The Consequences of Politically Correct Management

When the Forest Service changed to a Politically Correct organization it resulted in hindering old standards of supervision.  It took the authority to hire and fire away leaving the supervisors with the full responsibility of those peoples’ well-being and the safety of subordinates but less authority to act as before.

When selected as a Hot Shot superintendent I hired my temporary personnel.  I made out the pay documents.  I set the rules of behavior and let it be known that they would be enforced with discipline and at the worst-case termination.  I found that this authority assured compliance and terminations were few.

As the District Fire staff on two districts I had occasion to terminate some who deserved it:  One was a crew person who exposed his genitals to a Forest Service wife in the station compound.  Two were guys found to be spreading fire as a crew was cutting fire line.  Another was a firebug suspect who was finally caught in the act.  The last person terminated directly was using drugs on duty, which was a firing offense.  This was just before political correctness (PC) was implemented.  How does one supervise someone if you cannot provide discipline when needed?

On some fire assignments some crew supervisors have taken their crew into high hazard situations and been run out.  How many crew leaders have used a frightening situation to create a feeling in the crew of acceptance to follow the leader anywhere?  Proper overseeing would be to sit the supervisor on a stump and tell the person to read the fire better and avoid these situations in the future.  Do it again and you will be disciplined.

Fred Schoeffler’s paper has it right, that poor tactical actions that are risky but with no bad outcome are reoccurring with little proper oversight.  What are the basic tools for proper supervision?  Oversight is needed for the supervisor and by the supervisor.  A weak link here is a potential built-in human factor problem.

I can just hear cries that we cannot go back to past procedures as PC makes things much better in the work place.  Is it our vision is to abolish discipline administered by supervisors and replace it with write them up and report them to my superior?   Crew supervisors need to have responsibility and authority to properly manage a group of firefighters.  Supervision by “snitch” is just not acceptable as a viable control.

Crew supervisors and managers no longer provide common sense supervision practices under the current management program.   Could failure of supervision be the unintended consequence of an agency attempting to become politically correct?

Providing appropriate supervision has been curtailed to the firefighters that deserve proper supervision.  I think there is a lot more on this side of the problem to discuss but managing by PC may be a design fault. Unless proper authority to provide control to crew supervisors is restored the human factor accidents will continue to be a problem.  It will not be fixed until this constraint of limited authority to properly manage firefighters is removed.

Supervisors should have oversight also.  If a supervisor oversteps authority, the supervisor should be disciplined.

A reasonable recommendation would be to develop supervisors to use the authority properly.  Depending on rules and guidelines like the ten’s and eighteens are necessary but not infallible.  Crew supervisors usually prioritize the rules when sizing up an assignment.  How important is my chosen escape route or my selected safe area today?  If people misread the fire potential they cannot accurately predict fire changes that may be important.  In high risk environments supervisors need to be competent. 

We should not make heroes of victims of poor decisions; rather we should make heroes of people who do it right. The heroes are the people who lead crews in effective tactics and have no accidents in their past.

When Heroes are made of the firefighters who have been injured or killed what message does that send to the new hires?  Do some think they too would like to be known as a hero?

Why do we think that victims of accidental burnovers are heroes?

Maybe we should seriously define our vision; that is, what one wants to become.  Be careful what you wish for.

Many firefighters have made improvements to things within their control.  These folks have gone beyond what was required and contributed improvements based on their experience and proven results.

Some examples are: Training, Readiness, Accountability and Proficiency (TRAP Drill programs) and IAP on I-pad. Wildfire Management Tool, “WMT”, which is a quick way to display weather values and BEHAVE calculations on a map using any mobile device.  Another example is the Campbell Prediction System publication and training course.  This was taught in many states in the United States, Canada, and Spain, accepted by field level management folks as a standard for how to read a wildfire and predict the changes in that arena.

This should be a goal for all firefighters and managers.  Unfortunately, in this PC environment they face resistance to many good improvements.  Sure, they can apply for an employee’s suggestion idea but that seems not enough.

By Doug Campbell

FIREFIGHTERS CONCEPTS

A Questioning Exercise

Firefighters have some teaching that may lead to beliefs about information that is used to predict fire behavior changes.  It is these believes that are responsible for many firefighters becoming trapped by unexpected changes in the fires behavior.  In an effort to reduce the unexpected fire behavior situations this exercise using a questioning strategy is written. The purpose of this exercise is to combine your intuition and logic to fully explain what you believe.

The main question is:  Do crew-leaders have enough fire behavior knowledge to predict normal variations in fire behavior to assure them of safe leadership on wildfire situations?

Definitions:

Fire danger the relative danger of a fire in an area.
Fire behavior is the differences of fire signatures in a specific area of the fire ground and is time sensitive.

Exercise:

  • Which do you rely on, fire danger or fire behavior, to determine your assigned wildland fire tactic?
  • What are the causes of changes in fire behavior?
  • Where on the fire-ground does air temperature or humidity cause changes in fire behavior?
  • Does solar radiation have a larger effect on fuel moisture than humidity?
  • How would you call a difference between fuel in the sun and fuel in the shade?
  • Why do solar radiated forest fuels burn differently than shaded fuels?
  • Are tactics different between types of fires?
  • Can you describe a fire by type and use the appropriate tactical approach for suppression?
  • Why is timing of a tactical plan important?
  • At what time of day are there more extremes in fire behavior and why?
  • If you have a map of a fire perimeter, can you describe the future of the fire? “What is the fire telling you?”
  • When you fly or observe a wildland fire what information are you gathering and for what purpose?
  • Pick a map of a wildland fire showing perimeters or spread perimeters and describe what information you gain from the map.
  • How can you tell where the fire behavior changes will go beyond the threshold of control or safety?
  • Can you identify by a symbol or a word these points on a map?
  • Can you assign a word for a predicted head fire signature?
  • Can you make a fire behavior prediction on where and when the fire behavior thresholds of control will change?
  • Do you have a language to explain the cause of fire behavior change as well as the cause, timing and location of a potential run?
  • If you do not know how the fire behavior will change are you at risk?
  • If you cannot explain your prediction can you share your prediction effectively?
  • Should a designated lookout have the knowledge and experience to provide safety by the observations made?

Please evaluate this assignment and communicate your thoughts to dougsfire@gmail.com

To obtain more knowledge in the subject please refer to http://www.emxsys.com/cps/

 

By:  Doug Campbell

Wildland Fire Burnovers: More or Less?

Using the Experience of Wildland Firefighters

There are many experienced wildland firefighters who have learned the art of wildland fire fighting.  These individuals have vital safety procedures and knowledge that could be made available.

Also, a number of important programs have been invented that, when implemented, add to the safety of wildland firefighters. Some of the programs are:

  1. The Campbell Prediction System (CPS) that teaches how to think, and predict fire behavior changes and when an attack can prevail or fail. http://cps.emxsys.com
  1. Drill programs that assures crews and individuals can perform to an acceptable standard before dispatch.
  1. The Wildland Management Tool (WMT) that improves calculations of BEHAVE and incorporates new language and concepts. http://wmt.emxsys.com
  1. Field Leadership training improvements that establish valid and appropriate standards.
  1. Mission and Vision statements to guide decision making. The Mission is what you do, the Vision is what do you want to become. Establishing Mission and Vision statements for all who direct people should be a standard requirement. Supervisors should review and council their folks in order to school them in the necessity of acceptable statements.  Some accidents can be traced back to the M&V of individuals who have poor missions and visions.
    • Statements of “becoming the best” had better have a scale or that is simply a foolish wish.
    • Do supervisors or accident investigators inquire as to the M&V of leadership folks?

Do all individuals know and demonstrate how they determine when and where a wildland fire will change and become subject to control or not?  Can they name the training program they depend on to assure the action they propose to control wildland fire situations is safe and effective?

The administration–from the Supervisors level to the national centers of wildfire administration–does not incorporate these improvements.  As they are presented to the administration, the ideas are resisted or discounted at one of the levels of the fire management system.

There seems to be no program to incorporate such improvements into the overall program. When the originators of any change of thinking retire or give up, the improvements are lost or halted at the next level above the ground troops.

This note is intended to bring this situation to light. There is no program to capture new and important information and incorporate it into the national system for all who fight the wildfires. All can benefit from knowledge gained over years of doing the job.

One thing that I have observed is that there is no oversight for the District unit management that helps the to bring their unit up to a known standard.

My mission and vision has been to improve and make wildland fire fighting and management safer for the firefighter and to employ the knowledge that has been developed by firefighters.

A recommended path to this mission and vision would be to employ a task force of people who have provided improvements to the system to gather the knowledge and implement the findings with the full support of the Secretary of Agriculture and the president of the United States of America.

The results of this plan will reduce the hazard to wildland firefighters.  To disregard this is an admission by the agencies of a resistance to the changes needed to reduce wildfire accidents.

fatalities-1990-1998


Respectfully submitted to whom it may concern.

— Doug Campbell. Retired US Forest Service.

Commentary on the 10 Firefighting Orders

Are there Holes in the 10 Firefighting Orders?

How do you give an order and not give any instruction? Having a firefighting order used to be an “order” but now it’s only a recommendation, and there’s no instruction on how to do it. This document explains how to do it.

Questioned by the numbers:

#1 Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.

What should be done when a weather forecast is made?  Overhead must determine the importance of this information to the tactical plans and action on the fire. In the South Canyon fire and the Yarnell fire this was not recognized as important by the resources and overhead. In each of these cases it was an oversight and/or ignored by overhead and crew-leaders.

The overhead is responsible for determining what will happen to the fire, identifying where there are trigger points for changing fire behavior, and estimating when and where the thresholds-of-control are when the forecast comes true. The tactical changes need to be the result of the evaluation of the forecasts. The FBAN needs to recommend changes to the tactical plan when weather forecasts indicate the need.

The Campbell Prediction System is one way to accomplish the fire behavior location and threshold-of-control estimates.

This situation needs serious consideration as well as other ways to abate the risks. 

#2 Know what your fire is doing at all times.

To accomplish this order you must make observations a current and frequently reoccurring task.  Not only observe, but also have the training and ability to explain the cause and effect of forces acting on the fire behavior. If you cannot identify the cause of observed changes in the fire behavior, then you cannot determine what the fire will do in the short term.

It is important to identify the dominant force acting on the fire as well as the alignment-of-forces in various places on the fireground. Each dominant force has a corresponding tactical match.

Wind driven, topography, or fuels dominated fires need different tactical plans to have the best chance of success. This determination is the first step in the tactical approach.

Recognizing the alignment-of-forces that cause variations in fire behavior is a way to determine when and where significant changes will occur.  The fire-signatures of the head, flanks and heel are indications of what the fire behavior will be in similar alignments of force.

Simple techniques, like identifying the alignment-of-forces and the dominate force, are important skills to develop for evaluating situations on the fireground..

Just because one thinks they are obeying the rules does not insure they can avoid the risks.

#3 Base your actions on current and expected fire behavior.

How are firefighters expected to accomplish this task? This is another weak spot in the system.

The BEHAVE program is not something the crew persons are trained in as well as most crew supervisors.  So that is not an option for prediction in the field.

The Campbell Prediction System is one way to be more accurate in the prediction of fire behavior.

Prediction needs to be studied and made into a more defined art.

#4 Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.

This a good idea but has proven to be more difficult than expected. The occurrence of fatality fires show that this is not fool proof.

Scientists have been attempting to determine the size of a safety area for a long time.  Without knowing how to predict the fire intensity of the exposure this calculation is weak.

This order is in need of study and should not be ignored.  Is oversight of this needed on fires?

#5 Post a lookout when there is danger.

What are the qualifications for a lookout?  None except that the supervisor of the unit trusts the lookout person to know what to look out for. This is a weak spot in the organization.

Should that position be considered for special training and certified for a red card?

#6 Be alert, be calm.  Think clearly, act decisively.

A good rule, requiring logic over emotion in hazardous situations.  How to promote this is a good question.  Is the “can do” attitude an emotional one or a logical one?  Fire is a hook for an emotional response that can be dangerous and does not provide for safety first.  Test for this in drills to determine the dominance of logic over emotion.  A number of exercises have been used to accomplish this.

A well designed drill program will expose and limit the emotional response that is dangerous.

#7 Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor and adjoining forces.

At times when this cannot be accomplished should the action stop and the situation be remedied?

The last crew fatality showed a breakdown in communications that was serious. If this situation is repeated on a fire should the supervisor stop aggressive action from units confronting the fire?  An act of omission here is a serious fault.  The order identifies what should be done but not what to do if it cannot be done.

This is a big hole in the system.

#8 Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood.

Training on how to read the fire and understand what it is telling you is important.  If you cannot do this then how can you give clear instructions and understanding be assured?

Training in the language explaining cause and effect on fire behavior will be an assist in accomplishing this instruction.

#9 Maintain control of your forces at all times.

This order is considered to be a good thing, but is it always?

If the supervisor is correct in the estimation of the situation it is a good idea.  But if the supervisor is wrong, like in the most resent fatality of an entire hotshot crew it is deadly wrong.

In this case the whole hand-crew and division supervisor died because the unit was well controlled.  What if a crewperson decided that the order to go downhill in the green was too dangerous a tactic and refused to comply?

Without the explanation of what the concern was based on the person who was correct in the situation will be controlled.

Are crew persons trained to deal with confronting this?  The last crew fatality proves the question is valid.  The crew leader needs to maintain control or the crew falls apart.  If the person who is disagreeing with the proposed tactic cannot change the leader’s intent and follows the crew, and dies, where is the fault in this situation?  More work needs to be done here to insure there is improvement in the leader’s evaluation of the situation and the leader’s recognition of individual concerns.  Answering the concern and keeping control of the crew might be to adjust the tactic.

Is it ever appropriate for “every man for himself”?

#10 Fight fire aggressively having provided for safety first.

For each individual to use his or her own ideas here is not the best idea.  The fatality fires of note had more aggressive fight than safety.  Safety first should first be able explain how the selected tactic is safe, and then depend upon aggressive and physical fitness to follow.

How to provide safety is the question here.


This is written in the hope to improve the risk evaluation.

— Doug Campbell