DRAWN BY FIRE - Paul Combs


Today I publish an illustration that was harder to draw than I thought it would be – and I knew it would be hard! The subject of alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and drunk driving is at times a taboo subject in the firehouse and our national conferences. We eagerly discuss tactics, obesity, cancer, suicide, depression, seat belts, speed, health and fitness… the list of ways we can become injured or killed seems endless, and we are doing a much better job of having these conversations. But as I write this, another brother is dead, another family is mourning a father/husband/son, and friends are crushed beyond words. I did not know this man outside of a couple on-line interactions, but it brought up so many feelings and emotions from friends lost in the past – losses that I’m still coming to terms with. So, as I do, I put my pain, anger…

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Like a Phoenix — The Evolving Nomad

More on the recent Two More Chains – please follow the link below to read this piece by Bre Orcasitas.

Dear Evolving Nomad Readers, Recently I was asked to be a guest author for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center’s Two More Chains article, Fall Issue. For those who are not Wildland Firefighters, the Two More Chains articles issued by the LLC offer a strong voice for the fire community. They consistently touch on subject matter […]

via Like a Phoenix — The Evolving Nomad

Continuing the Conversation: Getting Fire Science Research to the Boots-on-the-Ground

[The “One of Our Own” article in the Two More Chains Summer Issue featured Ted Adams, Assistant Supervisor on the Hells Canyon Wildland Fire Module, Payette National Forest. Entitled “Bridging the Gap Between Research and the Field,” the article focused on whether or not fire science research is being applied to decision-making on the fire line. The following quote from Ted was highlighted in the article’s opening: “We have all of this research that’s available to us and yet you could argue that a majority of individuals on the fire line are not reading peer-reviewed research and applying it to their decision-making, into their mental models.” After reading the article, Coleen Haskell contacted us. She asked if she could continue the conversation that we started with Ted. We said, please do.]

By Coleen Haskell, Communications Director for the Joint Fire Science Program

As a technology transfer specialist and fire meteorologist, I find that the Two More Chains “One of Our Own” feature in general and Ted Adams’ pull quote (above) in particular do a comprehensive job of describing the challenge of getting the latest fire science research into the hands of those who need the information—the boots-on-the-ground.

I concur with and echo Ted Adams’ “sincere and fervent quest for actively pursuing research to help improve the wildland firefighter’s challenging world.”

Adams also stated: “It isn’t that we have a shortage of research. We don’t have a shortage of information out there. What we have a shortage of is the translation of that information, in making that information relatable.” That is basically the same thing that I heard at the National Cohesive Strategy Workshop in May from Dr. Mark Finney, Research Forester with the Fire, Fuel, Smoke Science Program at the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Those are absolutely correct assertions that peer-reviewed journal articles generally are not provided in a format that is digestible and easily applicable for managers to put into use. I suggest that a significant disparity exists between primary research and how it is applied operationally in wildland fire and fuels management, sometimes with dire consequences.

In all disciplines, these gaps are filled by technology transfer specialists, boundary spanners, science delivery experts, or whichever labels they identify with. Wildland fire and fuels management is no exception. This creates opportunity space for the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) ( and others to translate research findings into meaningful and useable results. Let’s face it, policy-makers, resource managers, and boots-on-the-ground fire practitioners can do their respective jobs more efficiently and more safely through sound and actionable science informing their decisions. And they should.

Another Perspective

Where I believe there is more story to tell is with the “One of Our Own” article implying that the fire and fuels community is not expending sufficient resources on the connection between fire science research and the translation of that science’s utility to fire practitioners and managers. This Two More Chains article doesn’t mention the success that JFSP and our 15-regionally focused Fire Science Exchange Network (FSEN) are making.

Picture1The JFSP’s science delivery efforts were recently highlighted in the July edition of the Fire Science Digest: “Bridging the Gap: Joint Fire Science Program Outcomes.”  This Fire Science Digest publication describes numerous ways that the JFSP science delivery efforts have made significant strides over the past 10 years to bridge the gap between research and the field primarily through the 15-member Fire Science Exchange Network and its efforts to deliver useful and actionable science to end-users in the fire community.

The boundary-spanning role of the Fire Science Exchange Network is indispensable because it fosters communication between practitioners and researchers.

How FSEN Strives to Bridge the Gap Between Research and the Field

The FSEN integrates the best available fire research with wildland fire, fuels resource, and land managers. It is a national collaborative network of 15 regional fire science exchanges. Each regional exchange provides the most relevant, current wildland fire science to federal, tribal, state, local, and private stakeholders within their respective regions. Regions are primarily organized by geography and ecology.

The 15 regional exchanges are all different in terms of their research focal areas, how they are organized, and even how they label themselves. For example, in the Northern Rockies, the exchange is called “The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network (NRFSN).” Some of the exchanges, however, refer to themselves as “consortia” which was an early name when the network was formed several years ago.


JFSP’s Fire Exchange Network (FSEN).

Regardless of how different each of their local issues are, they all share the need to build partnerships and relationships to effectively share information. They all translate scientific information to fire and fuels managers. In many cases, the FSEN collaborate on projects with each other. For example, the California Fire Science Consortium (the five-region exchange for California) developed a wildland-urban interface webinar series that was applicable beyond their regional boundaries. The series profiled five urban areas across the region, including Austin (Texas), Boulder (Colorado), Flagstaff (Arizona), San Diego (California), and Santa Fe (New Mexico). Examples of the most compelling land use planning tools were summarized to show how urban areas in the West are increasingly becoming wildfire-adapted communities.

High Priority Research Questions

Three of the high priority research questions that members of the FSEN are collectively focusing on:

  • Effects and effectiveness of different prescribed fire and other fuel treatment strategies (such as variability in treatment timing, frequency and intensity).
  • Potential effects of changing fire environments on vegetation, fuels and fire regimes.
  • Impacts of smoke from prescribed fires and wildfire.Picture3


While specific topics vary, they include: fire and grazing, smoke management, fuels reduction, fire-restored landscapes, and invasive species. For example, improved seasonal and short-term weather, fire danger forecasting, and effective fuels management recently emerged as high priorities in Alaska. In the Northern Rockies, fire science related to firefighter safety is taking center stage. In other regions, such as California and the Great Basin, the focus may be on invasive species.

Peer-to-Peer Communication

The best way to get science information into the hands of the boots-on-the-ground practitioners is through active peer-to-peer communication.

Without a doubt, the FSEN is considered to be the “go-to resource” for translating fire science research results, which fosters relationships among scientists and fire managers and is essential to the flow of information between those parties.

Specifically, interactive workshops, field tours and conferences foster a direct and immediate feedback loop.

Because shrinking budgets and more restrictive travel policies make face-time challenging, one middle-ground solution to this dilemma is webinars. For instance, the Lake States and Alaska fire science exchanges recently co-hosted a webinar on the new changes to the fuel moisture estimates in the National Fire Danger Rating System.

Best Way to Connect

The next best way for fire managers to connect with the FSEN is to visit the FSEN website and select the exchange that covers their region using the map on our homepage. Their region’s exchange staff or advisory boards can then connect them with other managers, practitioners and scientists working in their area.


The organizational affiliations of FSEN participants in 2016 are represented in this pie chart. Note that the category of organizations with the most people participating in FSEN science delivery activities is the federal fire service. This category represents most of the fireline-type positions, our boots-on-the-ground community. There are also more of these folks in the State and Tribal categories.


Also online are a host of tools and resources, including fact sheets and science briefs. For example, a series of topic-based, searchable fact sheets are available on the Great Basin Fire Science Exchange’s website. The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network has a searchable archive that includes more than 400 recorded webinars and videos from a variety of partners.

Fire and fuels managers interested in connecting with their regional exchange can also subscribe to their exchange’s newsletters for updates and upcoming event announcements.

Social media is yet another way to connect with research results through the Fire Science Exchange Network and JFSP. They all have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some also offer online photo galleries and blogs.

Identifying Research Priorities

In addition, since the network’s inception, each of the regional exchanges have individually developed mechanisms for stakeholders to provide input on research needs to help identify research priorities. FSEN is piloting a more formal way to identify and develop new research topics in the form of a database. When completed, the database will enable JFSP to: track the wildland fire science community’s progress on addressing research priorities, assess the degree to which national and regional research priorities align, and determine the similarity of needed science across regions.

In future years, the database will provide a powerful tool for informing funding priorities, not just for JFSP, but for other research programs investing in fire science.

Another change in the works is increased outreach to new partners and stakeholders. Exchanges have recently connected with many new partners, including: extension professionals, regional ecology teams, prescribed fire councils, and Firewise groups. These partnerships are part of our strategy to connect with the next generation of fire managers, which the FSEN’s advisory boards and steering committees have identified as a priority.




By Bre Orcasitas

Looks can be deceiving

Surely, there are countless reasons why someone would “choose” to leave the fireline. People come and go in fire like a revolving door and it’s easy to make assumptions as they pack up their lockers or desks. Perhaps it’s a worthy effort to put focus on some of the most prominent reasons why people leave and examine how it looks from the inside.



There you are out on the fireline minding your own business when WHAM! One of a thousand scenarios takes you out. Not completely though, just enough to significantly alter your life. Maybe the injury pushes you out of the jump world; maybe it forces you out of fire completely. With either scenario, there is a sense of loss. You chose a certain avenue of fire because it was where you fit-in. Now you get to “choose” a different avenue of fire or get off the fireline entirely.

It’s less than desirable, but you know you shouldn’t complain because there are so many others who were banged-up to the point that they couldn’t come back at all. You are counted as one of the “fortunate” ones. Those who couldn’t return to fire after their catastrophic injuries but nevertheless, managed to survive are counted in the “lucky to be alive” category, which leaves little room to express anything but gratitude for their altered existence. An existence filled with chronic pain, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, and tracking of medical paperwork. When you’re “lucky to be alive” people give you the “yeah, but…” if you muster up the courage to tell someone how you really feel.

I am so sick of dealing with OWCP that my head is going to explode.

“Yeah, but you could be taking a dirt nap right now! The paperwork is probably better than the alternative right?!”

Starting a family

There seems to be a constant panic about keeping women in fire. There are even committees dedicated to the retention of women. So what’s the problem? Although women (just like men) leave for countless reasons, starting a family is a heavy hitter. So let’s scratch beneath the surface, shall we?

First, let us recognize the ratio; for every 20 men in fire, there is approximately 1 woman. Just using statistics alone it’s easy to see that most male firefighters have a spouse who is not in fire, whereas most female firefighters have a spouse who is in fire. Why is that? As a woman, often times it’s much easier to have a relationship with someone who “gets it” rather than someone you have to explain your profession to. “What are you doing out there in the woods with 20 dudes?”

Since most female firefighters are married to fellow firefighters it makes starting a family exponentially more difficult because you don’t have the non-fire spouse with bankers hours to fall back on. Although a woman is no less dedicated to her career, she has no choice in carrying, birthing, and feeding her child; that’s just biology. Since there has been no smart career pathway created to navigate this circumstance within the firefighting community, the woman’s career is adversely affected and/or demolished, whereas the male experiences no career strain for the exact same situation.

While supervisors of the dad-to-be often times don’t even broach the subject of their upcoming parenthood, women hear statements from their supervisors such as, “well we could lateral you over into dispatch”, “family is the most important thing so if you need to leave fire to start a family that’s okay”, “so what are you going to do?” It’s being supportive without being supportive at all. But what else are the supervisors supposed to do exactly? There’s no flow chart for this because we haven’t collectively decided that it matters enough to figure it out.

Women are essentially forced into choosing between having a family or fighting fire, but men aren’t. Men don’t get placed in dispatch because they became a parent. There’s an overt assumption that if a woman becomes a parent she will be leaving fire which, often times ends up being true, but it’s because there is no support system not because she caught an uncontrollable case of baby fever. Because let’s be honest, fighting fire is a hell of a lot easier than the 1st year of parenthood.

To put the focus back on identity, how easy do you think the transition from fire culture to mommy culture is? You trade in your fire boots for a cutesy diaper bag and give up your nomadic lifestyle for a groundhog’s day existence. Having the firefighter’s stereotypical can-do attitude now leaves you feeling like a failure because as hard as you tried, you couldn’t figure out how to be a firefighter and a parent at the same time. And on top of that, you miss the fireline because it’s where you belong.

If you happen to find yourself on the fireline with a woman who is also a parent, stop and shake her hand because she made miracles happen in order to be there.


Saving your family

It’s no secret that there are high rates of divorce amongst the fire community for obvious reasons. During the fire season, work-life balance simply does not exist. The off-season used to be a time to reconnect with your family and try to make up for lost time, however, there has been an increase in meetings, trainings, and hiring obligations over the last several years that keeps fire folks away from home semi-regularly during the winter as well.

People want to spend time with their family and this career is not conducive to maintaining healthy relationships, so firefighters sacrifice positions on their beloved crews to ensure that their child will be able to recognize them when they walk through the door.

“Choosing” to take a lesser position, or leaving primary fire in an attempt to create some semblance of work-life balance looks good on paper but the reality is bittersweet, because it’s nearly impossible not to harbor feelings of loss. By taking that “lesser” job you traded in your passion for a steady paycheck that meets the need and nothing more. Your sense of purpose fades away as discontent slowly seeps in to take its place. You’re more or less leaving your fire-family for your family-family. One family takes a hit either way.


Retirement should be a time of celebration, a time when you can transition into the “choose your own adventure” part of life. But for many ground-pounders, their mandatory retirement date hangs over their heads like a guillotine. This is what you know, these people are your family; how are you expected to simply walk off into the sunset with a smile on your face? It’s just not that simple. “You have dedicated your life to this profession, congratulations! You’ve done it long enough that we are now forcing you to stop.” So the retirees give a courtesy chuckle to the youngster’s comment about how lucky they are to be done, while at the same time feeling slightly lost about what they’re supposed to do next. Where’s the IAP for this?


Assumptions are salt in the wound

As it turns out self-extrication is jarring, whatever its form, in fact, it’s more like involuntary separation because it doesn’t feel like a choice at all. It takes time to come to terms with the loss of part of your identity; some people may never come to terms with it.

From the outside it’s easy to make the assumption that people who didn’t get killed in an accident are lucky, that all women want to have babies and are less committed to the job, that if you left your position to be closer to home you’re happy about it, or if you’re up for retirement you must be stoked. To assume these things would leave out the heart of the matter; being a wildland firefighter is more than just a job. The longer you’re in it, the more entwined with your identity it becomes until you can no longer recognize yourself without it, and then what?

So maybe it’s worth asking a follow-up question to those folks who are packing up their desks and/or lockers. You never know if that follow-up question could end up altering the outcome of someone’s situation, or at the very least, it can help them to feel valued as they walk out the door.

Bre Orcasitas is the author of ‘The Evolving Nomad‘ blog site. Go there and read more of her stuff!

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