If you’re a federal wildland firefighter, you already know what I’m about to say. If you’re not, this may come as a surprise to you. The lowest paid people on a large wildfire… I’m including the kitchen help and those who are cleaning the toilets, the lowest paid personnel on the fire are likely the federal wildland firefighters. There might be some contract personnel down on that list, but for all the “hero firefighter” bs that we hear, isn’t it amazing that our firefighters are so pooly paid.
Municipal firefighters and some state firefighters can make more than twice as much as a federal wildland firefighter. And technically, the federal agencies who hire the fireghters don’t technically have any “firefighters”. The correct job title of the federal firefighters are actually “forestry technician” or “range technician”. If they were in a firefighter job title, they’d have to be paid more.
There is an organization called “Grassroots Wildland Firefighters” who are advocating for the federal wildland firefighters. This past week, their Executive Secretary testified before the Congressional Natural Resources subcomittee. Riva Duncan is a regular on my podcasts and this week we’ll be talking about the issues facing federal wildland firefighters including their pay, the correct job series (job title) and their health. Please listen and then share with all your friends and family who probably don’t understand the issues facing our dedicated and outstanding workforce.
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.
We all have to deal with our supervisors at work. And while we’re dealing with our boss, our employees are having to deal with us as their supervisor. So we’re both an employee and a supervisor. That makes life interesting. We can bitch about our boss while at the same time our employees are bitching about us. A little self awareness can help us be better employees and better supervisors. Listen to this story and see if you have some ideas to make you a better employee and a better boss.
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.
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.
This week’s title could fill volumes of books about how “erratic human behavior” costs society in so many ways. You might think fighting fire is a pretty straight forward operation. I think it used to be simpler. Or maybe it seemed that way because when I held positions lower down in the organization I didn’t have to deal with the politics. That might be a part of it. But as fires have gotten bigger, they involve more and more communities and infrastructure. Imagine a fire where you might be dealing with a County government administrator and possibly a mayor of a small town. Now muliply that by 5 and you get an idea of the politics that fire chiefs/managers are dealing with. And don’t forget all the utility companies, highway departments, railroads, etc etc. Every one of those entities has some involvement during a large wildfire. This story is about one tiny landowner and how that landowner impacted the work and the success of many firefighters during a large wildland fire.
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.
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.
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.
I would never want listeners to think I’m man bashing. I loved working with the guys during my long fire career. But some men have been a bit more fun to work with than others. Today I’m going to tell you two stories. In the first story, the guy was clearly just mansplaining. And in the end, I hope he learned something about how to communicate with people. I learned something too. I learned that when the time is right, you have to stand up for yourself, even if it’s in a subtle non confrontational manner.
I think the guy in the second story was just testing me. He was also clearly messing with me. A form of hazing or pranking maybe. He was having some fun at my expense. It’s something I was quite used to and knew how to deal with. How we deal with these episodes in life can determine how we’re perceived, how well we’re accepted or not and how successful we are. This particular knucklehead and I became great friends. We went on to work well together and we continued to prank each other. I was just as guilty as he was. The score was tied by the time we both retired.
I hope you’re continuing to find my stories entertaining. But more importantly, I hope you find them useful, especially if you’re working in the fire service. Thanks for listening everyone and don’t forget to share this site 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.
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.
Have you ever wondered why firefighters love their jobs so much? Why do people voluntarily take jobs that put their personal safety at risk? Everyone wants a job that suits them. We want a career that we find enjoyable, gives us job satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from our labors. With that in mind, I would have been ill suited to be an accountant or a grammar school teacher for example. We don’t always find our perfect career fit but here’s some perspective about firefighters and how our personalities mesh with our work environment. Remember these are generalities but represent what I’ve seen and experienced. I hope you enjoy the insight into the mind of many firefighters and why we enjoy our jobs so much.
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.
This weeks story is about how we might use humor on the job. Often times we have a distorted perception of our own sense of humor. I know for me personally if I was half as funny as I think I am I’d be on late night TV getting the laughs and making big money. When I go back and re-listen to some of the stories here at BobbieOnFire.com I still laugh at the funny ones. Heck, the incident might have happened 30 years ago, I’ve told the story dozens of times but I still laugh at it. At least I enjoy them.
The problem is when you’re working, what kind of humor is appropriate and what is not? In this story I give some insights and perspectives based on my experiences. I hope you get a laugh from hearing some of my examples of what NOT to do. Unfortunately in my life and career, I might have more examples of what not to do as I have what to do.
As always I appreciate any comments and suggestions. Please share BobbeOnFire.com with your friends. Also, please follow all the health recommendations coming out of your state and local agencies. Let’s do all we can to keep our active first responders and medical personnel safe. Thanks.
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.
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.
In the fire service I’ve often said that the worst thing that can happen to a well functioning crew with good attitude is having no fires or no emergency calls. Even though we always had lots of work to do around the station or out on projects, the attitude would sink into the toilet when the call volume decreased. During those slow times is when my firefighters began to “bitch” about the boss (me), the bosses boss, the uniform policy, the caterer on the last big fire we went to, the equipment on the engine, the other crews we work with…. and it went on and on and on and on. The best cure for sport bitching is being busy on skill testing and demanding emergency calls.
In this weeks episode, I talk about some of the dangers of bitching on the job. I think it’s an important lesson for all of us. It might not be an “exciting” topic but if you’re a worker in an organization, a company officer, a manager or leader you have the ability to impact the entire organization through your attitude. As an experienced but recovering bitcher I can speak from a perspective that might help you in your career. I hope you enjoy this episode. 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.