A few years back, I was flying around with a political appointee who many of us used to work for. We were visiting some large, complex incidents, talking to the ICs and our jurisdictional partners. It wasn’t my favorite kind of duty, but once I worked at the Regional Office, that was my typical day. Listen in to a short conversation I had with this gentleman that day. That conversation was both frustrating and greatly disappointing for me.
The future of wildland fire management is really complex and unknown. But we know it’s only going to get worse. What are we going to do differently? You know the famous saying that Einstein is supposed to have said that goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results?”
Ever get that feeling during fire season? Fire after fire, year after year we say, “if I have one more shift I can catch this one.” Or, “we just need 2 more shot crews to hook this thing. It happens on almost every extended attack fire. It really is insane. Year after year we’re repeating the same actions and getting the same results.
Fires are getting bigger, more homes are burning, we’re spending more money and more firefighters are dying… but we’re not really making any substantive changes. Seems like insanity to me because there no political will to do anything substantially different. Listen to this episode and see what you think. You future leaders are going to have to fix what me and the rest of my generation couldn’t.
Many of us are formal leaders. Some of us are informal leaders. Maybe we aspire to a higher leadership role. But all of us are leaders in some way or another. But even experienced formal leaders may not have been tested during a crises. It all depends on the kinds of jobs we have and maybe bad luck. Today’s story is a bit about when my leadership was tested but it’s really about how we see ourselves in that leadership role and how we prepare ourselves for the “big one.” My good friend and amazing fire leader Curtis Heaton joins me for this story. I hope you take home some important lessons today As always, thanks for listening and if you haven’t read my book yet, check out Both Sides Of The Fire Line. Thanks.
Episode 87, How Are Your Leadership Skills In A Crises? BobbieOnFire.com, December 1, 2022
An interview by KJZZ in AZ and KLCC in Oregon. I’m just one of 3 writers who were interviewed for the Arizona interview. Share the links if you find the interview worthwhile. Thanks for listening all.
What do an Old West fantasy/mystery novel, a former transgender firefighter and NaNoWriMo have in common? Find out on this episode of KJZZ’s “Word,” hosted by Tom Maxedon. It’s a podcast about literature in Arizona and the region.
If you’re going to push the rules, you better know exactly what they are…. even when it comes to sunglasses. And you should be really good at your job and valuable to your employer too. Today’s story is a comical recollection of a time when I pushed the rules and culture of my fire department. I was just pushing back against all the pressure for conformity. It’s a fun story and it makes me laugh almost 40 years later. Hope you enjoy this one.
As first responders we have a responsibity to the public we serve. I’d say an overriding responsibility. Is that responsibility greater than department polices? More important than our Chief’s direction? And who exactly is our public? Do we have any responsibility to our neighboring jurisdiction’s taxpayers? And if there are policies and direction that keeps us from responding appropriately, what do we do about it? Today’s story ask’s the question, did I cross the line? Take a listen and let me know what you think and as always, thanks for listening.
Sometimes while fighting fires or just working with your crew, we have an opportunity to make a difference in their lives. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Small things can make a difference too. If you listened to episode #64, you heard how I was able to get some of my SRV crews to see the Grand Canyon while working nearby. Episode #65 is about how people are always watching our actions as a leader.
Today’s story isn’t about anything I did. But the Operations Section Chief and the Incident Commander made a difference in all our lives on that fire back in 2000. I still smile when I think about that day. It was an ordinary fire, like hundreds of others. But because of the caring attention from the Ops Chief and IC, I’m still telling stories about their actions. Remember to think about the little things you can do for your folks.
Leadership can be difficult. It can cause the leader to second guess themselves and question if they’re doing the right thing. Today we have two stories. The first one is a good example of both me and my fire chief not doing that “one good thing”. The second story is an example of the good that can come from doing the “one good thing”. I hope you find some use from this story and please share it with your friends and co-workers.
Diversity in our firefighting workforce sounds like just another politically motivated issue. And there are some who may try to pick up the torch and run with it just to help “their side.” But the issue isn’t about politics. It’s about service to the public. How do we as fire service professionals provide the very best cost effective and efficient service to the public? I’m not going to discuss all the details of why it’s important for a fire department to reflect the community they protect including women and minorities of all types. That discussion would be long and could get heated with some old school folks. But take a few minutes to watch an interview that has been on the Seattle PBS station. I think you’ll find it interesting.
While reading some blogs and webpages for people effected by the latest round of devastating wildfires, it occured to me that everyone is incredibly stressed right now. Homeowners have had to flee for their lives, leaving pets and all their worldly possessions. Once evacuated they’re not allowed to re-enter their neighborhood. Now away from their home, they have to live in someone else’s home or camp out. School, mail delivery, jobs… its all up in the air while you don’t even know if your home is still ok or if it is a pile of ash. That’s a horrible thought.
The firefighters too are dealing with stress. Some of them may have left their homes as well while not knowing if they’ve survived the fire storms. Additionally, firefighters are dealing with great stressors while they fight the fire. Short of sleep, long arduous days, frustrations of not having enough resources to fight the fire, problems associated with their tasks, etc. The list goes on and their frustrations have to be kept under control.
Keep in mind that the same firefighters working so hard today have probably been at it for months now. Federal firefighters move from one part of the country to another as the fire season evolves. Those hotshot crews in Arizona in April are now in California in late August and September. The engine and crew firefighters have been working more than 16 hours a day for months now. They may get a couple days off every two weeks, but they’re under a lot of stress too.
Please share this story with your friends and family, especially if they’re anywhere near a fire.
Years ago, I worked for a Battalion Chief who was a great mentor for me. I was a new Captain and didn’t have much support from the other officers on the fire department, let alone support from a Chief officer. But my Battalion Chief gave me some real pearls of wisdom. He had two that stuck with me the most. The first pearl was “Don’t worry, you’ll outlive the bastards.” That was his way of telling me not to worry about all the old school guys I worked with. I would survive them. And I did too.
But the second pearl that I remembered all these years was, “No matter what, make it sound good on the radio.” I didn’t quite understand the lesson he was trying to teach me. But I eventually did understand it. And the story today is how I learned the lesson he was trying to teach me with his simple statement.
After listening to this story, I hope you can appreciate the importance of “sounding good on the radio.”
Sometimes we think no one is watching us. But in reality, someone is always watching. Whether you’re a firefighter on a crew or engine, or you’re a Captain or Chief, someone is always watching you. That doesn’t mean it’s like big brother looking over your shoulder all the time. It’s just the way it is. Your subordinates, co-workers and supervisors are always watching. And that means you’re having an effect on those folks. It means you’re influencing those around you whether you mean to be or not. People are influenced by the words you use and the actions you take. It’s real life.
Knowing that those around you are being influenced by your behavior is an important lesson to accept. It took me years to understand that. Today’s story demonstrates just how much our actions can impact on those around us. Please take a few minutes to listen and think about the story. As always I appreciate any feedback and thanks for listening.
If you google “Leading Up”, you’ll find a hundred of books on the subject. But for this retired fire chief, it’s a relatively new term compared to when I started reading about leadership and attending leadership courses in the 1970s and 80s. But I susggest you read up on the subject if you haven’t already. I started hearing the term back in the early 2000s. But never understood exactly what it meant other than how to influence your boss.
This week’s story gives you my take on how we “Lead Up”. I’m not the definitive authority of the subject, but I think I can offer some insights from my 4 decades of experience.
We had a small technical glitch towards the end of the recording. So you won’t hear from the other folks present during the recording. We’re approaching over 250,000 story downloads so far. So as usual, I want to say thanks for listening. Please share any comments you have so others have the opportunity to learn from your experiences too.
Often times in life, it’s the little things we do that are remembered. As a leader, we have to be aware that what we say and how we behave can have a big impact on our employees. And how we make our employees feel about us as their leader will effect their job performance and ultimately all our successes and failures. Listen to a story about how a small act engendered goodwill that I hope made a difference in several hundred firefighter’s lives. Please leave a comment if you enjoy this or any of the previous stories. Thanks for listening.
If you’ve listened to many of my stories, you know that there is always a surprise right around the corner. If you’re a firefighter, you know how surprising some of the calls we all respond to can be. You NEVER really know what you’re likely to find once you arrive on scene. No two calls are ever the same. And today’s story is about a fire that certainly wasn’t the same as most.
Thanks to all of you listeners. Through your listening, the website gets more and more traffic. Some of my stories will be included in an audiobook expected to come out this spring. This isn’t my book but a netflix channel and blog are including a story or two of mine. TheMeatEaters.com has a TV show on netflix as well as podcasts. Now they’re coming out with an audiobook that will feature stories about the dangers of the great outdoors. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
A few months ago, I was included in a podcast series called, How to Save a Planet. The particlar podcast I was on was all about the wildfires this past summer and how we got into the predicament we’er in now. For this topic, please listen to episode #53 about the california fires.
Until my own book comes out, which will be more my life than just fire stories, I hope you’ll keep listening to these stories giving you a glimpse into the life of a firefighter. Thanks to everyone.
I believe there have been 240 trillion books written about leadership. (that’s an exaggeration) I’ve read a lot of them and thought half of them might have actually been useful. But after working in the fire service for over 40 years, I think I have a reasonable perspective of what good leadership might look like. I’m not representing myself as a leadership expert. But I am an expert on what I experienced over those 40 plus years. Listen to this story and let me know what you think. As always, thanks for listening.
Romanticing the past is pretty normal for all of us. I hear myself doing it when I’m complaining about changes to the neighborhood where I grew up. Sport Complaining (Episode #28) done in moderation can be cathartic if it isn’t taken to extremes. But in the fire service (both wildland and structural) talking about the “Good Old Days” can drive me crazy. Those days weren’t all that great. They were just the days we knew and became comfortable with. It is important to recognize that nothing stays the same. Not our neighborhood, not our children, not our jobs.. and that’s ok. It really is. What is important is to know that changes are always happening and maybe we should engage to help guide that change. Not to drag our heals to keep everything the same, but to use our influence and leadership to positively move foward in the most effective way possible. Remember the old saying, “The Fire Service, 200 Years of Tradition Unimpeded by Progress”. Let’s do better. I hope this week’s story gives you pause to think and also makes you chuckle. As always, thanks for listening.
Today feels weird and disorienting to me. Well, It’s been feeling weird and disorienting for a few weeks. The images above probably give you the topics that are making me feel odd. Tomorrow is the 19 year anniversary of the attacks on New Your City. You may have listened to some of my stories from the weeks I spent working there at the pile. We’re also into the 6th or 7th month of isolation due to covid-19. Now to top it off, wildland fires are ravaging and destroying communities throughout California, Oregon and Washington. It can wear on you even if you’re not being evacuated from your home due to a wildfire. It can wear on you even if you weren’t in NYC on September 11, 2001. It can wear on you even if you haven’t lost anyone to covid-19. Today’s story is just about that general unease you may be sharing with me today.
A few of the stories on this website related to today’s topic are…
#53, California Fires – Raking the Forest, August 21 2020
#46, YOU Can and Should Protect Your Home from Wildfire, June 29 2020
#13, Memories from the World Trade Center after 9-11, September 12 2019
My hope is that after listening to this week’s story you’ll want to listen to some of the related stories and develop an interest in learning what we can do to support each other and our communities. We really do have the ability to help make our lives better and our communities safer. Most importantly, I hope we can be tolerant and understanding while everyone is feeling stressed, anxious and maybe a bit overwhelmed.
About a month ago my good friend Mark Sigrist passed away. He worked for the US Forest Service for many years and was an experienced firefighter and Operations Section Chief. When I first became an Ops Chief myself, Mark was the senior Ops Chief on my team and mentored me in his own classic style. Looking back on those days I was nearly un-mentorable. But Mark did mentor me and I did learn. What he taught me were his values. First, be good at your job and don’t do anything half assed. Be professional and most of all, be concerned about the firefighters who we’re supervising. That last item was very important to Mark. He was always concerned about their safety, health and comfort.
Mark was a mentor to many of us on that Incident Management Team. I have two brothers, but Mark was the brother I never had. He was that big mountain of a man that everyone loved. And through all that serious and critically important issues facing fire chiefs everywhere, Mark told me it was OK to laugh and have a good time at work. I already did laugh at work. But I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate at this level of the organization and when was it OK. Mark was all business on the job and especially while on a fire. But when we were relaxed and not worrying about people’s lives and property, he made us all laugh. He was tough when necessary but kind and tender when that was needed by his co-workers and friends. But when I think of Mark I will smile and laugh because that’s what I loved most about him. He made me laugh. And in this life, we need as much of that as we can get.
To his family, all I can say is thank you for sharing Mark with us while he was alive. He spent so much time with us during the summers and I know that’s time he wasn’t with you. So thank you. To everyone else, here’s a tiny glimpse into one man’s life and how he impacted his firefighting co-workers around him.
Today (August 21, 2020) while listening to the news, I heard the familiar refrain that if California would only “rake the forest” they wouldn’t be having all these fires. This story is not about what you hear in the news or about our current leadership in Washington. But I do want to describe what it takes to make our forests and wildlands safer from fire. As I’ve described in previous stories, it is not easy to treat the fuels in our wildlands. It doesn’t matter if it’s a forest or brush or even just grass. It might be a federally managed Park or a National Forest. Maybe it’s a private or corporately owned timber production area. You may own 20 acres in the back country yourself. Or even more likely, you may live in a house surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape.
What’s important to keep in mind is that all the fires burning in California right now are not even burning in what we think of as a Forest. Many of the fires are burning in brush lands. There may be big trees scattered throughout the brush, but many of the fires are burning small state parks and individual’s small plots of lands. This isn’t gross mismanagement of public lands. To be more specific, there were more than 70,000 lightning strikes across California during their driest part of the year. Plus, the State is beginning to enter drought conditions once again. 70,000 lightning strikes on dry natural vegetation is going to start a lot of fires. I don’t care where you live.
So before you get all riled up, I’m not suggesting we can’t do more than we are now. I’ve been working for more funding and better regulations for years. And keep in mind I’m coming to this discussion with 45 years of experience and multiple degrees including a Masters of Forestry. I’ve been a prescribed burning practitioner and a fuels management expert for a long time. There are some who have more experience than me. But that list isn’t that long either. Lets just agree that this is a complex issue. And we really need public support for the agencies managing our wildlands and we need private land owners and homeowners to take some responsibility for themselves. And “Rakes”… rakes are critical around your own home to keep the pine needles away from your home. That’s about it.
Living and sleeping at large wildfires can be challenging. This year with the Covid virus it’s even more challenging. But this week’s story is about sleeping in a busy fire camp. I’ve also included a few pictures from a fire camp for those of you who might not have ever had the pleasure of living in the dirt and dust for weeks on end. The pictures will illustrate just how amazing the folks who work in the Logistics Section are. The firefighters get all the kudos but to all the folks working back in camp in Logistics, Finance and Planning, my hat is off to you.
The following photos show firefighters during their morning briefing, the kitchen units, showers, sleeping trailers and tents, the office area, etc. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this peek into the life of firefighters at a large wildfire.
In 1988 many firefighters from around the United States and Canada ended up in Yellowstone National Park assigned to the many fires in and near the park. Some firefighters made multiple trips to the area. I only made it for one trip to the fires there but that assignment lasted 30 days. It was an interesting time to be sure. I had never been on a fire so far from home (Arizona) and had never been on a fire for so long (30 days). After a few weeks I thought I might never get home. I missed my son’s first day of kindergarten. When I called home, the kids would cry, I would cry… It was a tough time. But there were adventures to be had. The firefighting was intense, the scenery was amazing and the inter-personal interactions were often quite entertaining.
This week I’ve included 4 short stories that you should find interesting and entertaining. It’s definitely a behind the scenes kind of view of what happens at a large, long term fire incident. There were many other short stories that could be included this week but I don’t think you want to spend 2 hours of your day listening to me reminiscing and laughing with my friends. These are good examples of hard working, professional and committed firefighters… who also qualify as knuckleheads. Hope you enjoy this weeks story. Thanks for listening everyone.
Today’s story is about different communications styles in our work environment. I can’t tell this story without using the actual colorful language that you might hear around the fire ground. So I apologize if my language offends anyone. If you have tender ears, you might want to bypass this week’s story. For those of you still brave enough to listen, you’re sure to get a chuckle if not more. Even though the stories this week are humorous, as usual there is a bigger point to be made. And as often the case, the message has to do with communications on the fire ground. I will not be suggesting that the F Bomb is my preferred communications tool. But you’ll hear when I used it and got the desired outcome. Besides the instances in this week’s story, I have many more that I could use to illustrate the point.
Although this story takes place in New York City following the 9-11 attacks, it is not about the incident itself. If you want to hear about my experiences following the attack, I posted a story about 9-11 on September 12th 2019. Episode 13. That story is quite serious. This is not. And I do not want to disrespect anyone since the setting for today’s story is NYC following that horrible day. It just so happens to be my first exposure to New York City Cops and Firefighters. We were all tired, stressed and over worked. Sometimes you just get some funny results from that combination.
Huge thanks to those of you who are out on the firelines this summer. Your work keeps us, our loved ones and our property safe from wildfires. And also thanks for those of you non-firefighter listeners. You all make this effort worthwhile for me. Hope you enjoy this week’s story and as always, please share my website with your friends.
Folks everywhere are stressed right now with the threat of Covid virus and everything else going on, so I thought I’d tell a couple of stories that should make you laugh and distract you from the news. As I’ve mentioned in my earlier stories, the public doesn’t really know what goes on at the scene of an emergency. Our intent is to provide excellent patient care and customer service. I think we always did when I was still working. But there is some funny stuff that happens too. Or in my case, my immature brain takes over and I have some funny thoughts that I don’t say out loud.
In this week’s story I’ll relate a few incidents that occurred at the same resort that was in my “first due” response area many years ago. We responded to the same place regularly and these short stories were pretty indicative of what we might see when we arrived on scene. I hope you enjoy this story and please share it with your friends and family. Stay safe everyone and mask up and wash up. Thanks.
While I’m comfortably sitting here on my boat writing the introduction for this week’s story, thousands of firefighters are working hard to extinguish major wildfires throughout the southwestern US as well as Utah and Nevada. Before the summer season is over, thousands more will be deployed to large fires across California, Oregon, Washington and the rest of the western US. These deployments are in addition to the tens of thousands of initial attack fire responses in their local jurisdictions.
This time of year, my thoughts always wander back to the many experiences during my career when firefighters lives were either put at risk or tragically ended while attempting to protect a home or subdivision from wildfire. What makes this so frustrating is that homeowners and local politicians have the ability to directly impact upon firefighters successes or failures in these efforts. Please take a few minutes to listen to this weeks story. The actions you take as a result could save the life of a firefighter who is there to protect your life and your home. Please do your part. And as always, thanks for listening.
After the last week of social unrest and violence, I thought I would lighten the mood a little with a short story of life around the fire station. I am definitely not calling all firefighters knuckleheads but… well sometimes we can be a bit immature. It comes from working hard and often under stressful conditions. The public is always watching us and we have to exude a professional, confident demeanor. Of course we want everyone to trust us because we Really are competent and wanting to serve the public. But when we’re back in the station, we relax. And when we relax sometimes we might be less than mature in the way we kid and joke and decompress. This story is just one of those times. It still makes me laugh out loud to think about. Hope you enjoy this week’s light hearted story and distracts you from the current craziness we’re living through.
This website has had nearly 80,000 story downloads so far. So I’d like to ask you to leave a comment about how you found BobbieOnFire.com. I’d love to know where everyone is coming from. Thanks all and we’ll see you next week.