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.
If you’re in an area that I’ll be visiting for a reading or a signing, I’d love to see you there. There will be more in the future, but here is what’s scheduled for the next few weeks. Thanks for listening to the stories and and if you read my book, feel free to send a note through the website. At the end of the bookstore visits is a short video from KATU that I did for AM Northwest. Thanks all.
9/7: Watermark Book Company (612 Commercial Ave. Anacortes, WA 98221) @3:00pm
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.
If you’re a visitor to my website, you already know about my book. Of course, the book isn’t on store shelves until September 5th, 2022. But the lead in information for the book is already on this site. So you probably already know that I’m not only a retired firefighter, a hilarious storyteller and a wise leader (ok, i’m joking just to show you how hilarious I am), I’m also a trans woman. But that last item is the least interesting thing about me. This week’s story is from an interview I did with Amanda Monthei on her podcast called Life With Fire. If you’re a firefighter or especially a wildland firefighter, I think you’ll enjoy it. For those of you who aren’t firefighters, you might scratch your head and wonder about those of us who do fight fires, but you’ll enjoy it just the same. Thanks for listening.
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.
Many years ago I was a Division Supervisor on a fire in the northern rockies. Listen in to how I dealt with, or didn’t deal too well, with some of the line medics assigned to my Division. You’ll get a good laugh at this one.
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.
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.
As firefighters we usually try to portray ourselves as tough and capable. And for the most part we are. But even tough firefighters have emotions. This story isn’t about all the bad things we’ve seen and the emotional toll it takes on our mental health. But it is about the emotional let down that we may experience after a long two or three week wildland fire assignment. Everyone is different of course. This week’s story is just about my own reactions to the stresses of a long stressful fire assignment. I’d love to hear your comments about your own experiences. Please leave a comment.
Firefighters will recognize what might seem like unusual or unique situations to the public becomes common place for emergency responders. The public might not realize just how often weird things happen. But for firefighters, that’s our bread and butter. Poor decisions and whacky behavior is what gives us job security. if everyone behaved maturely and with good intent, we would be responding to fewer calls. Today’s story is about a couple instances that you might be surprised to learn about. I hope you have a great day and enjoy listening to this short story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every year before the 4th of July, fireworks stands open up around the country. Depending on where you live, your access to certain types of fireworks may be restricted or maybe not. Some jurisdictions restrict aerial type fireworks, but some don’t. Even if fireworks are illegal in one city or county, they can easily be purchased elsewhere and brought in to another jurisdiction. During my 45 years in the fire service I’ve witnessed so many crazy incidents related to mis-use and mis-handling of fireworks. The same piece of fireworks may be safe in one location but totally unsafe in another depending on surrounding vegetation and age of the person using them. I have witnessed homes damaged by fire from a bottle rocket and injuries from the mishandling of easily purchased fireworks. Every firefighter has their own experiences with fireworks. It’s inevitable to be exposed to some crazy stuff. Hope you enjoy this week’s story and please comment and let me know where you heard about this website from. Thanks for listening everyone.
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.
Back in the mid 1980s, I got a fire assignment to take a strike team of type 1 engines (city fire engines) to southern California (from Arizona) for a large wildfire that was burning into a city. This was my dream. I always thought that southern California wildires were the most challenging and exciting to fight. Over the 45 years of my career I fought many fires in California and throughout the US but California fires are often very unique. Any large incident is going to have it’s complexities and the more influences on a fire, the more complex it gets. Politics, fire behavior, fuels, wildland-urban interface, etc etc. The complexities in southern California are endless. Fast foward about 20 years… Today’s story takes place in 2003 and I was involves a simple assignment I was given on another large California fire. I was told to take 6 bulldozers and build a fireline behind an affluent subdivision and prepare to burn out the fireline in preparation of the main fire coming down the mountain. Seems like a simple straightforward assignment. But nothing ever turns out to be that simple or straight forward. Listen to what happens but keep in mind what can happen to your at your job. Remember, have realistic expectations and be flexible at work. You just never know what might happen.
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.
Many fire departments and wildland fire agencies are currently preparing for the upcoming wildfire season. In parts of our country the season has been underway for some time but in much of the west, firefighters are spending time in “refresher classes” and taking their introductory wildland fire courses. Often times when we are sitting in those classes we’re thinking how we’ve heard this all before… or nothing is really going to happen that I haven’t already experienced, etc, etc. We minimize our risk and the more years of experience we have the less we think we have to learn.
Today’s story is a shortened version of a tragic wildfire where 6 firefighters were killed in a burn over. I’m telling this story to try and motivate firefighters to pay attention and take seriously their annual fire refresher training and other training courses. I hope hearing what happened to some experienced firefighters will help you stay focused during your training.
Among older and retired firefighters, I often hear about the “Good ‘Ol Days”. “Why by god… back when we could… bla bla bla.” There are lots of things that were pretty cool about the Good ‘Ol Days. Back then we could ride on the tailboard of a fire engine. That was fun. Of course firefighters died riding back there too. They fell off, got run over, had head injuries, etc. By by god, those were the good old days. I was subjected to some less than professional behavior “back in the good ‘ol days” too. Some things about the good old days really were better. But there is much that I’m glad we left behind. This week, I’ll tell a story about my first controlled burn. I was young and not very experienced, but had the opportunity to try something new. At the time no one I knew was burning in the desert scrub in Arizona to learn from. The nearby Coronado National Forest started their controlled burn program after I started mine.
This story relates how youth and enthusiasm coupled with a little knowledge and experience can accomplish great things… and sometimes be a failure. I would say at the bottom of my balance sheet, my experiences were positive and helped me become an asset as an experienced burner. Over the years I gained more knowledge through agency classes as well as my graduate studies for my Masters Degree. But as in any career, youthful enthusiasm can be a great asset. Hope you enjoy this weeks story and please send comments or suggestions for future stories. Thanks.
Years ago while assigned to a wildland fire, the Operations Section Chief asked me to conduct a burn out operation along a 9 mile stretch of a two lane road in California in order to put out the fire and protect numerous homes. I was successful in the operation but like most things in life, nothing is simple. Personal relationships, past experiences and our professional knowledge all play into the success or failure of any operation. This was especially true in this case. In the end, what had been a very challenging fire with some bleak experiences turned into one of my significant career events. Hope you enjoy listening to this story and get something worthwhile from it. As always, thanks for listening.
In the early 2000s, the Incident Management Team I was a member of was dispatched to a hurricane on the gulf coast. These assignments were always challenging and fascinating to be a part of. I always learned a lot when I responded to a major emergency but this particular one was especially so. There are lessons for all of us in this story no matter what kind of work we do. I hope you find it interesting and educational and as always I appreciate any constructive feedback. Thanks for listening.
This week’s story is meant to entertain a little, distract you from our current events a little and also to make you think a little. It takes place in 2001 when I was an Operations Section Chief trainee. My Incident Training Officer had expectations that I wasn’t ready for. Her expectations were correct. Up until that time I just thought about the actual firefighting. The paperwork surrounding it was always just an afterthought to me. She opened my eyes a bit. Not that I ever got good at the paperwork. Years later we worked together often and eventually I was her supervisor. But man… did she make an impression on me. Hope you enjoy the story and share with your friends. Thanks.
In life we don’t always get a second chance. It’s great when we do get that second chance but it doesn’t always happen. Hopefully we learned from an earlier experience and improve the next time. Life is just a series of experiences and opportunities for learning. Sometimes I’m not sure I’ve learned the lesson and maybe that’s why I have to repeat a similar experience over and over. Kind of like Ground Hog day. But in the fire service we use a simple exercise called an After Action Review or AAR. It’s just a simple process where the people involved review what happened and consider what might have been done differently and better the next time. It’s a great way to learn. This is common in the military as well as the fire service. Other groups use the AAR exercise to learn from as well. We would all benefit from conducting group AAR exercises or even just personal ones to improve our performance.
Today’s story is about a time that as a Captain of an engine company I really messed up. But I was fortunate to have an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and get a do-over. I was thinking of how it might be appropriate to think of this story in terms of our current Corona Virus situation. I hope we as a country as well as individually learn how to do better next time. Stay safe everyone and pay attention to the Center for Disease Control and your local officials. The life you save might be that of your firefighters, EMTs and hospital workers. Thanks for listening.
As I write the introduction to today’s story, the United States and really the whole world is captive to the Corona Virus Pandemic Anxiety Syndrome or CVPAS. (I had to make up an acronym since I’ve spent over 40 years working in government.) I’m not suggesting we don’t have anything to be concerned about. On the contrary I believe we had better be listening to the scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and doctors. But even if you’re healthy and have a bathroom full of toilet paper, you might still be anxious. Truth be told, I have a little CVPAS since I’m in the target demographic; I’m a senior citizen now and have questionable lung health due to all these years of breathing smoke and a month of working at Ground Zero (9-11) and breathing all that was in the air down there. But we can’t get crazy about this either. Be smart and listen to the experts.
I chose this week’s topic because it’s just a cute story that I hope lightens your worries. Nothing heavy. No one gets hurt. No one is at risk. Everyone is happy. So take a listen and think about the good things you have in life and be thankful for your blessings. Thanks everyone and leave a comment if you can.
Around 2000 I was assigned to a large fire in the northern Sierras as a Division Supervisor. On this particular fire I had multiple 20 person fire crews as well as many fire engines working for me. This story is about one of those fire crews who were from Hawaii. They were a great crew with an outstanding work ethic. But they also were quite comfortable relaxing when it was appropriate too. Their positive outlook and attitude stuck with me all these years later. Please listen and imagine being on the forest fire with this interesting group of men. I thank them for their hard work and for their contagious happy outlook.
No really… they really hate me. Or maybe they just love the way I taste. But regardless, I’ve had some bad experiences with ants. Especially in my first 6 or 7 years of firefighting when at least once a summer I’d have an episode of being bitten or stung or just attacked by big red or black ants. This week’s story is about one of those instances, what happened and how I reacted. I think you’ll laugh along with me but of course, there’s a lesson to be learned too. How do we recover from embarrassment’s at work? Do we let stupid things impact us in the long term or do we just move on. I hope you enjoy the silliness of this story and also think about how we can deal with minor set backs at work. Enjoy.
How we react to tough and challenging situations at work can determine our successes and failures. It’s not always easy to know how to respond to bullies and negative people who can have a direct impact upon our lives and careers. Sometimes we’re dealing with a boss who is the bully and sometimes we have people working for us who are the bully. Of course you have to deal with each of those situations differently and there is NO one right answer. How we decide to deal with challenges like this can depend on many circumstances that we find ourselves in. This story is about one specific set of circumstances and how I dealt with some “challenging employees”. I’m not suggesting this was the best way or even a good way to deal with this group of knuckleheads. But the story you’re about to hear is how I did deal with them. The results were positive although that isn’t proof that my method was the best way.
Be advised that in order to reach these rough tough characters and to accurately retell the story, you’ll hear the F word a few times so if you don’t want to hear that, you might listen to another story instead. Thanks for everyone’s continued support of my story’s.
When first responders work long hours, are under pressure to protect lives and property, they can often become exhausted from the pressures of the job. This week I illustrate some examples of what that might look like. The examples I site are just a few and are not at all complete in any way. The list is long and exhaustive and can be very personal. I hope after listening to this story you’ll think about yourself in whatever job you spend your time in as well as those around you. If you’ve listened to my story about 9-11 or PTSD, you’ll hear some common themes. Take care of yourself, love yourself and those around you and don’t feel like you have to act like a hero all the time.
I appreciate everyone listening and please share this story with your friends. Thanks.
This week’s story takes place when I was a Captain on a Fire Department years ago. It was really just a routine medical call. But while responding and even treating the patient we really didn’t know it was just a routine call. There was mystery involved. Initially we had no clue what we were even responding to. It makes it hard for the first responders to show up and not know the nature of the emergency incident. In this case we didn’t understand all the particulars of the incident until after the patient was transported to the hospital. The way it unfolded was unique to say the least. A common theme in my stories has been to trust your intuition, follow your gut and be prepared for anything. This short story is another illustration of why I feel so strongly in those lessons. I hope you enjoy this story. Thanks to both John and Curtis for joining me this week.
Back in 1996 I had recently quit my job as a Fire Captain at my Fire Department and had returned to school to get my Masters Degree. So I wasn’t currently working for a Fire Department or a Wildland Fire Agency. Instead I had been hired as a temporary firefighter for the summer and had been working for a State Agency and the Forest Service. Because I already had 22 years of experience at that point and carried the commensurate fire qualifications, I was utilized as a Division Supervisor when assigned to active fires. This particular fire was located in eastern Oregon. I was excited for the dispatch because I had never fought a fire in Oregon at this point of my career. So off I went to Oregon as I describe in the following audio story.
What is significant in this story was my perception of the man I was working for. I had never met him before but from the way he spoke to me, I assumed he thought I was a bit of a drone. But as you’ll hear in this story, he had a direct and lasting positive impact on my career. The lesson I learned from this is to not judge based on some hasty communications or limited knowledge of someone. My advice to other younger and often female firefighters I’ve mentored is to not be scared away from the gruff communications style of some of their supervisors. You don’t really know what’s going on behind his mustache. I hope you enjoy the story and please leave comments. Thanks.
In life you never know if you might be called upon to help fix a bad situation. You might not have any expertise to resolve it, but you’re it! You’re all there is. In this week’s story I’ll relate an experience when I was a responsible for rescuing a young boy from an abandoned mine. I had no training in mine rescue, let alone lead a group of firefighters into an old dangerous mine. My expertise was related to high angle rope rescue so I did have some specific experiences to draw upon, but this was definitely a new one for me. In life it’s nice to be “good” rather than just “lucky”. In this story I think I was equally good and lucky.
This week’s story is interesting just on it’s surface, but there’s a whole lot more to it. The story really deals with how we deal with a supervisor. These interactions can be critical to our future profession. Over my working life I’ve often been asked how I gained my wildland fire qualifications so quickly. My flippant answer was because I found water in the desert. This story explains why I said that. But the bigger picture is how I dealt with my supervisors and provided leadership “UP”. We often think about providing leadership down in an organization. But leading up is important but can be difficult to figure out how to do. I’m not suggesting I know all the answers but I can share this example of how I dealt with a few opportunities early in my career.
If you have experiences you’d like to share leave a comment. We need to learn from everyone around us. Thanks for listening everyone.