So I thought I would start a few topics in the next coming months here to switch gears from our everyday discussion on active fires that are currently unfolding and build some discussion about the ones we’re going to have to fight in the future, and get specific about some issues that to me are going to be very big problems when they surface.
So currently there is a constant shortage of operators in Cal Fire, what I mean by that is especially new FAE’s are constantly being forced to work in order to make coverage in the unit at least where I work. Now in one hand some people may not have a problem with that because they like to make money, on the other it keeps many away from their family more often and they know what they signed up for so there is only so much complaining that goes on. However this is not the problem I am addressing just a part of causation.
So we have a shortage of Company Officers in other words, and if this problem is not Cal Fire specific, please other people can weigh in. In order to address this issue I believe Fire Fighters are being pushed up through the ranks very quickly to alleviate the staffing, and here is where the problem starts to grow legs. For a very long time I have been a true believer that we end up with some individuals that are just barely good enough at specific tasks or perhaps were signed off too early with task books in order to possibly avoid another trainee assignment, boost the ranks of qualified personnel, or avoid working with them again.
Now I understand that you’re never going to fully be ready to promote before you actually take the hot seat, and that there are some things you will learn when you officially take that position. Please do not confuse what I am saying for that, what I am getting at is that MANY of the young FAE’s at the very least especially when it comes to large scale wildland fire incidents just simply do not have the experience to lead their crews effectively or safely. I can also offer a specific example to help you understand where I am coming from.
Without getting specific on names or anything there was recently a situation where some young company officers were asked to chase spot fires in a drainage on a 40% or more slope in peak burning period with access '1000 ft through the green without adequate escape route or safety zone. Now I could get deeper in the weeds with the specifics in this mission but it is not the main focus of this topic so I will continue past it which I’m sure to some of you is frustrating as there are certainly some angry fireman flipping through the IRPG right now saying what the F did he just say and I want to know more. But at any rate the task was carried out and personnel on that specific spot fire were uninjured giving the false sense of accomplishment and false sense of appropriate tactics. I believe the lack of lengthy experience in the industry and early promotion of some, along side the yes sir attitude prevented the leadership to instantly recognize the dangers of the situation and understand that at the very least they were working an assignment in which 3 of the 5 common denominators were present during the operation.
Now taking all of what I am trying to correlate and adding a hypothesis to this topic, I’m going to say what about in 5 years? So with pushing people with little experience into these positions who now in turn will experience many situations from a followers point of view, only from a leaders point of view which will create possibly more normalization of deviance because there will be less experience of peer review and critique on the outcomes of many of the missions or incidents they are in command of or simply a part of. Not only does this effect the rest of their career and hamper a lot of their ability to be taught or experience a situation before they are in charge of the command in said situation, but now they are also teaching their subordinates things quite possibly as they experience them for the first time as well.
So in closing what about in 5 years? or 10? what will this look like Compounded by time? When we suppressed all fires for a long period of time we created conditions that were extreme and are now battling the arduous results of our decision from the past, what will our decision to push personnel through the chains so quickly bring to the future of the integrity within our ranks?