By Paul Keller
Photos by Kari Greer
In the Fall Issue of Two More Chains readers were asked to submit their feedback on Mark Smith’s “The Big Lie” essay. A total of 116 folks responded.
To see what these folks had to say, in the Winter Issue of Two More Chains, we shared their input in two follow-up docs (available at: http://bit.ly/BigLieFeedback). One of these docs featured the nuggets from these responses. The other doc had all 116 responses verbatim.
We have since received some additional great input from another 11 folks. We’d like to share their nuggets—their key insights and ideas—with you in this blog.
The Risk I Used to Embrace
“I became a wildland firefighter BECAUSE I knew it was dangerous. I craved the adrenaline, hero-respect, and, above all, the deep and irreplaceable camaraderie that accompanies dangerous work. (I’m not sure why the young men do it. But after caregiving for my husband through years of terminal illness, I needed what fire gave me.)
I recognized ‘The Lie’ and lumped it with all the other bureaucratic-CYA lies that release agencies from liability.
I accept ignoring that lie as a cost of doing a job that I love. HOWEVER, now that I am a fireline supervisor, my perspective is very different. I have honest-as-possible discussions with my ducklings, and I do my best to keep them away from the risk I used to embrace.”
I’ve Seen It; I’ve Felt it
“Firefighting is dangerous, period. Young people feel superior to danger. Experienced leaders feel emboldened by their own success. I’ve seen it; I’ve felt it.”
IC Says Exposing People to Unnecessary Risk to Save Trees is: ‘Insane’
“I feel safety is a blanket term used to make everyone feel more accepting of The Big Lie.
As an IC, the safety of my people is my utmost concern and always will be over political direction, forest and regional pressures, and the various policies that dictate when and how we fight fire .
Fire is a natural process like we all know so why do we still suppress fire so aggressively knowing we are doing more harm than good? It all will burn one day and it has before.
Exposing people to unnecessary risk to save trees that are so disease stricken from overcrowding and pest infestations due to poor forest management practices is insane.
If we took safety seriously we wouldn’t be putting people in harm’s way so often. We would let fire run its course. Corral it as needed and let fire behavior dictate.”
Line Officer Says: ‘I Will Put You in Harm’s Way’
“I have this conversation with my folks: ‘I will put you in harm’s way, so how do I best prepare myself and you for that?’ That is my cause or intent and it is a never-ending pursuit.”
Recommended Next Step: Dialogue Between Senior Leaders and Firefighters
“Ask a Senior Leader to utilize data or some other objective examples to support their point of view. Find one of them who believes in ‘Zero Fatalities’ but is willing to ask a firefighter what a more reasonable target to define ‘safety’ would be and have dialogue.”
Young Line Officers, Resource Specialists Lack Proper Risk Analysis Skillsets
“I feel ‘The Lie’ is internalized. Smith makes some very valid points surrounding true risk analysis/mitigation techniques.
I do not believe upper management is truly trained in these methodologies. Young line officers, resource specialists, and a host of support personnel do not truly have the skillsets as they dive into WFDSS to perform risk analyses.
We internally default to old practices for fear of reprisal, public outcry, etc. It’s difficult to be at the reins of something when it goes bad if taking a modified approach. It’s far easier to say we were giving it everything we had and it still beat us and burned your house or smoked you out for weeks.”
“I know the impossible task of approaching even one tree without the possibility of it killing me. So clichés like “No life is worth a tree” are just hollow to me.”
Major Spending Suggestion
“It’s time we stop ‘mitigating risks’ and giving it the old college try and really assess risk to drive sound and reasonable suppression strategies. In most cases, I guarantee that an extra 1,000 acres or 10,000 acres will not matter all that much.
How about throwing the major spending in Life First and Safety Journey initiatives into enhanced risk analysis/management skillsets and training?”
Completely Reevaluate How We Manage Fire
“The 10 & 18s are not standard at all, they are merely a loose set of guidelines created to help young firefighters understand hazardous conditions and develop slides before these principles naturally ingrain themselves into subconscious thought processes.
What we need is to completely reevaluate how we manage fire as an organization, drop the attitude, incorporate all available lessons learned, and make better associations between healthy forests/ecological process and firefighter safety.”