Honor The Fallen

By Travis Dotson

How exactly do we Honor the Fallen?

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It’s a tough question because it has a thousand right answers. One of the most important ways to honor is to learn. We are always in danger of squandering the bitter opportunity that tragedy affords us.

This video is a glimpse of what so many of us struggled with in the aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire. This is just a few fire folks walking the ground in January 2014 and grappling with how to advance our culture in the aftermath of devastation.

Take a look.

Making sense of bad outcomes is difficult, often impossible. But nobody wants the pain to be without benefit. Suffering without growth is tragic.

Let’s choose growth. One way to grow is to challenge long held beliefs. The window for genuine inquiry opens wide after disorienting circumstances – when we are shaken we struggle to re-balance. For many the re-balance means doubling down on long held beliefs, for others it requires a heart wrenching letting go of previous convictions.

What are some of your long held beliefs?

Are you willing to question them?

Are you willing to consider a new perspective?

And after all that, are you willing to actually alter your actions?

Growth is difficult.

Honor the Fallen

 

 

Old Boss Says…

The following letter is directly from the Redondo Escaped Prescribed Fire FLA

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TO: Current and Future Burn Bosses

FROM: An Old Type 1 Burn Boss

As an Old Type 1 Burn Boss, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a ton of great people and do what I believe is a lot of awesome work within our fire adapted ecosystems. This was my first time serving on Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) team. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to participate on an FLA team. Please don’t wait as long as I did to get involved. Never stop learning, never stop communicating, and always strive to BE A STUDENT OF FIRE.

As a Prescribed Fire Burn Boss you operate in a very complex and ever changing environment. You spend months preparing for an event, and all along you need to be gathering situational awareness:

• Who will be on that hill at a specific time?

• Did I order enough blue houses?

• Will the food be on time?

• What piece of equipment will break down?

Oh, and don’t forget your day-to-day job requires a facility check next week and a hundred other things.

As a current burn boss, spend as much time as possible with future burn bosses. Teach new burn bosses to document everything, even if they think it is trivial. Why? Because to truly move forward with a learning culture, you have to be able to tell your story, and trust me, notes are golden.

As an Old Type 1, I want to share my experiences with you. Some learning was easy, some came the hard way. I’m sharing with you today with the hopes that you may learn from my scars.

• COMMUNICATION – COMMUNICATION – COMMUNICATION. Up, down, sideways. Never stop.

• Utilize the District as an ID Team to ensure your complexity analysis and burn plan is robust.

• Build an organization around yourself for support.

  •  This could be as simple as utilizing the type 3 militia.
  • Find the person that can locate anything, anywhere, and get them to assist with logistics.
  • Make sure you have plenty of drivers.

• Use an Incident Action Plan (IAP) and take the time to update all the blocks. The IAP will become your most critical piece of documentation.

• Invite overhead in at least two shifts prior to ignition. This will ensure everyone is familiar with the plan you’ve been working on for the past six months.

  •  Challenge these overhead resources to read the plan, to find what is missing, to poke holes in it – so that your plan becomes their plan, and is better for it.
  • Make time for a small command meeting before your first briefing. This will allow you to gauge the employees you have on hand and provide a chance to identify any resources/needs that are lacking.
  • CHECK RED CARDS.

• Partner with your dispatcher – they are extremely important to your success. Use ROSS to track assignment and qualifications of your people.

• Be in constant communication with your Agency Administrator (AA).

  • During the writing of the burn plan and complexity analysis, have meaningful dialogue with your AA. They are sharing the risk with you. If you can’t have a meaningful conversation or you don’t feel comfortable they are sharing the risk, STOP–THINK-TALK-THEN SIGN. Remember this is not about just checking a box.
  • If possible, have the AA on site for the entire event, or at a minimum during the critical shifts.
  • The AA is your partner during the burn; if you are not getting what you need, ASK – make some noise – get what you need.

• During the technical review process, ask for honest feedback and don’t take comments personally. Honest feedback helps you learn and makes for a better plan.

• Smoke is so very important, don’t just look at what the smoke is doing around the fire – look to where it will be that afternoon and where it will settle during the night.

  • Look at the area you could affect and double it.
  • Get the word out early and often.
  • Make sure you know who your smoke sensitive individuals are.

• Create a partnership with your district and/or forest PIO. Use the winter to provide information to the public and tell the good story about prescribed fire. Perhaps go with your AA and do some media interviews.

• Always look at ordering a FEMO for your prescribed fire events. This person is your weather and fire behavior documentation leader.

• Look at bolstering your fuels program. A strong fuels specialist will take your planning to a new level.

• REMEMBER:

  • BEING FLEXIBLE IS WAY TOO RIGID
  • YOU CAN ONLY BURN AS FAST AS YOU CAN HOLD
  • EVERYONE IS WILLING TO HELP, YOU JUST NEED TO ASK!

Thank you for all your hard work and never forget it is an honor to be a Burn Boss!

– Old Type 1 Burn Boss


Read the full report: Redondo Escaped Prescribed Fire FLA

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Gloveless Idiots

By Travis Dotson

Some people don’t like the picture at the top of this page. Here is part of an email we received:

“The current Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website home screen pictures three wildland firefighters working in the black with handtools. From my perspective they appear to be less than 10 feet apart and two of them aren’t wearing gloves. Have NWCG standards on Line Construction and PPE changed?  I always speak up on these type issues since this is a pending Condition Yellow 9 Line IWI.”

Here’s another one:

“Just sharing that the header picture strikes me wrong, unless you are trying to show a lesson to be learned….no gloves and using hand tools seems out of place, given that we teach people to use gloves and keep their sleeves rolled down — am I missing something?”

So let’s talk about the picture, or rather the practice the picture captures — wildland firefighters working without gloves on. First of all, let’s do some acceptance around the topic:

  1. It happens. This picture depicts reality. This is how work gets done, whether we want it to be done that way or not.
  2. This is a divisive topic.

Number 1 is self-explanatory. Number 2 seems silly, but it’s true — we like to “Us and Them” the crap out of this hot potato. There is a bright line between the Glove Nazis and the Gloveless Idiots.

Glove Nazi’s have super clean Nomex, no tolerance for nuance, and certainly wouldn’t know which end of what tool is best used to fry grub worms (or why you would fry grub worms).

Gloveless Idiots are a bunch of babbling backwoods booger eaters who have no sense of cause and effect.

Well, we won’t get far if we believe either of those extremes will we? (But I bet you bought one of them anyway.)

OK kiddos, let’s sooth our hurt feelings and come back to the table for a little slice of compromise pie.

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Gloves protect our hands. Gloves make some tasks more difficult.

Individuals make personal decisions about risk all day everyday. (Insert your favorite daily risk decision example here. Most people use driving, so don’t use that one.)

When and where to put on gloves is the ultimate “efficiency / thoroughness trade off” dilemma. It’s a pretty tough nut to crack.

What if…

  • Every time you saw a photo of firefighters working without gloves on you thought: “Wow, those folks must have a very compelling reason not to wear gloves…I wonder what it is?”

What if…

  • Every time someone asked why you aren’t wearing gloves you thought: “Wow – this person really cares about my safety, that is so kind.”

More acceptance. Fewer assumptions.

What if.

 

Are Your “Slides” Blinding You?

By Persephone Whelan


So there I was, snuggled on the couch in the early morning hours with my 3-year-old, sipping coffee, idly flipping through Facebook when a Hotchkiss Fire District video of the Horse Park Fire came under my thumb. I thought, “Wow. That’s some interesting fire behavior. Wonder what the story is there.” Then I was interrupted with a request for more Paw Patrol videos or something.

Later on that day, a buddy called me up. “Did you see that video from the Horse Park Fire?! What were they thinking?”

STOP RIGHT THERE!

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Do I have your attention? Maybe half of it while you sip coffee, eat a sandwich, ride down the road? I’ll take what I can get. I want to stir the pot and see what comes up.

Have you ever been watching a video or reading about a near miss or something particularly hairy on a fire and heard someone say: “If they just stuck to the basics they would have been fine.” Or “What part of ‘base all actions on current and expected fire behavior’ did they not understand?” Or “How could they not see that coming?” Have you ever had these thoughts or conversations?

Let’s talk about THIS.

But before I launch into a series of questions and ideas to “stir the pot” I need you to take a moment and suspend your personal beliefs. Ready? Here we go.

Setting Us Up for Failure

Why do we keep getting surprised? What do we expect arriving on scene of an incident?

I would like to propose that this is where we have culturally strapped on the blinders. Your “slides,” your past experiences on fires, may be blinding you to what is right in front of you—and the possible future.

Perhaps we need to let go of the Recognition Primed Decision Making model. YIKES! What did she just say? I’m proposing this model, this mode of thinking, is setting us up for failure. Time to leave the 80s in the 80s and challenge our ways of thinking today.

No one starts their shift with the intention of only having half their situational awareness. Everyone starts their day, their strategy, or their tactics thinking that they have complete SA. They make decisions based upon that information they feel they are getting or matching-up to previous situations they have encountered. Sure, this practice might initially seem to work—right up until that moment everything goes to hell and they are running, thinking: “Wow! How did I lose my SA?”

Do you think the individuals in the Horse Park Fire video or FLA started their day thinking: “Hey I want to see how close I can get to being burned-over without actually getting hurt.”  Or: “I’m going to totally ignore the Fire Orders and Watch Out Situations when I go scout this fire because they don’t really work for me.”

You do not lose your SA. I once heard someone say, losing your SA is only possible if you are unconscious. You are only a human capable of processing X amount of data. It’s HOW you process that data that matters the most.

Mindfulness

Allow me to drop a hefty word on you: Mindfulness. If you are starting to picture hippy music, incense, meditation, etc., please pause. I am talking about mindfulness in a science/nerd type of way, not in a “gentle or nurturing” Buddhist approach. I’m talking about HRO mindfulness. Navy SEALs have mindfulness training. You picking up what I’m throwing down?

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Why does all this matter?

Judgements happen when you compare what you are seeing to a model, experience or “slide” in your mind. Once you make a judgement, your perspective is tailored to that moment. How closely does this scenario match others I’ve encountered? What tactics work best?

This leads you down a path where you may not be “seeing” what is going on around you because you already have a perspective selected which tailors the inputs to your mind. Everything else just washes away. You have now lost your SA.

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How is This Moment Different?

Here is where I ask you to make one subtle, yet very important shift.

Instead of asking yourself: “How does this scenario, this IA, this Division, etc. match others I have encountered before?” Ask yourself: “How is this moment different?” Instead of asking: “What worked before?” Ask: “What options do I have?”

Be creative. Be curious. Tune into your senses. Use the environment and the tools you have to engage—constantly reassessing what is different. And what needs tweaking.

On the other hand, asking yourself “What is working?” is confirmation bias and a dark path to travel. That kind of thinking reaffirms what you already “think you know” and leads to mindlessness and not mindfulness.

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Stop Trying to Make a Square Peg Fit a Round Hole

I do agree with those people who comment “Why were they surprised?” But I have a different perspective. Is it not common to joke “What is normal?” I haven’t heard many firefighters arguing that conditions or fires are the same as they were 20 years ago. If our fires aren’t normal, why are we using “normal” tactics?

“We’ve always done X” is a weak argument. I think this is how people get surprised. Stop trying to make a square peg fit a round hole. Stop forcing tactics that used to work on our current situations. We are a professional, adaptable group that performs at a high level in chaos.

Seek opportunities to allow your brains to operate at that high level without putting blinders on the inputs. Talk among yourselves, ask questions and listen to each other. Most of all <gasp> be safe out there!

Want to Know More?

Want to try to understand where these crazy ideas came from? Check out these sources:

  • Conklin, Todd. “What is all this talk about Mindfulness – Ellen Langer is someone you should know.” Pre Accident Investigation Podcast 151. December 9, 2017. https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-52idj-7d8e50
  • TedX Talks – “How to tame your wandering mind” by Amishi jha.
  • Fraher, Amy, Branicki, Layla and Grint, Keith. (2016) Mindfulness in action: discovering how Navy SEALs build capacity for mindfulness in high-reliability organizations. Academy of Management Discoveries.
  • Dotson, Travis. Ground Truths “Experience Builds Bias.” Two More Chains. Summer 2017. Vol. 7 Issue 2. Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.

 

Suicide: Behavioral Health Advisory

The following is an advisory circulating in the wildland fire community.


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Behavioral Health Advisory

 

Subject: Caring for our own: Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Health

Distribution: Fire & Aviation personnel, Nationwide

Discussion: Suicide rates are increasing in this country, and while we do not have specific numbers, tragically, suicide affects our employees. Suicide does not discriminate on the basis of gender, age, background or profession.

Help‐seeking is often perceived as “weakness” to be avoided at all costs. This stigma, by its very nature, promotes silence and discourages asking for help when it is needed. Reducing stigma—making it OK to not be OK, and OK to seek help—is the first step. By openly addressing the topic of mental health among our employees, we can embrace the notion that this issue is no different than any other injury or disease.

Our workplace is a critical partner in preventing suicide. We have an opportunity to give people a sense of purpose, hope and community, all of which are psychological buffers to distress. Take the time to connect with each other. Each of us has the ability to make a positive difference in someone’s life. One life lost is too many.

Risk Factors

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Heavy alcohol or drug use
  • Witnessing traumatic event (s)
  • Major physical illness or injury
  • Loss of a close relationship
  • Isolation or lack of social support (e.g. off‐season, retirement)
  • Knowing others who have died by suicide

Warning Signs

  • Sudden withdrawal from social contact
  • Persistent feeling of hopelessness
  • Increasingly reckless behavior
  • Mood swings/ Change in behavior
  • Having a suicide plan (me, place, method)

There is hope. It is important to talk about suicide. Help is available.

Get Help Now

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

800‐273‐8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/


Veterans Crisis Line: Confidential support available 24/7/365 for veterans and their families and friends, regardless of enrollment in VA health care.

800‐273‐8255 and Press 1. Text message to 838255

https://www.veteranscrisisline.net (online chat available)


American Addiction Centers Firefighter & First Responders: Peer support for behavioral health and substance abuse.

888‐731‐FIRE (3473)

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/firefighters‐first‐responders/


Treatment Placement Specialists: Individualized behavioral health assistance program (BHAP) with intake specialists trained to work with first responders.

877‐540‐3935 (Or see the map on the website for the TPS in your area.)

http://www.treatmentplacementspecialists.com


What You Can Do

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND OTHERS. Monitor and manage mental health, just as you would physical health. Do not be afraid to ask for help and seek medical treatment. Thoughts of suicide can occur in anyone. It is not their fault, but rather a need to treat a mental health issue.

TALK OPENLY AND ACTIVELY LISTEN. Peer support goes a long way to protecting mental health. Open communication is especially important for the survivors after a firefighter suicide occurs. Listen actively, let someone who is seeking your help talk at their own pace and ask them open‐ended questions.

SHOW COMPASSION: Psychological risk is an undeniable part of the job. Be patient and supportive; do not judge or stigmatize individuals experiencing a mental health challenge.

BE DIRECT. If someone seems at risk or shows warning signs, ask “Are you thinking of suicide?” and “Do you have a plan?” Recognizing a potential suicide is critical to preventing it.

BE PROACTIVE: If someone you know has a suicide plan, connect them with a higher level of care as soon as possible. If it is safe for someone to stay with them, do not leave them alone. Call 9‐1‐1 immediately.


To download a printable version of this advisory please click here:

https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/suicide-awareness-and-prevention

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To download a printable version of this advisory please click here:

https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/suicide-awareness-and-prevention

The Queen Bee, Tokenism, and Pushing Feminine Away

By Sara Brown

Reflecting on eleven seasons as a wildland firefighter, I explore three reasons why women in fire don’t universally encourage more women to join wildland fire by revealing personal, and often uncomfortable perspectives.

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Reason 1: Creating a Persona to “Fit In.”

For the Sake of Safety, “fitting in” with the firefighter culture is essential for safety and a positive work environment. In order to “fit in” with the culture, I created a persona that was not my authentic self. Each time I moved to a new fire crew I found myself needing to prove my worth as a firefighter and working to be viewed a trusted member of the crew such that I would be included (and safe). The easiest way to do this was to create a masculine version of myself. This meant that I didn’t contribute as many of the positive characteristics that females typically possess, such as providing: alternative perspectives on risk taking, alternative ways to get things done, and emotional safety for my peers. Work by Jennifer Taylor, PhD, at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health corroborates my experience.

Reason 2: The Culture Limits Potential Benefits of Diversity.

The well-intended concept of “inclusivity” may be overrun by “exclusivity” of the fire culture. Cultural exclusivity likely defeats many of the positive aspects that are commonly attributed to diversifying a workforce. The current culture in wildland fire attracts people who either naturally “fit in,” or are willing to conform to the hyper-masculine culture. Minorities who join fire, (women for example) stifle many of the unique perspectives they may otherwise contribute to the culture in order to fit in. Cultural exclusivity has limited perspectives and stifled diversity within the overall culture. When women act in masculine ways to fit into a culture for psychological and physical safety, they can’t provide “diversity”–in effect they contribute to the culture the same way as men do.

Reason 3: Pushing “Feminine” Away.

At work I have pushed other female firefighters (particularly “feminine acting females”) away, rather than bringing them into relationship and supporting them. Two theories suggest that conditions in the workplace might contribute to this behavior.

Theory 1: Tokenism

In the late 1980’s, Robin Ely, then a graduate student in the Yale School of Management, found that women in male-dominated firms believed that only so many of them would make it into the senior ranks, and that they were vying with one another for those spots. This dynamic is known as tokenism.

Theory 2: Queen Bee

A Dutch psychologist, Naomi Ellemers, was trying to understand the near-total absence of senior women in academia. She found that senior women coped with gender discrimination by emphasizing how different they were from other women. She termed these women “Queen Bees.” Ellmers provides conditions in which queen bees emerge: when women are a marginalized group in the workplace, have made big sacrifices for their career, or are already predisposed to show little “gender identification”— camaraderie with other women. According to Ellemers, Queen Bees, “learn the hard way that the way to succeed in the workplace is to make sure that people realize they are not like other women.”

Hopefully these thoughts/experiences, and the following questions will spur discussion about this important topic across multiple levels of the firefighting program.

Is there a tipping point of women firefighters that can be reached beyond which tokenism and Queen Bee syndromes disappear?

Currently our firefighting system seems to support woman deciding to “do fire” on their own with some mentorship. These “self-made” female firefighters meet and accept other woman who made it on their own, but may be skeptical of helping others who didn’t “make it on their own.”

The Challenge – How can we find a way to get the ones who “made it” on their own to want to mentor others who may need a bit more help?

Or should we?

Watch the webinar:

 

Sara Brown works for The USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

Underslung Heroes

By Travis Dotson

Remember the Cerro Grande Fire in May of 2000?

  • 230+ Homes Destroyed
  • 18000 People Evacuated
  • Nuclear Facility Threatened
  • Damage Cost – One BILLION Dollars
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Burned homes from the Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos NM.

Nothing too outrageous by today’s standards I suppose. But consider this:

It was an escaped prescribed fire.

That’s a huge deal.

So, who were these clowns playing with matches on the doorstep of a nuclear laboratory right in the middle of the southwest spring winds?

Well, here is one member of this lousy light-it, fight-it, and lose-it team—in fact, this goofball was in charge when the fire went over the hill:

Paul Gleason.

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Paul Gleason

Hmmmm . . . Paul Gleason. Why does that name ring a bell? I feel like there’s some sort of big-deal significance associated with that name. Oh, wait. Isn’t that the dude who came up with LCES?

How did this happen? Like any other tough day on the line, there’s one slop-over kicking their ass and the Burn Boss (Gleason) suggests they make the magic name change (convert from RX to Wildfire—the most oppressive game of semantics we play).

So, they convert it. Now it’s a wildfire and Gleason is the Type 3 IC. Next comes the most common of all common tactical decisions. Direct or indirect?

We all know the direct or indirect dilemma is a fairly standard operational decision that needs to be made, just like it was that day. In the context of what eventually happened, this particular direct/indirect decision has gotten quite a bit of scrutiny. I think you should let Gleason walk you through it himself – watch this video: (Go right to 11:30 – 15:00 for the direct/indirect decision)

 

Are You Really Willing to Go There?

The “Bad Apple”. There’s one in every bunch, right?

Are you really willing to go there? Are you willing to boil this entire series of events down to a simple case of: “They should’ve turned left”?

Are you willing to say you would have made a better tactical decision than Paul Gleason?

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The Bad Apple Theory

Paul Gleason said: “I had a preconceived bias against underslung line.”

I don’t like underslung line, either. Do you?

Crucial Decision Points

Yet, this is exactly the type of decision we love to crucify folks with using the perception-twisting kaleidoscope of retrospect omniscience.

As we look back at bad outcomes we create a story and in that story are critical turning points. Of course, these turning points are given significance only through reference to the eventual outcome. Who cares if they went direct or indirect if no houses burned down?

So now we have the story and identified the crucial decision points. We all love to customize these crucial points in our never-ending quest for the adoration of our peers via gaudy display of operational virility. Peacocks we are. We all want to be recognized for our “unique insight.” (In fact, I’m even on this quest myself right here within this article. But everything I’m saying has been said before. Damnit, now I have to find another route to self-esteem!)

What I’m really saying here is we love to parry the “They should have gone direct!” blow with the oh-so-clever “Well they never should have lit it!” mindset. Touchdown! The Monday morning quarterback brings home the bacon every single time!

Newsflash: That is not a clever insight. Neither is its simple sister: “Why were they even there in the first place?” Oh, how we love to toss that one out in relation to the latest entrapment, especially if it is related to structure defense. Again, not clever or even remotely insightful. We all know exactly how we get where we get because we all get there on every fire. We just walk away by the grace of Big Ernie.

The Comfort of Finding Fault

Let’s see here, where were we? Oh yeah, throwing rocks at Paul Gleason for making the wrong decision. Or not stopping the ignition. Or not listening to the weather service. Or listening to the weather service. Or not praying hard enough.

Maybe it wasn’t Gleason. Maybe it was somebody else.

Did you just feel the relief as we moved the crosshairs? Ahhhh, the comfort of finding fault—it feels so natural. I mean, who are we kidding? A prescribed fire that torches a town? SOMEBODY must have screwed-up. It’s not like that was the plan! Please feel free to pause here and let the comfort of that last sentence wash over you.

It should be unsettling to acknowledge how cozy that self-righteousness feels.

The Bad Apple, there’s one in every bunch.

Paul Gleason and Eric Marsh

Let’s time travel our target shooting session.

Hmmm, what year should we jump to? How about 2013? It’s so easy. Eric Marsh might not have been Paul Gleason, but he’d led his crew on a hike off a fire more than once. Bad Outcome = Bad Apple? Try giving Marsh the leeway you give Gleason.

Does it feel any different?

Apples and oranges, you might say. (Considering our current context, that’s kind of funny.)

But is it really that different? An operational decision with an unintended outcome. What if the personalities were reversed? What if Eric Marsh was the Burn Boss/ICT3 at the House Burner RX and Paul Gleason was hiking his crew to the ranch when they were overrun by fire?

Would you make sense of those outcomes differently than you currently do?

I’m guessing you would. You might try a little harder to see what you aren’t seeing, actively asking yourself: “What am I missing here?” But that Bad Apple bucket is enticing isn’t it? It’s a lot less work to just toss the bad operator in and move on. Especially if they are dead. Especially if they weren’t “Agency”. Especially if they didn’t have the right kind of buckle. Especially if, especially if, especially if . . .

Stand Accountable

We are all amazing firefighters. We are all bad firefighters. It just depends on the day and the circumstances. And the outcome.

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“I had to face the fact that there were times that I made decisions that led to the eventual outcome of this fire.” – Paul Gleason

I know the Bad Apple theory is appealing. And it might even be true sometimes. But don’t get lazy and use it without putting genuine heartfelt inquiry and introspection into the matter. Acknowledge the shifts where you were the Bad Apple. Acknowledge the future shifts where you will be the Bad Apple.

Everyone says: “We all make mistakes.” I think we all make decisions using everything we have learned and experienced to this point. I think we all care deeply about the people next to us. I think we all want to learn from tragedy and heartbreak. I think we can do better.


“There is no way to get around how uncomfortable it is to stand accountable for your decisions” – Paul Gleason


 

Listen to the related Lessons Learned Center Podcast:

Bad Apples

Saddle Up

By Travis Dotson

Alright folks, listen up. We have a tough piece of line to put in. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s gonna suck. It’s certainly dangerous, but that’s nothing new. This chunk of ground is gnarly. Ground just like this has killed more than a few good firefighters.

Looking at the bigger picture, this piece is absolutely critical and there is no way to avoid it. We have to go direct. This piece has to get tied-in–and we are the ones to do it.

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Tactical Briefing

We have a solid safety zone, but it’s a haul to get back down here. We have super-dialed lookouts, the best there are for this type of assignment. We all have to keep track of where we are and keep in close contact with the lookouts. Each one of you needs to keep a pulse on your gut. If anything starts to feel sketchy you need to speak up and RTO.

Here’s the other deal. There’s a couple crews already in there moving dirt. We need to get in there and help. There are crews coming in behind us as well. We all need to chip in on this one, it’s a big chunk of ground and there’s plenty of work for everyone.

You been at that briefing? Of course you have. What did you do when it was over? You saddled up and got to work. Because that’s what you signed up to do: Hard sh*t for the greater good.

Ready to saddle up and get to work doing hard sh*t for the greater good?

It’s just another shift, only this assignment involves a different kind of work.

For this go you’ll need to saddle up and answer tough questions for an important study.

Some of the questions are hard. Hard like personal. Hard like they could make you uncomfortable. But you’ve been uncomfortable before–nothing new there.

“The long-term physical, psychological, and behavioral health risks of wildland firefighters are not well-documented in research.”

We have all seen and felt the fire-specific impacts to our physical, psychological, and behavioral health–both good and bad. We all want to advance our ability to care for each other. We need research to establish an anchor point. That research starts with you.

Get in there. Do the work. Get the line in.

We don’t turn our backs on doing our share of hard sh*t for the greater good. We saddle up and get to work.

Moving!


What to Expect:

1. First, a few questions to see if you qualify to participate in this study.

2. If you qualify, you will be directed to the Wildland Firefighter Health and Behavior Survey.

This survey will take 15-40 minutes to complete.

Click here to get started: https://umt.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_080qdGFTskXOAVD

Duty, Respect, Integrity?

A reader was inspired to write and submit this piece after reflecting on our last post “We Are The Problem.”

This is called leading by example.

Thank you Nicole Oke.


By Nicole Oke

I try, but I can’t. I want to, but it’s just too hard. How can I? How can I look into those eyes knowing what I know? After all I have seen, after all I have heard, after all I have done or allowed to happen, how, how can I? When those eyes stare back at me I know what they will see, the truth, the shame, the guilt.

Duty, respect, integrity. Words to live by. Words to live up to. I thought I lived by these words, but if I look into those eyes I will have to acknowledge that I fell short, that I have failed, that I have let down those who needed me most.

Northern California Fires of 2008

It is my duty to be a leader. It is my duty to make sound and timely decisions. It is my duty to develop others for the future. I claim to be a leader. Others look to me for guidance and support. But if I look into those eyes I know the questions I will have to answer.

What kind of leader allows others to be harassed on their watch? What kind of leader knows harassment is happening and makes a conscious decision to ignore it, or worse yet, makes a conscious decision to allow it to be ok? What kind of a leader develops others for the future in a work environment where those who follow them don’t feel safe?

It is my job to look out for those I work with and for their well-being. It is my job to know others’ capabilities. It is my job to build a team. This is how we define respect, it is my job to respect those I work for, those who work for me, and those I work with. This is my job. But if I look into those eyes I know I will have to address why I choose to respect some and disrespect others.

"Happy Camp Complex, Klamath NF, CA, 2014"How can I look out for someone’s well-being if I refuse to acknowledge the things that are happening around me that are damaging all of our well-being? How can I look at others capabilities when it comes to doing a job, and yet be blind to their capability for hurting others? How can I build a team if harassment is present? How can I expect others to work with team members who have disrespected them, who have mentally, emotionally, or physically violated them in some way? How can I build a team when my team members can’t trust me to protect them and support them when they are going through one of the hardest things imaginable?

I struggle with integrity the most. Know yourself and seek improvement. Seek responsibility and accept responsibility for my actions. Set the example. To know myself requires examining every part of who I am and what I stand for.

Who am I? The more important questions is, do I want to know who I am? I support others, until I don’t. I believe in zero tolerance, until it happens. I speak up for those who can’t, until I won’t. I do what’s right, until doing what’s right is too hard. I talk the talk, until those I am talking to are in a position of authority. I care, until it stops impacting me.

"Happy Camp Complex, Klamath NF, CA, 2014"Being honest, being real, about who I am is hard, and those eyes, they know I need to take responsibility for my actions and for the consequences of my inactions. If I call myself a leader then I am one by name, but if I want to be a leader then I need to lead. I set the example for others. I can choose to allow, disregard, or deny the existence of inappropriate comments, dirty jokes, intimidation, innuendos, threats, and harassment. I can choose to ignore the realities of our gender biased culture and dismiss incidents of sexual abuse and rape as unique cases, not created by the beliefs and values of our firefighting community, or I can choose to lead a direct attack against it.

I can choose to have the integrity to speak up and let it be known I do not tolerate any form of harassment. I can choose to find ways to educate those around me about the experiences of others, and build understanding and empathy among my colleagues. I can choose to have the difficult and uncomfortable conversations that I have been avoiding all of my life. I can choose to talk about topics that are considered taboo. I can choose to create a welcoming and safe work environment where everyone feels able to discuss ideas and issues without fear of disapproval or reprimand. Maybe then I would able to look into those eyes and not feel like such a fake.

2c_IntegrityI look into the eyes of those who have faced sexual harassment and refused to accept it. I can see the pain, the humiliation, the disappointment that goes along with being harassed. I can also see something more, a determination, a drive, and a passion for a job they love. I think to myself how much strength it must take to admit to the world that something this horrific happened to you. How brave it is to talk about such a personal experience and to share that experience in hopes of helping others. I think about how much courage it takes to set aside all the reasons not to speak out. I think about how afraid they must be for themselves, their families, their careers.

I look into the eyes of those I love, the eyes of mothers, sisters, and wives. I hope that they will be one of the lucky ones. I pray that they will never have to endure the kind of harassment that is so prevalent among us. I dream of seeing a shift of our practices and policies so that one day I don’t have to hope and pray anymore.

I look into the eyes of my daughter, so young and innocent. My eyes water, my hands shake, and I get sick at the idea of her ever working in a place where she could be harassed, abused, or even raped while being surrounded by individuals, leaders, whose values are duty, respect, and integrity.

I finally find the ability to look into the eyes I have been avoiding, the eyes in the mirror. How do I look myself in the eye knowing what I know? After all I have seen, after all I have heard, after all I have done or allowed to happen, how, how can I? When those eyes stare back at me I know what they will see, the truth, the shame, the guilt.

The time for change is now, I stand with you and choose to live by the values of duty, respect, and integrity.

 

We Are The Problem

By Travis Dotson

In light of this:

we decided to re-post this piece from the Summer 2016 issue of Two More Chains.


My Daughter
She’s only two, but everyone can tell she’s “tough.” She constantly climbs and runs and falls down, just like any toddler. It’s a rare occasion for her to be scabless. People often comment on her “physicality.” “She’s so brave!” “She’s so agile.” Eventually, someone says: “A little firefighter in training!” And my heart sinks.

 

I understand that in relation to profession, children often follow in the footsteps of their parents. I don’t want my daughter anywhere near this profession. My hesitation has nothing to do with the risk of physical injury or death.

It’s because she won’t get a fair shake.

My daughter will face sexism. My daughter will have to deal with gender bias. I will have to watch her struggle with these issues no matter what path she chooses in life. If she chooses to be a construction worker or an engineer, at least I won’t know all the gory details of how she will be judged and mistreated—all the things I know intimately about the fire service.

Ashamed of Our Culture

I don’t want my daughter to become a wildland firefighter because I am ashamed of our culture regarding women in our ranks.

Wildland fire is filled with amazing women and they have to put up with a ridiculous amount of B.S. They are second-guessed, passed over, mistreated, and talked down to on a regular basis. I want my daughter to be evaluated by her peers on the basis of her performance and her contributions alone.

I don’t want her to be denied an opportunity for no other reason than her gender. I also realize that what I want matters little, for the world is a patriarchy and I’m part of it. But I can still take a swing at it.

The things I hear:

“I don’t hire women.”

“They’re just more trouble than they’re worth.”

“If girls can do it, it’s not tough.”

We are the Problem

Who says those things? Men, that’s who. Face it fellas, WE are the problem. I thought about all this stuff before, but the minute I had a daughter it became personal—and that’s pathetic. The very fact that it took a daughter to reveal my veiled view just goes to show how ignorant most of us are to the existence of our unearned advantage, as well as our active role in maintaining it.

Who am I kidding? I’m trying to connect with a bunch of blindly privileged whiners who vie for victim status every time a female is hired.

Even if the “think about your daughter” tactic did work, we can’t wait around for all the males in the fire service to have daughters so they can half-way empathize with the injustice faced by the women in our workforce. It’s a bad strategy and it’s not going to happen.

We need all men, whether they have daughters or not, to feel this.

Be Better

Believe me boys, you aren’t the only ones who are tough; and tough isn’t the only attribute we want anyway. We want anyone who can swing a tool all day long and still make good decisions when it counts the most. Women can do that every bit as good as men can—arguably better.

Think about your perspective on this subject. Take stock of the words you use and how you interact with the people around you. Women aren’t the only ones we isolate, exclude, and minimize.

Test your behavior against our core values of Duty, Respect and Integrity. Chances are you fall short on this subject. If you fail, study up and test again—growth is painful.

Be the change, Tool-Swingers.


Don’t shy away from the topic.

It’s real. We own this.

It’s got to change.