Qualified doesn’t mean capable. Got humility?


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If you are Division qualified does that mean you should be able to handle ANY Division ANYWHERE in ANY conditions?  What happens when our abilities don’t line up with the situation – regardless of quals?

How do you react when you see someone hesitating?  How should you react?  Here’s a tip, be kind.  There is most likely a reason for the hesitation.  Find out what it is, then you can discuss if it’s warranted.

Do you know enough to hesitate?  This is called humility – try it.

Consider all this while reading this piece.

Experience vs. Qualified vs. Skills vs. Ability

By Kipp Morrill – State Aviation Manager & Fire Program Safety, BLM California

We are firefighters. We are doers. We make things happen.

It’s why we became firefighters.

We are a “can do” group of people. So when someone asks us to do something, our first reaction is “When, where, how far, let’s go”.ict3

Are we qualified? Do we have that on our red card? Am I a trainee?  These are all common questions that run through our mind.

But what happens when we are “qualified” to do a particular task but really haven’t performed that task? Maybe you have but it’s been a really long time or in a different fuel type? Fire people don’t like to turn down assignments they are otherwise qualified to take on so it takes some serious self-reflection and honesty to let that Division Sup know that maybe the assignment isn’t the best fit for you and your crew.

It takes checking ego at the door sometimes to admit that maybe you might be biting off more than you can chew. But the good news is there are ways to mitigate and really make it a win-win situation.

Maybe you can shadow for a couple of shifts before taking over that division? How about watching that “C” faller take out that monster snag. Or maybe ask if a couple of your folks can work with the firing crew to get an idea of how the fuels are burning?

Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

Really being honest about the skills you and your crew bring to the fire takes confidence and professionalism.

Humility – Try it.

16 thoughts on “Qualified doesn’t mean capable. Got humility?

  1. I’m glad someone finally said it. Now will the system change? Not without more people in high places like the author who are willing to speak up about it. To all you structure guys with div. sup quals out there reading this – stick to structure protection. I don’t want to see you sitting in your truck on my division.

    • Really. That’s a pretty brash comment. I’m sure both sides have people that sit on their ass in a truck and watch but not everybody does. Better to keep quiet and let people think your ignorant than open your mouth and prove it.

      • There is something to be said about a disconnect from structure qualified vs wild land qualified individuals. If we were to flip flop the situation, would anyone find it appropriate for a battalion chief from the forest service, show up to a 3 alarm structure fire in the City of Denver and take over command of the operation?

      • Brash comment? It’s the truth. They were kind enough to share it with you. You being, more than likely, a “hybrid” structural/wildland firefighter are blinded by your hubris and enormous ego. “All-Hazard” implementation nationally did this. Post 911 firefighter hero worship did this. Wildland firefighting does not have to be a dangerous job as long as you follow the basic rules. Hybridization of firefighters is killing both civilians and firefighters today and unless dealt with will continue. The poster made a valid point…you won’t see me in an operations role (or any role) on a structure fire, why is it not true the other way? Ego, money, and prestige, that’s why. Stay in your lane and I’ll stay in mine. If not, the Lessons Learned Center will be a very busy place indeed.

    • Wow. I’m a structure guy whose beginning to realize I’m woefully unprepared to work on, much less run, a WUI event. I’m glad to know there are guys like anon who are willing to teach us structure guys who want to fill their skill gaps. Way to be a leader….

    • Anonymous, I am curious how you feel the piece that was written aligns with your views. Also, the author makes some excellent points and he was willing to challenge what may be the status quo and put his name to it. By doing so, he advances the conversation in a positive way. You on the other hand, have done neither.

  2. The author over-simplifies a very complex topic.

    “How do you react when you see someone hesitating?”
    “Do you know enough to hesitate? This is called humility – try it.”

    Hesitation could be indecisiveness, waiting for adequate resources to execute an operation, or a competent leader waiting for a non-critical situation to coalesce.

  3. Okay, okay… why don’t you all sit back and arm chair this article! It was well written and is a good idea, why don’t you take something from it and stop trying to find anything to talk crap on!
    Can’t people now a days enjoy stuff and stop trying to bring everyone else down?

  4. We’ve been a long time getting to the point where an individual can say they aren’t comfortable taking an assignment and not feel as if they are committing career suicide.

    I believe that most all of us have been in the position, at some point, of not having the solution to a problem on the line or being surprised by the complexity of a problem. Taking a moment to think through the options is good business. We can call this a tactical pause if you will.

    Now the issue of having a qual and not being able to perform in that qual in a particular situation may be more dependent on where you got your qualification then your skill set as fuel type, densely populated WUI, and local issues/customs can influence how well you perform. That said, if someone can’t perform at the level of their qual then they should step back and request a replacement. Not easy in our profession but necessary.

    The article concludes in a professional manner with good suggestions. Keeping it professional helps us all.


  5. Unfortunately this “piece” speaks to all of us, as firefighters, in an unjust way. Dictating humility is utterly ironic and lacks humility, as humility is synonymous with being humble. Generalizing all fire managers into the classic, “Type A” personality category is a farce. We actually have no data that indicates this to be true (do we?), in this case we have one viewpoint based on personal anecdotes. Note that Tom Harbour, former FAM director, referred to certain organizations in fire as thoughtful introverts. Failing to recognize firefighters as the diverse population we are sells us short and boxes us into thought processes like the one outlined above.

    This article is very simple, and leads the reader to nod their head in agreement. The point, which I would summarize as “know if you’re in over your head and don’t take it on” is persuasive, as we’ve all seen people make a decision that lead to a poor outcome. It’s easy to see afterward, isn’t it? Each year a multitude of accident investigations and FLAs and RLSs come out, and we often read them and shake our head. What a dummy, right? How could he or she have not seen it coming?? Where is the accountability? However, this simplistic view misses the real point, which is that being in “over your head” in a complex, dynamic situation as a human being is never simple or clear or known until AFTER something bad happens. Then, articles like this become correct as out 20/20 hindsight comes into focus. We move on and just think, what an idiot… I would never do that. That is neither humble nor is it insightful.

    In reality there could be several factors far above the DIVS level (or any qualification) that should be considered on an incident. For example, what if the Type 1 IC, despite having 35 years of experience is in way over their head? Would the whole team be in over their head? Would Branch? Would the Ops section chief? Is that even possible? Are they human or mythical all-knowing beings that have seen it all? Does it percolate down into the entire organization, all the way to FFT2, if the foundation isn’t solid? Once again, we will never know until something bad happens. We look to the people on the ground for accountability, situational awareness, and decision making in complex, quickly evolving environments. This is not a systematic approach.

    I would suggest we begin to look at why we are placing them in these situations initially – much higher and deeper into our fire and land management organizations. We call people “hotshots,” for example, and expect them not take risks? We have “Air Attack” in the sky and we’re not supposed to be aggressive? Did you know Paul Gleason intended LCES to be used only for aggressive firefighting, not all firefighting? Why are you fighting this fire, why are you putting out “political” smokes? When was the last time that Ops section chief was actually on the line with a pack on digging, like you may be?

    Think deeper. Think bigger! Try it.

  6. What about fire positions that do not require a PTB or any fireline experience? For example REAF – Resource Advisor Fireline and BAES – Burned Area Emergency response Specialist (BAER) have no fire experience qualifications. The qualifications for REAF is S-130, S-190, ICS-100, IS-700, ICS-200, L-180 and the annual fire refresher. BAES, and ARCH, require fewer classes. Once a person has taken these fire classes and N-9042 READ/REAF or a BAER class, they are good to go on an assignment. Often REAFs and ARCHs are out ahead of a fire with a dozer identifying areas of concern to avoid. REAFs also are asked to hike out on ridges or along old roads to see if there are resource concerns if these are used for burnout operations. BAERs hike into the fire interior to evaluate burn severity and potential impacts to resources. Some REAFs and BAERs have fire experience, others do not. These resource positions are functioning as a single resource.

    Some REAFs and BAERs are using the Scouting podcast to start the conversation regarding the work we do and the risks involved. REAFs and BAERs need to get fire experience and knowledge of fire behavior and pass that along to new REAFs and BAERs.

    I encourage REAFs and BAERs to ask DIV to get them an experienced fireperson to accompany them if they don’t have much fire experience or don’t feel comfortable with the assignment. The fire person can teach the resource person about fire behavior and safety. The resource person can teach about fire effects on natural and cultural resources. As a DIV it might be a good idea to talk to the REAF or BAER in your division and ask about fire experience and if they want a more experienced set of eyes to join them.

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