Friday, October 31, 2014

The Loop Fire

Loop fire 1966

On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots, a U.S. Forest Service Interregional Wildland Firefighting Crew, was trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon on the Angeles National Forest.

The crew was constructing fireline downhill into a chimney canyon and were within 200 feet of completing their assignment when a sudden shift of winds caused a spot fire directly below where they were working. Within seconds flames raced uphill, engulfing the firefighters in temperatures estimated to reach 2500 degrees F. The fire flashed through the 2,200 foot long chimney canyon in less than one minute, catching the crew while they attempted to reach their safety zones.

(Photo Credit: Herald Examiner)

Ten members of the crew perished on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.

Much of the knowledge gained about wildland fire has come through the high cost of firefighter lives. Lessons learned from the Loop Fire resulted in improved firefighting equipment, better fire behavior training, and the implementation of new firefighter safety protocols.

(Note: The Loop fire ends at 11:41)

(Interviews with Gordon King and Chuck Hartley)

We Will Never Forget
We will never forget the 12 firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty on November 1, 1966.
  • Kenneth Barnhill - 19
  • Raymond Chee - 23
  • Fredrick Danner - 18
  • John P. Figlo - 18
  • Joel A. Hill - 19
  • Daniel J. Moore - 21
  • James A. Moreland - 22
  • Carl J. Shilcutt - 26
  • John D. Verdugo - 19
  • William J. Waller - 21
  • Michael R. White - 20
  • Stephen White - 18
Loop Fire Resources

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Food for Thought - Follow to Lead

Let me pass, I have to follow them, I am their leader. –Alexandre Ledru-Rollin

Let me pass, I have to follow them, I am their leader. – Alexandre Ledru-Rollin

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I'm the Person in Charge!

When challenged to give herself a job description, Admiral Michelle Howard boldly states, "I'm the person in charge!"

Admiral Michelle Howard has many firsts: first female graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy selected for flag rank, first woman and first African-American woman to becme a four-star admiral, and first woman to hold the post of Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

Astute students of leadership know Admiral Howard as the commanding officer of the task force dedicated to saving Captain Phillips from Somali pirates. In the video, she shares her story of resilience as leader during this crisis situation.

A Captain's Duty

Admiral Howard's Thoughts on Leadership

  • Define the mission correctly.
  • Leadership can be lonely at the top.
  • Leaders have a great obligation to be a role model (inside and outside the organization).

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging Deeper

Monday, October 27, 2014

Food for Thought - Credibility

Accuracy builds credibility. – Jim Rohn 

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Remembering the Esperanza Fire

Always Remember - Esperanza Fire
(Photo credit: Laguna IHC)
Today marks the 8-year anniversary of the Esperanza fire. Mark Loutzenhiser, Jess McLean, Jason McKay, Daniel Hoover-Najera, and Pablo Cerda lost their lives in the line of duty. Take a moment to honor their memory by learning. 
Situational awareness poster

Other references:

Friday, October 24, 2014



by Jay C Stalnacker

Growing up living on the other side of the tracks, I often ventured across for a slap of reality as just a few miles away there sat an entire city of epic poverty, unemployment and crime. I believed the world was no bigger than a few square miles of rusted steel mills and ugly “company houses” surrounded by middle class subdivisions. It was a place where the mafia and crooked unions destroyed an entire community and left wounds that would never heal. It was so bad that for a few years Youngstown, Ohio was known as the “murder capitol of America.” The unrelenting crime and unscrupulous leadership of our community eventually left generations of immigrants with nothing more than empty rusting steel mills and cracked brick row houses.

By the time I was old enough to understand what a “Youngstown tuneup” was, most of the crime families had been arrested or moved operation to another city, leaving only a wake of destruction. Looking back, as young boys there were really only a few types of heroes we had to admire: professional boxers, football players and crime bosses. Goombah’s like “mo man” Harris and “Charlie the Crab” and legends like Franco Harris and Ray Boom Boom Mancini filled both our dreams and nightmares. Little did I know that both provided an unattainable or misplaced example of leadership, but it was all we had.

As I grew older I began to understand who the true heroes were. They were the common men and women who suffered through the intimidation, bribery and destruction of their community and then moved to the suburban neighborhoods to raise their children hoping that we would have a better future than they knew each of us would most likely face.

It’s a sad, overwhelming enlightenment watching an entire community self-implode. As wild-eyed teenagers we would climb to the roofs of the rusted buildings and walk the empty train tracks always wondering what happened and how it happened so quickly. I witnessed my grandfather fall from a proud paycheck earning crane operator in the steel mill to a humbled security guard at a community college making minimum wage. The union leaders had destroyed his future by embezzling his pension and sending jobs overseas with greedy demands. These leaders put their own needs and desires above many countless others and the end result would be generations of unemployment and poverty that still exist today.

I truly believe that in the beginning the “families” had the right idea but unfortunately the wrong intentions. They wanted to protect the immigrant workers from the steel tycoons and for a while everyone was prosperous. But eventually their greed, selfishness and ignorance turned a good idea into something terrible.

Like these goombahs who almost destroyed a culture of people, how often do we see leaders take the selfish approach as they look for any opportunity to gain more power and control at all cost. They fail to recognize their short-term gain will only result in long-term failure. It’s so very easy have a good intention turn into a disaster because the leader is really focused on his goals and not those of the larger purpose.

Often in public safety we see egos, attitudes and insecurities destroy an organization or compromise the success of a mission. It’s no different in the private corporate world or even on the sidelines of a children’s soccer game. Great leaders somehow see through the immediate gain and recognition then inspire us to follow them past the attainable and towards the unforeseeable future. As Jim finished his sermon today he talked about Jesus the warrior returning home to gather his army to celebrate victory. But he also reminded us that until that day we will be endlessly tempted with money, sex and other worldly distractions that someday just will not mean anything.

It’s hard to look into the unknown future and then back at your current struggles maintaining hope and faith. My experiences as incident commander or operations chief on emergency incidents constantly remind me of this. Many times you have to look ahead and past the obvious which is very difficult when chaos, death and destruction stare you in the eyes. During the flooding, I had to make difficult decisions that would stop rescue operations because of the danger to the rescuers. Losing rescuers would only create more chaos and trying to find the fine balance of saving innocent lives versus losing rescuers' lives was a constant struggle. Many in our profession walk in thinking they want to be a hero, but when the choice of sacrificing their life for another’s is presented it's not so simple. Often they get tunnel vision and lose understanding of the bigger picture ultimately causing more harm than good. More often they freeze in place unable to make the choice before it’s too late. These decisions haunt you as a leader; and only through understanding that there is a larger goal, can you come out the other end in one piece.

It’s much like raising children and disciplining them for something they don’t understand fully but yet you know it’s best. There is no easy answer and no simple explanation. We as leaders must have character and wisdom, and our followers must have courage and humbleness. I think a lot about how better to close this gap with Aspen, Kim, my staff, friends and family. How do I both lead with wisdom and follow with courage? I find what works best is to ask the right questions at the right time. How did we get here? What are we trying to do? What do we want it to look like when we are done? Great leaders constantly ask these three questions to continually evaluate their end state and verify their objectives. Next time you have a tough conversation with your child, a subordinate or spouse try to slow down and ask yourself these questions. I’m sure you can look back as you read this and think of an instance you should have paused and answered these questions before you moved forward. Thinking about these questions first, your conversations will flow seamlessly and confidently as a leader who has vision for something greater.

Spend some time slowing down, remember to ask yourself what it should and can look like when you're done, and I’m sure the result will be greater than your wildest dreams.

Jay C Stalnacker

Jay Stalnacker is a regular blog contributor. Jay Stalnacker is the Fire Management Officer for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office. You can read more from Jay on his blog "The North Star Foundation." All expressions are those of the author.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Food for Thought - Preparedness

Fortune favors the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur

Fortune favors the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Powerful Speakers and Conscious Listeners Unite

Speaking Video Highlights
  • Avoid the seven deadly sins of speaking: gossip, judging, negativity, complaining excuses, exaggeration, and dogmatism.
  • Keep in mind the acronym HAIL when speaking:
    • H - Honesty
    • A - Authenticity
    • I - Integrity
    • L - Love
  • The tools below can increase the power of your speaking
    • Register (range of sound)
    • Timbre (character or quality or intensity)
    • Prosody (stress and intonation)
    • Pace (speed)
    • Pitch (tone)
    • Volume (capacity or magnitude)
"Every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully..." ~ Julian Treasure

Consciously Listening Video Highlights
  • We spend 60% of our communication time and only retain approximately 25%.
  • "We are losing our listening."
  • Five tools to listen better:
    • Silence - experience a few minutes a day in silence (or at least quiet)
    • Mixer - pick out sounds in a noisy environment
    • Savoring - savor the sounds
    • Listening positions - adapt your listening position to what is appropriate
    • RASA
      • Receive
      • Appreciate
      • Summarize
      • Ask

Monday, October 20, 2014

Food for Thought - Authentic Communication

The heart of communication rests in being authentic. – Lolly Daskal

The heart of communication rests in being authentic. – Lolly Daskal

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Leading from Behind

Sheep and sheepdog
(Not seen: the sheepherder. Photo credit: Jupiter Images)
Leading from Behind
by Bob Schoultz

Leading from behind? Isn’t that an oxymoron, like organized chaos, or a genuine fake? “Leading from behind” normally connotes a leader reacting to and being led by events rather than getting out in front of problems, setting objectives, and inspiring his/her organization to achieve great things.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Food for Thought - No Limits

We have to go for what we think we're fully capable of, not limit ourselves by what we've been in the past. ~ Vivek Paul

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Unlocking the Hidden World

Perception plays a vital role in a fire leader's decision-making process. How well perception matches reality is called Situation Awareness. How much do we really see? How closely do we dissect a situation before making a decision? Are we open to what is or could be? How much do we NOT know or see about the world around us?

Louie Schwarzberg takes TED Talk viewers to where technology, art, and science intersect in order to see a hidden world. What we don't see can have a profound impact upon what could be.

Leadership is about innovation. As a fire leader, being able to see beyond what is apparent and having the courage to go beyond comfort zones opens our organizations to possibilities we never thought possible.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Discuss the following questions with your team:
  • What are you doing within your organization to innovate? 
  • How do you ensure that perceptions meet reality?
  • Do you challenge the status quo?
  • What mechanism do you have to expose the hidden elements within your decision-making process?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Food for Thought - Do the Right Thing

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.
–Theodore Roosevelt

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Mad Scientist

Mad scientist
(Photo credit: Jupiter Images/ThinkStock)
The Mad Scientist
by Jay Stalnacker

I sat looking at the back side of Pikes Peak as I was suppose to be working on an entry in my journal for a leadership course I was attending. The setting was beautiful; we were situated in a outdoor conference facility in the Rocky Mountains.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Food for Thought - Doing the Right Things

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. – Peter Drucker

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. ~ Peter Drucker

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Does Your Workplace Value Emotional Intelligence?

"Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior." ~ Andrew Coleman, A Dictionary of Psychology
Daniel Goleman is one of the foremost authorities on emotional intelligence. In this video, Goleman shares his thoughts from his book Working with Emotional Intelligence.

The Five Components of Emotional Intelligence at Work (taken from What Makes a Leader)
  1. Self-awareness - the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and dries, as well as their effect on others
  2. Self-regulation - the ability to control or redirect disrutive impulses and moods; the propensity to suspend judgment - to think before acting.
  3. Motivation - a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status; a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence
  4. Empathy - the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people; skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions
  5. Social Skill - proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; an ability to find ocmmon ground and build rapport
Video Highlights
  • Emotional intelligence may be about being nice, but it may also be about being blunt.
  • Emotional intelligence is rooted in the brain.
  • Emotional intelligence tends to be learned and can be improved over time. Person must want to improve.
  • The leaders sets the tone for the whole organization.
  • IQ has been going up. EQ has been going down.
  • Companies are looking for individuals with EQ.
Additional Reference(s)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Food for Thought - Do More

Always do more than is required of you. – George Patton

Always do more than is required of you. ~ George Patton

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Building Resiliency

More than 40 employees with the Yukon Wildland Fire Management Program, in Canada’s far north, participated in the 2014 Resilient Team Campaign.

By George Maratos
Whitehorse, Yukon Canada
September 16, 2014

Mike Etches addresses the room enthusiastically. It is 8:30 am and the group of about 40 have gathered at a facility known as “Hangar D.” Located in Whitehorse, Yukon, in Canada’s far north, the warehouse-like space is typically used as the home base for a contingent of Southern Lakes wildland firefighters. Today, however, it is the meeting ground for employees of Yukon’s Wildland Fire Management Program. They have gathered for their annual fall meetings and this year Etches, who is the program’s Director, has decided to incorporate the 2014 Resilient Team Campaign into the meetings.

“I want our organization to be the best community protection agency in Canada,” says Etches, during his opening remarks to kick off the two-day workshop. “In order to do that we need to learn to be resilient and to do that effectively we need to recognize that in order to move forward you need to do so as a team.”

Etches’ comments are met with some trepidation. It may be part lack of coffee and part the prospect of knowing that two full days of team building, in a poorly lit building, lie ahead. Etches’ remarks are followed by a few more speeches from senior government officials and then the staff break off into smaller working groups. Here they discuss topics ranging from healthy conflict and trust to commitment and enhancing leadership skills.

Yukon Wildland Fire Management

10:15 am – a shift in mood

By the end of the first working group session the early morning trepidation has been replaced by excitement and optimism. Staff from across the large territory, who often don’t get the chance to regularly meet face to face, have shared ideas and thoughts on what is being done well within the organization and where improvements can be made and, although early, already it’s apparent the campaign’s impact is taking hold as staff are genuinely engaged and healthy, open conversation is taking place.

The remainder of the day one agenda is made up of more breakout sessions and discussions on topics specific to Yukon Wildland Fire Management’s 2014 season. It concludes with a BBQ dinner and despite the already long day many have stuck around to mingle and eat with colleagues.

Yukon Wildland Fire Management
Staff with Yukon Wildland Fire Management share
ideas via small working groups.
Yukon Wildland Fire Management
Employee Scott Giroux address the topics of training and safety.
By the campaign’s two-day conclusion the overwhelming review from staff is positive. The prospect of sharing ideas and providing feedback face to face has been met with enthusiasm, something Etches’ had hoped for when he first came across the 2014 Resilient Team Campaign.

Yukon Wildland Fire Management
“I felt the language in the campaign would speak to them (staff) and connect with them much more quickly,” said Etches. “It was my hope that it would address what they were feeling and thinking and the early account is that it did that in many ways.”

Yukon Wildland Fire Management

And while it’s too early to really tell how the campaign’s impact will be felt by the Yukon Wildland Fire Management Program the groundwork and foundation for building leadership and working towards becoming the best community protection agency in Canada is now in place.

Thank you to Yukon Wildland Fire Management for sharing their campaign story with us. We are honored that the campaign can benefit our wildland fire partners around the world.

Yukon Wildland Fire Management
2014 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign - The Resilient Team logo

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Grant West Prescribed Fire – Hazard Tree Fatality

Daniel Holmes

Grant West Prescribed Fire – Hazard Tree Fatality
October 2, 2004 (10-year anniversary)

Incident Summary: 
October 2nd 2004, a prescribed fire is planned in the Grant Grove Sub District of Kings Canyon National Park. This park has long been known for its active prescribed fire program and since 1981, has been home to the Arrowhead Hotshots. The unit being burned this day has been burned several times before. The predominant tree in this unit is White Fir, a high-risk species, which had suffered a considerable die-off due to a Tussock Moth infestation. The unit has been prepped and hose-lays installed. Numerous snags along the line have been evaluated for firefighter safety and holding concerns. Some hazard trees were cut down or lined. One white fir snag about 146 feet tall and 12 feet inside the line was considered sound by experienced firefighters and is left standing. Torching brush and short trees during the test burn send embers into the top of the snag and within minutes smoke and then flames are observed. The snag has become a hazard and a holding concern and it is decided that it needs to be felled. Class C-fallers are called over to size-up the tree; Daniel Holmes, an Arrowhead Hotshot, is the swamper. Because of its lean, it is decided to drop it across the line and to move the hose-lay so that it can be suppressed as a spot fire. Holmes and another faller pass under the snag on the fireline as they walk over to assist in moving the hose-lay so that they can then cut the tree. Several firefighters see the top of the snag fall and yell. They start to run but the falling tree top hits Holmes on the head and he is knocked out. He never regains consciousness.

To that date, Daniel Holmes would be the 20th firefighter killed by a snag since 1960.

Lessons Learned Discussion Points:
The morning began with a safety briefing and most of the firefighters confirm that snag hazards were emphasized several times.

  • If you were giving your crew a briefing about hazard trees in your area, what will your emphasis points be? 

You and your crew are sizing up hazard trees in preparation for a prescribed burn in your area.

  • What are the common high-risk species of trees there? 
  • Discuss how you will determine the soundness of the trees. 
  • What are the common indicators that they have become unhealthy/unsafe?  

Knowing when the top of this tree would fall is impossible. The top of the snag had only been burning for less than 2 hours. The winds had been light.

  • Would you have considered this tree as hazardous as it really was?
  • Knowing that the top of the tree might eventually fall, what will you do to be ready for it?

Though there were 3 experienced fallers paying attention to the burning snag during its size-up, once the firefighters transitioned to moving the hose-lay there was not a dedicated lookout assigned for that task.

  • How will you and your crew manage the safety of all firefighters when you are in a similar transition situation?
  • How can you better expect the unexpected after reading this tragic accident?

Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website
Hazard Tree Safety website
This Day in Wildland Fire History logo

Food for Thought - Aiming for Greatness

The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and we miss it, but we aim too low and reach it. –Michelangelo

The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and we miss it, but we aim too low and reach it. –Michelangelo

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