Forest Fire Branch: Responsibility or Leadership?


Handshake - one with gloves, the other without gloves
(Courtesy of the Forest Fire Lessons Learned Center)

You can hardly look around and not find anyone who is complaining or breaking a "rule". Whether it is a person who runs a stop sign or who does not wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE), the "offender" has an excuse.

I put some words in quotation marks on purpose. Each person will align their values ​​and judgment with what we call rules. There are reasons for the rules we have. Our duty is to know and respect them.

As a member of a forest fire department, some things are not negotiable. The wearing of an appropriate PPE is one of them. Some of you may laugh at it, but we have standards that we fight shots. You can choose, no matter what excuse you think is justified, not to wear your PPE. The question is how to deal with the offense – through accountability or leadership.

Let's take responsibility first. The person who bends or breaks the rule can be held responsible for his actions. This places responsibility on the leader, creating a leadership environment in which the leader (or his agent) is accused of investigating offenses and imposing consequences for violations. The leader (or his representative) is removed from what might be more important tasks to enforce the rules.

And if leadership was used instead. By creating a leadership environment in which all members of the team abide by the rules and understand Why the rules exist, the leader gives the example to others. Team members hold themselves accountable, releasing the lead role. There will be no accident investigation (or image on social networks) to judge the team and its leader if the violation does not exist.

This does not mean that responsibility is not an option. As Jacko Willink and Leif Babin say in The leadership dichotomy, "use responsibility as a tool when necessary, but do not rely on it as your only means of enforcement.

I've used the EPP in this example, but it can easily apply in any situation. Leadership is a powerful solution. As wildfire leaders, we set an example for others to follow. We are ultimately responsible for all actions and results. Will you choose to lead or pass on your responsibility to your followers?


About the author: Pam McDonald is Editor-in-Chief for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and a member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

This blog is inspired by "Chapter 8: Make people responsible for their actions, but do not hold hands", The leadership dichotomy by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin and "Gloveless Idiots" by Travis Dotson, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.