Forest Fire Leadership: Just BE


(Baby Nug holding his dad's finger.)

One of my best inspirations for this blog comes from personal experiences. This is not a fire story. Very few moments of leadership occur in the performance of our duties; most occur in our daily lives. May you find a nugget or two of mine.

On May 22, my nephew and his wife became the parents of a miracle baby. Baby Nug was born prematurely at 27 weeks and 1 lb. 11.8 oz. Nug's mother had developed a severe pre-eclampsia condition with HELLP Syndrome – a potentially fatal complication of pregnancy.

Being the great aunt of Nug gives me no power or authority. However, great aunts (or anyone else) can be leaders in times of crisis. You see, Baby Nug and her parents live 120 kilometers from a neonatal intensive care unit and had to be flown to Boise, where Aunt Pam lives. Chances were our little family would arrive in Boise before the grandparents / parents arrived. Someone should be in the hospital when the little family has arrived. Aunt Pam volunteered for this task.

There really was not much to do for me. The time spent in the hospital tends to be slower than the hour; as a result, the grandparents were able to drive from the Magic Valley to Boise before the family arrived. Aunt Pam could have gone home for the night and let the close family take care of her job, but she stayed and did what any leader can do: be present.

"To show myself means to be present to what is real, to what is really happening." – Nadia Boltz-Weber, Pastrix

Being present is one of the greatest qualities of leadership. As a great aunt, I had no authority to make decisions, but I could be there to listen, comfort and be. We have just received the comfort and care our family needed.

HELLP syndrome requires a delicate balance between keeping the mother alive and giving the baby the strength to be born. Birth is the cure for HELLP syndrome. About a week after our trip, Baby Nug made his quick entrance. During a check, the doctor broke the water to promote a natural birth. The umbilical cord and a tiny hand appeared, necessitating the birth of a Cessarian section. Nobody was ready! The baby would be born in a few minutes and people were everywhere; somebody had to act. I could be mobile and reassemble Team Nug.

  • Dad was in a state of confusion outside the operating room (his mother and I were out of the room for the check); Give him his mother and father.
  • Mom's mother, father and sister-in-law were off-site; inform them that they must go to the hospital as soon as possible.
  • The new aunt was heartbroken, she missed the event; listen to niece and comfort yourself.

My intention was to be present and do everything I could to bring comfort and love. Leaders can do it regardless of the crisis. Being present takes practice, but is invaluable when needed. A person does not need to go for leadership; Sometimes leadership finds the person. I challenge you to be:

  • Just be
  • Be ready to listen.
  • Be ready to love.
  • Be ready to act.
  • Be prepared to hear what others can not.
  • Be prepared to provide calm during a storm.
  • Be prepared to step back.

Baby Nug's journey is just beginning. He will be in the hospital for a few months and could use any thoughts, prayers and wishes that you can send him. In the meantime, Aunt Pam will be present and ready to lead as needed.


Pam McDonald is an editor and publisher for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and a member of the NWCG Leadership subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.