| This is the third of three (3) SAFENETS on three separate fires in the Intermountain Region (USFS) on the issues of safety relating to leadership, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), mainly hardhats, in timber while on the firelines; the attitude of regular Agency employee overhead and the arrogance, persistent attitude, and Double Standard held by current and/or former Smoke Jumpers (SMJ's) performing in overhead positions. The overhead on this particular fire were Branch Directors, Division Supervisors, Task Force Leaders, Field Observers, a Safety Officer, and Line Safety Trainee.|
The Pioneer Fire was a Type I incident, with some of the Operations personnel being SMJ's and/or former SMJ's. During most of seven (7) days on this fire, these former SMJ's, SMJ's, and miscellaneous overhead failed to comply with basic PPE standards, mostly regarding hardhats, in timber while on the firelines, and failed to set a good leadership example for the Resources they supervised and/.
The main issues were former SMJ's, SMJ's, and miscellaneous non-SMJ's and/or former SMJ's overhead with ball caps and NO hardhats, on a fairly regular basis, while on the firelines.
The other Agency Crew leaders, wildland firefighters, Contractors, and Cooperators themselves were rarely a problem. A statement I heard often was, "We should be safe because Safety is here." One should be safe and follow safety protocols because it's the right thing to do and NOT because a Safety Officer is present.
These leadership and safety issues occurred everyday I was on the firelines. I politely and professionally mentioned to each of them numerous times on a daily basis about their leadership roles as supervisors, role models for younger firefighters, and to set a good example as leaders for their subordinates. Attitudes toward my compliance requests were mixed, with some being obstinate and repeatedly resisting, to others apologizing and readily and willingly accepting the corrections.
On one occasion, at a Drop Point in Division G, where the DIVS, a SOFR, a FOBS and another overhead, were wearing ball caps in the timber. I asked them to please put their hardhats on due to the hazard trees in the area and because they were overhead needing to set a good example. The DIVS G informed that he felt that they were safe enough at the Drop Point, they wore them "on the firelines," and they were safe without them.
I asked them to please put their hardhats on. DIVS G told me that we were "going to have a philosophical debate on the issue." I explained that the matter was already settled and we were not "going to have a philosophical debate on the issue." He never did comply with my reasonable request.
That night, I recounted this incident to Branch Director (T) and told him this had gone beyond a safety issue and needed to be dealt with on an operational level. The following morning (September 7th), matters definitely turned around, when Acting Branch Director, at the morning briefing, told everyone present that their individual safety was a "personal responsibility" and for everyone to do their part as professionals.
These are clearly leadership and attitude issues. Some of these even fall into the Hazardous Attitudes realm enumerated on page xi, in the IRPG, namely "Invulnerable - That can't happen to me" and "Anti-authority - Disregard of the team effort" and 'don't tell me what to do.'
On leadership, the Red Book is very clear: "The MOST ESSENTIAL element for success in the wildland fire service is GOOD LEADERSHIP. ... The hallmarks of Forest Service leadership are ACTION, ATTITUDE, and ACCOUNTABILITY." (EMPHASIS ADDED) These leadership hallmarks were NOT complied with in the instances listed above.
Concerning hardhats, the Red Book states: "Head Protection - Personnel must be equipped with hardhats AND WEAR THEM AT ALL TIMES WHILE IN THE FIRE AREA." (EMPHASIS ADDED) The non-SMJ, SMJ's, and/or former SMJ's Overhead were 'equipped with hardhats,' but wore ball caps on the firelines in timber, unless they were reminded to wear hardhats - sometimes several times each shift.
What is basically occurring is the Normalization of Deviance when we allow these Bad Decisions With Good Outcomes, especially when they are allowed and exhibited by supervisors at the home unit and/or fireline overhead.
We hear a lot of talk these days about changing the 'Fire Culture' and working toward a safer wildland fire attitude with safer outcomes. However, what I see occurring on the firelines by SMJ's and/or former SMJ's overhead exhibiting their double standards and unsafe attitudes on these three fires, I am less than hopeful. There is a very long way to go to achieve these necessary and significant goals with the attitude that prevailed on these fires.
It does no good to discuss the more elaborate safety issues and concerns if we ignore "The Basics" in leadership and safety. Supervisors and Safety Officers cannot ignore these bad attitudes and transgressions and must address them, otherwise we are tacitly acquiescing and approving of them.