Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Have We Done Enough?

As a member of the wildland fire service or a friend or family member of someone who is, you know that the Fourth of July weekend is always a busy time of the year for firefighters. This particular holiday is not one many of us get to celebrate. In fact, most of us are supporting fireline operations in one fashion or another.

That is exactly what I was doing in 1994 when my fire management officer came into my Southern Idaho dispatch center to tell me that we had lost 14 firefighters on a fire near Glenwood Springs, CO. Those firefighters were smokejumpers, hotshots, and helitack from various locations across the West.

Death on the fireline wasn't new to my unit, but it was for me. I started my career shortly after an engine rollover that killed one of our firefighters and an airplane crash that killed three personnel. This, however, was my first experience with wildland fire fatalities. Even though I was two states away, the tragedy struck me to my core. I still have the memorial t-shirt as a reminder of that horrible time in our history.

Little did I know at the time, but I would become intimately attached to that event. I would become friends with some of the survivors, learn more about the tragedy than I ever intended, visit that deadly mountain, and sit on the very committee established to bring about cultural change throughout the wildland fire service because of it. In 2001, I became a member of the NWCG Leadership Committee/Subcommittee--a role I still have today.

For more than 20 years, I have studied a lot about leadership and the events of that tragic day. Some of our most experienced firefighters didn't come home. Some who did survive have just recently started to talk about their experience.

The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program was formed out of that tragedy and has brought about cultural change, but do most of us really know what happened and why? Do we take the time to delve into reports, to attend training, to learn the lessons of those that have gone before us.

I pride myself on being a student of fire and have sifted through reports, talked to survivors, read books, and watched film. I have helped tell the story of our fallen through this forum and others. But that didn't make the loss of 19 in 2015 on Yarnell Hill any easier. In fact, it made me wonder if we are doing enough. Are we building cohesive teams? Are our small teams integrating into our larger team?

Leadership theories will come and go. There will always be something to learn. Some of our leaders will create great small teams; some will destroy the very team they chose to lead. I challenge you to dig deeper, build great teams, and build teams of teams.

    Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
    • Learn more about the South Canyon fire tragedy.
    • Contemplate some of the things I have pondered over my career in fire:
      • If everyone is in charge, is anyone in charge?
      • Can team cohesion cause safety risks?
      • What does it really take to turn down an assignment?
      • What are our current leadership challenges?
      • What can each of us do to bring everyone home?
      • Are we effectively bringing together teams of teams?
      • Is there a better way to train our firefighters?
      • Should the terms leadership and subordinate be used together? 
      • Can a leader be the servant to his/her team?
    • Watch the 2015 Meet the Author - General Stanley McChrystal or read the book Team of Teams.

        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.

      No comments: