Wildland Fire Leadership: Red Cup – Yellow Cup


During the 1990s, I taught business training in junior / junior. high school in a small town in Idaho. It was around this time that I took a Dr. Harry Wong. Dr. Wong was renowned for his class management techniques. One of the techniques that I learned from him was the use of colored goblets as a communication technique. (I would see this communication technique years later on our local Brazilian grill.)

I gave each student three cups, one red, one yellow and one green. Each cup represented the following:

  • Red = I'm stuck, I need help and I can't continue without help.
  • Yellow = I have a question but I can continue to work without immediate answer.
  • Green = No questions or concerns.

The technique worked pretty well. The students even started helping each other while I was dealing with the most critical issues.

Imagine if each of us had a button that indicated that we needed help. The light would light up those around us until someone came to our rescue. Life is not that simple; we have no indicators. We tell someone or someone to realize that we need help. Unfortunately, most people do not ask for help.

Most forest firefighters are aware of the situation, but can we push our skills beyond the fire? Do some of us mask this pain and die inside. Do others go missing, fire, or avoid calling for help? Verbal and nonverbal signals can be strong if only the observer has the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the heart to help.

I have taken a few mental health and suicide prevention courses from LivingWorks in the past few months. I want to share some nuggets with you. Nothing I share makes us an expert, but maybe, just maybe, you'll have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to help someone who is suffering.

Listen to CPF Fire Wire's Suicide Awareness and Prevention in the Fire Service podcast.



Forest Fire Leadership Challenge – Dig a little deeper

Most forest firefighters must take first aid / CPR courses. Why are we not required to take suicide awareness courses? The very life you save me is someone you love or even yourself.

  • Listen to CPF Fire Wire's Suicide Awareness and Prevention in the Fire Service podcast.
  • Start the conversation among your self-help team.
  • Consider taking suicide awareness training. Know the signs and how to put someone safe.
  • Talk to your local HR specialist about EAP resources available to you and your team.
  • Be part of the change and remove the stigma of suicide!
Lifeline for Suicide Prevention 1-800-273-TALK

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