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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over the years I’ve had some challenges to my leadership at fires. This story relates 3 separate instances one summer that have had a long term impact on me. I believe people are mostly good and mean to do well. But when folks are stressed and firefighters are often stressed at a fire, they may respond differently to an authority figure than they might do otherwise. It’s true that some men might not like taking orders from a female fire chief. You might think this wasn’t common but it surely was. Add to this dynamic that after 25 years of firefighting I just had no patience for putting up with any macho BS. Looking back on this time period I felt like a “quick draw” gunfighter. If someone was disrespectful or insubordinate I pulled my six shooter and kicked them off the fire. Strong women in positions of authority are often called a bitch. It’s not surprising and it’s not new. But the majority of guys who thought I was a bitch eventually come around to being a respected co-worker once we’ve worked together longer. Most of the knuckle dragging firefighters eventually come around.
See how I reacted to these challenges. In hindsight I could have done some things a bit better but it makes for a great story. Enjoy the story. Share and tell your friends. Thanks.