When I applied to the United States Forest Service in 1978, college, military or any kind of farm or ranch work ranked high toward getting hired.  Combine those skills on a Hotshot Crew consisting of 20 persons and you create the unique opportunity to learn from each other what it takes to round up wildland fire. We were left to our own devices to find the best way back then, the Crew Boss had all the experience and we as a crew were pretty green. Ahh, that’s the beauty of it, we had to make it work and not look like rookies. We started on the steep part of the learning curve learning quick with many mistakes. We had to come together and get over our personality conflicts to learn the best way. In the 12 seasons I worked on Smokey Bear Hotshots, we had only had one serious accident, the first year; somebody cut their leg through their saw chaps on project work. To my knowledge the crew has kept this excellent record of safety to this day; safety, character and performance is the gold standard of any crew.
The “Chain of Command” means each person is responsible to one person up the chain. It also has a feedback system where it is the responsibility of each and every firefighter to clearly communicate back what they observe and what they have completed. If you say it’s out or it won’t roll down the hill every body bases their action on that person’s word. You realize that everybody shares a responsibility to pay attention to detail. It only takes one person’s carelessness to endanger everybody. This is true anywhere you work!  In the twelve years I spent working on a hotshot crew, we learned from each other better ways to do things because we actively discussed the best ways. You could group think everything and we got along so well that you know others reaction without a word being said. Everybody shares their experiences and knowledge, everybody contributes to the pool. This to me is a healthy crew that grows better all the time. It’s a microcosm of how overhead and crews coming together to fight fire should interact. While there is competition among crews to get the work out, there is no reason not to coordinate for the benefit of all. Every person on that fire is relying on the other for their safety.The job requirements for chasing wildland fire are:

  • -You work out in the elements away from home, in the middle of nowhere.
  • -You spend day after day with little sleep, working on a project until it’s finished.
  • -You get really dirty and can’t get a bath for a few days.

BUT! The upside of the job is, you work really hard for a good cause and have a blast traveling into the forests and park lands where few people go.

Is it dangerous? It has great potential to be. Many jobs I feel are much more dangerous than wildland fire; driving is one of them. Situation Awareness applies to both!

Situation Awareness to a driver would be applying all your past experience to your situation in the present. Your present situation requires you to navigate a course through traffic to get to where you want to go. In order to get there safely you are best to get as much information on traffic, weather conditions and what route to take. Make sure you check everything on the car and than hit the road. PAY ATTENTION! It’s you responsibility to see accidents before they happen and leave yourself and out! You realize when other people might not be paying attention and compensate for that. Compensate for your distractions as well, talking on the cell or fooling with the radio you must pay attention to the present situation. Your past experience gives you early warning because you have SITUATION AWARENESS. You are cognitive; processing all the changes around you so that you work smoothly with other drivers and don’t have to make erratic moves; you plan your exits.

It would be nice if everybody practiced situational awareness in their everyday routine!
On the job is really the only way to learn this work. The classroom shortens the learning curve and teaches concepts, but actually doing it, brings it all together. The purpose of my wildland firefighting site is to share my personal stories, feelings and knowledge to anyone who is interested. You will not be tested so don’t panic, I mean for this to be informative, entertaining and brutally honest.

I frequently post to the WildlandFire site.