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Oct 10


Posted by dvstralen  filed under Isolation   0 Comment(s)    Add a Comment  comment-icon.png

Febra, my wife, and I visited Mann Gulch in Montana, a lonely gulch where we were the only visitors that day. Mann Gulch was where 15 smoke jumpers died (MacLean, N 1992, Weick K 1993). This tragedy led to major changes in firefighting and fire management.

She and I talked about how the response by the wildland fire community to such tragedies differs from other industries such as healthcare. Could it be that it is more publicized as wildland firefighters die in groups? Or that the mishaps come to themselves and their officers know the dead? The last question came to me as I recalled a conversation with a petroleum executive in charge of safety and reliability internationally for his organization. As head of a refinery he was in charge when an explosion put some of his men into the intensive care unit. He advised corporate headquarters he would visit them in the morning. Corporate told him no, not to visit the men. He told me that he had to, as it was his decisions that put the men in the ICU. He made the visit and, as a consequence, was then transferred to a backwater refinery.

This is also Dan Kleinman's story, but in the prospective. While directing operations against the largest fire in Arizona's recorded history he was given the forest headquarters for his command site. After a short bit of time, he noticed the firefighters could not relax despite the solid walls, hot water, and air conditioning. He found out that was the place they were called to for discipline. He moved himself and his operations out to tents to make them feel more comfortable. Our tour of his Incident Command Center at another fire showed us the significance of his decision; he supports his team first.

When talking to people about safety, reliability, and leadership, I want to learn how they feel about their subordinates. I especially am sensitive to those who use isolation as a behavior control method. Standing at the markers where the men at Mann Gulch died, Feb and I could look straight up the ridge and see the specific low point in the ridge that each man was running toward. Their death markers were scattered along the side of the ridge. No one should die alone.

Working in high risk, dynamic circumstances, no one should work alone.   

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