ways to emulate our [wildland fire] decision-making environment in a low-risk way. To maximize this, we’re now using staff rides and tactical decision games.” ~ Tom Boatner

Staff rides were developed by the Prussian Army in the early nineteenth century. In the 1970s the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps turned to staff rides with great enthusiasm and now they are considered essential instructional techniques in advanced military schools and in field units.

Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) staff rides follow the framework used by the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps. In fact, U.S. Army staff ride experts, Lt. Col. Eric Carlson and Dr. William G. "Glenn" Robertson was instrumental in establishing our program. (You might have seen Dr. Robertson's publication "The Staff Ride.")

The intent of a staff ride is to put participants in the shoes of the decision makers on a historical incident in order to learn for the future. A staff ride are not tactical-fault finding exercises. Participants are challenged to push past the basic question of "What happened?" and examine the deeper questions of leadership and decision-making: "What would I have done in this person's place?" "How detailed should the guidance from a superior to a subordinate be?" "Can a senior leader make use of a competent but overzealous subordinate?" "What explains repeated organizational success or failure?" The study of leadership aspects in a staff ride transcend time and place.

Refer to the Wildland Fire Staff Ride Guide for complete information.
Wildland Fire Staff Ride Guide cover
What Is the Difference between a Staff Ride and a Site Visit?

In order to called a staff ride, the study of the incident must consist of three distinct phases:

  1. Preliminary Phase—The purpose of this phase is to prepare the participant for the visit to the site of the selected incident and is critical to the success of the field study.
  2. Field Study Phase—If the preliminary study phase has been systematic and thorough, the field study phase will reinforce or modify intellectual perceptions of the incident and surrounding events. The field study culminates all previous efforts by participants to understand selected historical events, to analyze the significance of those events, and to derive relevant lessons for professional development. The importance of the field study is that it is the most effective way to stimulate the participant’s intellectual involvement and to ensure that any analytical conclusions reached at any point in the staff ride process are retained.
  3. Integration Phase—The third and final phase is a formal integration opportunity that allows participants and cadre to “bring all the parts together” in order to reflect on the impressions and lessons learned. 
Staff rides should not be confused with simple visits to an incident location. In the military, when terrain and hypothetical scenarios (but not history) are used as teaching vehicles, it is called a “Tactical Exercise Without Troops.” Further, a visit to the site of a battle – or fire – involving little or no preliminary systematic study on the part of the participant is a “historical tour,” not a staff ride. Historical tours can stimulate thought and discussion, but are limited by the lack of participant preparation and involvement. Finally, the site visit is the primary factor that distinguishes a staff ride from a traditional case study or any other virtual exercise.

National Wildland Fire Staff Ride Library

Presently, the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee has sponsored the development of 14 staff rides. Additionally, at the leaders of organizations level, fire leaders can participate in the L-580 Gettysburg staff ride. 

Map of nationally-approved staff rides
Map of nationally-approved staff rides
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Students of fire are encouraged to learn from their history. Regardless if you can attend a staff ride, there is a lot of information contained within each staff ride. The preliminary phase begins with YOU!

Take a moment to visit the Staff Ride Library on the WFLDP website. This is the 20th anniversary of South Canyon if you are looking for staff ride to research.


For more information regarding staff rides, including facilitation tips and a local staff ride archive, visit the WFLDP website.

Refer to the National Wildland Fire Training website for staff rides sponsored in various geographic areas. Course number: N9024 - Wildland Fire Staff Ride.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Jackson Hotshots Volunteer at Horses For Handicapped

Lamar Liddell on horseback with child

A very special, three-day event is held annually in April in Jackson, Mississippi, at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. This event is Horses for Handicapped or HFH, and over 1,800 children and adults with physical or mental disabilities get to spend a day enjoying horseback riding, wagon rides, games, space jumps and even a petting zoo. All the horses and labor are provided by local volunteers.
Jackson IHC volunteering

Several members of the Jackson Hotshots spent April 16 volunteering for this rewarding event. Steve Godbold, HFH director, was "very glad the Jackson Hotshots were a part of Horses for Handicapped this year. They jumped right in and were a real asset in loading operations and backriding with youth."…

Between completing required training and conducting prescribed burns in cooperation with the Forest Service in Mississippi, the Jackson Hotshots have been making an effort to give back to the local community. The Horses for Handicapped event provides a unique blend of care and interaction of humans and animals which benefit children and adults with disabilities. This was a new event for the Hotshots, but everyone came back to the office with stories to tell and with big smiles.

Lamar Liddell on horseback with child

"Being on the back of a horse holding a child was not what I was expecting to do, but seeing all the smiles from the kids made every moment worth it," said Lamar Liddell, Eastern States Fire Management Officer.

"Anytime we can help our community we are happy to do it, but spending time with the youth today was especially rewarding," Fred Ashford, Acting Fire Crew Chief. This event is about touching lives, and on this day not only were the participants affected, so were the Hotshots. Hopefully, we will be able to do it again in 2015.

By Shayne Banks, Southeastern States Office

Reprinted from "The BLM Daily," May 12, 2014. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Keeping Your Tools Sharp

Heath Cota, former Sawtooth Interagency Hotshot Crew Superintendent, sent me the U.S. Forest Service video “An Ax to Grind.” The video featuring Bernie Weisberger showcases the safety, design, and care of your axe. My time is spent in an office environment and hanging or caring for an axe don’t fall within my job duties. However, I found great insight in the hour-long video. That insight became the impetus for this blog.

Hanging the Axe Head
You have to have a reliable handle.

Are you prepared to assume a leadership role? Every wildland firefighter should be willing and able to assume a leadership role in an emergency situation. Good followers, although not leaders by title, know they may need to embrace a bias for action should the situation dictate. We should make a commitment to accept the “call to duty” when needed. Our lives and the lives with which we serve may demand such duty.

Reshaping the Edge
“I’m not resharpening this, I’m bringing it back. I’m rehabbing this axe and then resharpening it. If you take care of your axe, you can touch it up in 15 minutes with a file and the stones. When you are starting over, it takes about an hour...”

By creating a routine that includes leadership development and discipline to follow the routine, you can keep your skills and tools sharp more easily than if you don’t. Unattended and ignored, you stifle growth in yourself and those that you lead. Take a short time each day to develop self, so you can develop others and lead by example.

Protect the Axe Head
“Don’t use a high speed grinder – leadership development is a life-long process.”

Leadership is action. Therefore, it has only a beginning and no end. Once you put your leadership development into motion, make a personal commitment to continue until you are physically unable to do so. Whether you are a leader of self or a leader of many, find ways to move yourself forward. Good leaders avoid the status quo and seek innovation and don’t fear change. Good leaders find ways to keep moving ahead and function within ever-changing environments.

“An axe, if it’s used properly, is a real safe tool. An axe, if you cut corners, it can be a real dangerous tool.” - Ian Barlow

Do your research. Find your passion and learn how to infuse that passion into your leadership style. Good leaders have purpose and look beyond self. Bad leaders use power to control and manipulate. Sometimes the line between the two begins to blur. Know yourself and seek improvement. Influence for the positive and make a difference in the world around you.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge
Wildland fire leaders have many tools in their toolbox. How many of you take the time to sharpen your tools? What are you doing to maintain sound leadership practices? What are you doing to develop self and keep your tools sharp?

Make time to review your self-development leadership practices and implement something new to your routine.

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.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Three Southern Utah Forests Launch Women in Wildland Fire Program

Women in Wildland Fire logo

The southern Utah spring is starting out dry and crackly again.  The Dixie, Fishlake and Manti-La Sal National Forests have been hard at work finding women who want to experience wildland fire, to expand their firefighting workforce.

After an outreach effort to recruit women interested in this program this fall and winter, 22 successful applicants will be taking the arduous pack test, consisting of a three-mile hike carrying a 45-pound vest, in the early part of May.  The pack test is usually conducted on a track and must be completed in 45 minutes or less. 

A 40 hour Basic Fire School where the candidates will learn about the fire triangle (fuel, heat and oxygen) fire tools, weather and topography is next on the agenda, concluding with an actual live fire exercise.  Two will be held, one near Cedar City and one in Moab. 

At the end of this training, these enthusiastic women will be ready to support the regular fire forces as emergency employees.  They will gain valuable experience and will have a chance to compete for seasonal jobs next year. 

During interviews many of the candidates expressed great excitement at “the chance for my dream job” and “the opportunity to get paid to be outdoors.” All the participants see this program as a chance to “check it out.”  Program Manager Linda Chappell says, “I am so pleased with the results of our outreach efforts.  I really feel we have some good candidates who were just looking for a chance to get their foot in the door.”

The Women in Wildland Fire Program is intended to recruit interested women, and give them training and job skills so that they can apply for seasonal positions next season.  This opportunity will introduce participants to careers in wildland fire management, along with other opportunities available in the Forest Service.  A mentoring program accompanies the program to empower these candidates.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. 

  • Heather McLean 435-260-2871
  • Linda Chappell 435-896-1628

Are you doing something to promote the Women in Wildland Fire? We would like to hear your stories. 

Is there a special leader (male or female) that you think should be recognized for their accomplishments?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Mother's Intent

by Jay C Stalnacker
(A tribute on Mother's Day)

We had a search and rescue mission for a young marine who had gone missing in one of our remote hiking areas. It was late in the second day of the search effort and we were about to hit the “golden hour”. Basically, that’s a decision point when we begin to consider all of the options, including recovery instead of rescue. I had called Don because we needed a helicopter as our developing plan included flying over the search area to look for any sign of the kid before darkness set in. I met Don at the air base and soon we were floating above the ground heading towards the search area.

As we approached the mountains I began to really get a feel for the landscape and our challenges ahead. There is simply nothing like flying low across tree tops in a helicopter. Even in these situations you can’t help but smile as the wind blows across your face and everything below you looks like a child’s sandbox. Glancing at the rough mountainous terrain I could intermittently see searchers with dogs, on horse back and hiking around. It was obvious if this kid was on a trail we would find him, but if he was off trail it would be near impossible.

As we climbed in altitude up canyon over the search area I began to notice a significant decrease in speed and glancing over I saw a look on Don’s face that only means one thing. I know that look. As years early, after being picked up by a helicopter from a fire we had jumped, I had been involved in an “emergency” landing. The pilot had this same look.

It’s not a pleasing look as normally, good pilots are fairly stoic and calm in most all situations and Don was a good pilot. So seeing that look again, I knew something was not right. Our helicopter was far underpowered for the mission and altitude. Back at the air base Don had reminded me of this prior to lifting off but we decided to go anyway because we both knew time was not on our side in finding this kid. The helicopter began to drop and within moments Don swung us around 180 degrees and now the nose was facing down canyon and falling downward. Due to the wind noise and commotion it was hard to tell when the motor shut down but later I would assume we auto-rotated for a while as we rapidly dropped eventually regaining power right about ground zero. Don was white as a ghost, sweating and silent. We cleared the search area never speaking a word to each other the entire flight back to the air base. Honestly, I’ve had one to many of these “close calls” and way to many search missions like this over the past 18 years.

This search began and ended like a movie script. A young marine on leave goes AWOL, his best friend reports him as missing on a trail, possibly attacked and killed by a mountain lion. It ends sadly, as we find the marine alive and well in another state and on the run. The whole missing hiker story and “planted blood on the trail” was sadly fabricated in attempt to keep him from returning to combat.

These search and rescue missions get even stranger and unfortunately more sad and disturbing. Missing children are the hardest to deal with. A small child moves a lot quicker and farther than you would imagine and travels in areas an adult would not even consider. So trying to anticipate the child’s movements and decisions is almost futile. I’ve had numerous missing children searches, most ending quickly as we find the child under a bed in the house or if the search is in the woods we find them nearby on a trail with a family who found the child walking aimlessly alone. But then there are the other missions that haunt you forever. The abductions, the recovering of a child’s lifeless body or worse yet, a child gone missing forever.

As I am typically incident commander in most of these situations, part of my job is to work with the family, updating them on the progress of our effort, sharing our findings of any significant clues and also interviewing them to determine if something even more sinister had happened. It’s a very fine line playing detective, friend and professional. It’s even harder when you have a child of your own as everything you do becomes very intimate. On one of my more recent searches, during an interview of the mother I eventually broke down. It was terrible as my lapse of self discipline most likely displayed a level of professionalism not ideal to the situation and once these things become that personal your decisions become somewhat compromised. In any case, these emotions always hit me when I’m talking to the mother. Never with a father, brother, sister, aunt and grandparent. Somehow I seem to be able to maintain some emotional control with these other family members. But it’s the conversations with the mother that brings true meaning to our purpose and always stabbing pain to my heart and soul.

There is simply nothing more impacting than watching a mother plead with you to find her child. No matter what that relationship between the two was or age of the child before they go missing there is a primitive love that surfaces and it is both universal and timeless. We talk about “leaders intent” in our world of incident leadership. I will tell you there is no better example of this than a mother begging you to find her lost child. Her words are direct, concise, clear and focused. She exudes empowerment, bleeds passion and demands motivation. After hearing her plea, rescuers and searchers leave that command post with charge and hope that is raw and real. It’s a beautiful, sad and ironic event to witness. As your anxious to bring her peace but at the same time your heart aches for her because you fear the worst.

Folks like me spend a lifetime studying leadership and I now have come to realize some of the best leaders have been the ones changing our diapers, bandaging our knees and rocking us to sleep. As I lean in close next to a missing child’s mother, listening to her memories of the last moments she saw her child, describing in amazing detail the clothes and shoes they were wearing the day they went missing and recalling all the happy memories. I cannot help but feel I’ve been allowed to enter into a very special place. A place where only a mother is allowed, somewhere filled with love, brightness and full of hope. A dimension in time when her child is always an age where they were most happy. It’s magical and every time I am there I feel honored and fortunate to have been a “visitor” even given the circumstances. A mother's love is something only she understands and knows and in times like this indescribably beautiful.

Today as we celebrate Mother's Day and I look back on so many of these intimate moments with so many mothers, I try to understand the reasons God has allowed me to share this connection with a stranger and I struggle to find the meaning why he placed me there. As over time I have begun to question the purpose of my work, maybe this moment is to remind me that what he has guided me to do for a living is of great worth and value. As after years of exposure, I struggle to find passion in my work, so maybe this moment is to remind me that this lost child is more than another mission. Or as I become more secluded and sheltered in myself and have slowly pulled away from my own mother, maybe just maybe it’s a reminder of how very special a mother’s love is to all of us.

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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2013 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award Winners - Palomar IHC

Palomar Interagency Hotshot Crew
(Photo Credit: Brian Rhodes)
Palomar Interagency Hotshot Crew
Palomar Ranger District
Cleveland National Forest
Honored for Initiative and Innovation

The Palomar Interagency Hotshot Crew has been selected as one of the recipients for the 2013 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. Three individuals and one group from across the wildland fire service have been chosen to receive this national award.

The award was created by the NWCG Leadership Committee to remember Paul Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service. During a career spanning five decades, Paul was a dedicated student of fire, a teacher of fire, and a leader of firefighters. The intent of this award is to recognize individuals or groups who exhibit this same spirit and who exemplify the wildland fire leadership values and principles. Jim’s work in support of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has been a demonstration of initiative and innovation.

Palomar IHC’s open and transparent efforts to support leadership development are exemplary and commendable. Efforts such as their crew website and 2012 “Leadership is Action” video provide an example of what right looks like and can be easily implemented by any crew or organization in the nation.

Palomar IHC’s leadership development program supports the WFLDP’s mission “to promote cultural change in the workforce and to emphasize the vital importance of leadership concepts in the wildland fire service by providing educational and leadership development opportunities.” Additionally, their leadership development supports the program’s focus on “non-traditional leadership development opportunities that allow individuals to strive for a higher performance level as a leader through self-directed continuous learning.”

Congratulations, Palomar IHC, on your accomplishments. You have provided an example for others to follow.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What it Takes to be Great

Forest Hero by Paul Combs
(Photo credit: Paul Combs)
"Many of us carry this image of this all-knowing superhero who stands and commands and protects his followers." ~ Roselinde Torres

Members of the public often use the terms "hero" or "elite" to describe our workforce. Wildland firefighters are by and large a humble group. Leading in the Wildland Fire Service uses humble language: "The most essential element for success in the wildland fire service is good leadership." Leading in the Wildland Fire Service provides the framework, values, and principles that guide wildland fire leaders in providing leadership across a broad range of missions or what "good" or "right" looks like. However, what makes a "great" leader?

Roselinde Torres shares her insights in her TED Talks video "What it Takes to be a Great Leader."

"What makes a great leader in the 21st century?" 
Torres challenges organizations to answer three questions:
  1. Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life? 
    • Great leaders are not head-down. They see around corners, shaping their future, not just reacting to it. 
  2. What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?
    • Great leaders understand that having a more diverse network is a source of pattern identification at greater levels and also of solutions, because you have people that are thinking differently than you are. 
  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?
    • Great leaders dare to be different.
Torres believes great leaders "are women and men who are preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday but also for the realities of today and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow."

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge
On an individual or team level, watch Roselinde's video and then discuss the three questions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

2013 Paul Gleason Lead By Example Award Winner - Chad Fisher

Chad Fisher receiving LBE award
(Chad Fisher at the Wildland Firefighter Monument; photo courtesy NPS)
Chad Fisher
Safety and Prevention Manager
National Park Service – Fire and Aviation
Honored for Motivation and Vision

Chad Fisher has been selected as one of the recipients for the 2013 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. Three individuals and one group from across the wildland fire service have been chosen to receive this national award.

The award was created by the NWCG Leadership Committee to remember Paul Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service. During a career spanning five decades, Paul was a dedicated student of fire, a teacher of fire, and a leader of firefighters. The intent of this award is to recognize individuals or groups who exhibit this same spirit and who exemplify the wildland fire leadership values and principles. Chad’s work in support of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has been a demonstration of motivation and vision.

Chad was recognized for his work with the Dutch Creek mitigations coupled with your mission, vision, and dedication to ensure that the number one objective of firefighter safety is a reality on every fire, regardless of size or complexity. Chad’s actions to reach across agency boundaries have contributed to a shift in culture regarding incident-within-an-incident planning. This dedicated effort to ensure we understand, weigh, and communicate to decision makers the consequences of placing firefighters in harm’s way and ensure we have a mechanism to evacuate them when injured sets the example for all to follow.

Additionally, Chad was commended for his work with firefighter nutrition, the Incident Response Pocket Guide revision, leadership development activities, facilitated learning analyses, and serious accident investigation teams. Chad’s leadership exemplifies the values of duty, respect, and integrity.

Congratulations, Chad, on your accomplishments. You have provided an example for others to follow.

Monday, May 5, 2014

US Forest Service Announces National Forest Fire Management Officer of the Year Selections for 2012 and 2013

Gary Brown, Chair of the National Forest Fire Management Officer Committee, recently announced the recipients of the 2012 and 2013 National Forest Fire Management Officer of the Year selections. 

Selected for 2012 was Bob Lippincott from the Nez Perce-Clearwater NF of central Idaho, R1.  Bob was recognized for his effort that year in leading the forest through an extremely difficult fire season that included multiple type I and II IMTs, supporting fire operations on other forests and regions and for leading the forest and cooperators through a difficult time following the loss of one of our fellow firefighters.

Selected for 2013 is Arlen Cravens from the Shasta-Trinity NF in northern California, R5.  Arlen retired this past winter and is being recognized for his life-time achievements as a Canadian and Redding smokejumper, and a career in fire that culminated as a Fire Staff Officer.  Arlen was always a student of fire and promoted sound risk and leadership principles.

Brown wishes to thank all the folks that participated by sending in nominations. This year the selection process was particularly difficult due to the high quality of the nominees.  "Each and every one of them deserved this recognition. It really was like selecting a single all-star from an all-star team made up of all-stars."  

Friday, May 2, 2014

Commander's Intent - Lt. Col. Chris Raible Lives On

Lt. Col. Chris Raible
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On December 9, 2011, Lt. Col. Chris “Otis” Raible, Commanding Officer of Marine Attack Squadron VMA 211 (the Avengers), issued his commander’s guidance for squadron attack pilots. Lt. Col. Raible was killed in action September 14, 2012, but his leadership legacy lives on to influence the world he left behind. Multiple fire leaders shared this intent statement with us, now we share it with our audience. May his influence provide wildland fire leaders with an example of clear leader's intent.

From: Commanding Officer, Marine Attack Squadron 211

To: Squadron Attack Pilots


1. Professional hunger. 

My goal is to identify those Officers who want to be professional attack pilots and dedicate the resources required to build them into the flight leaders and instructors that are required for the long-term health of our community. This is not a socialist organization. We will not all be equal in terms of quals and flight hours. Some will advance faster than others, and because this is not a union, your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority. Your rate of advancement will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.

If flying jets and supporting Marines is your passion and your profession, you are in the right squadron.

If these things are viewed simply as your job, please understand that I must invest for the future in others. Your time in a gun squadron might be limited, so it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented.

2. Professional focus. 

Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be “brilliant in the basics.”

Over the last few years Marine TACAIR has not punted the tactical nearly so often as the admin. Sound understanding of NATOPS, aircraft systems, and SOPs is therefore every bit as important as your understanding of the ANTTP and TOPGUN. With this in mind, ensure the admin portions of your plan are solid before you move onto objective area planning. Once you begin tactical planning, remember that keeping things “simple and easy to execute” will usually be your surest path to success. If the plan is not safe, it is not tactically sound.

3. Attitude. 

I firmly believe in the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill.”

Work ethic, willingness to accept constructive criticism, and a professional approach to planning, briefing, and debriefing will get you 90% of the way towards any qualification or certification you are pursuing. The other 10% is comprised of in-flight judgment and performance, and that will often come as a result of the first 90%. Seek to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs. It has often been said that the success of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the plan and brief. The other side of this coin is that the amount of learning that takes place as a result of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the debrief.

4. Moral courage. 

Speak up if something seems wrong or unsafe.

We all know what the standards are supposed to be in Naval Aviation and in the Corps. Enforce them! When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.

5. Dedication.

If you average one hour per workday studying, 6 months from now you will be brilliant. That is all it takes; one hour per day. As you start to notice the difference between yourself and those who are unable to find 60 minutes, I want you to know that I will have already taken note.

Then, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How good could I be if I really gave this my all?”

6. When all else fades away, attack pilots have one mission: provide offensive air support for Marines.

The Harrier community needs professional attack pilots who can meet this calling.

It does not require you to abandon your family. It does not require you to work 16 hours per day, six days per week. It requires only a few simple commitments to meet this calling: be efficient with your time at work so that you can study one hour per day; be fully prepared for your sorties and get the maximum learning possible out of every debrief; have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism; find one weekend per month to go on cross country. When you are given the opportunity to advance, for those few days go to the mat and give it your all, 100%, at the expense of every other thing in your life.

To quote Roger Staubach, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”

If you can be efficient during the workweek, give an Olympian effort for check rides and certifications, and are a team player, the sky will literally be the limit for you in this squadron.


  • Read "Command Based on Intent" on page 15 of Leading in the Wildland Fire Service.
  • Reread Lt. Col. Raible's memorandum and adapt his message to fit within the wildland fire service.
  • Consider providing your followers with a written statement expressing your intent. 
Thank you to willdand fire leaders Robert Morrow, U.S. Forest Service, and Rowdy Muir, U.S. Forest Service Flaming Gorge District Ranger, for sharing this information with us and Second Line of Defense's and the U.S. Naval Institute's permission to reprint Lt. Col. Raible's guidance.