Learning at Work – Safe spaces required? The wisdom and irony of ‘Don’t F it up’ Part 3

A three part series by Racheal Reimer

In the Winter 2017 issue of Two More Chains, firefighter Bre Orcasitas discussed wildland fire culture. In her blog, https://theevolvingnomad.com/2016/11/20/fire-culture/, she wrote, “Hearing ‘don’t F… it up’ is a sarcastic yet serious show of support for whatever small task you have taken on.” This blog series digs deeper into how and why that phrase has meaning, and examines wildland fire culture and learning.

Read part 1    Read part 2

Part 3


Have the courage to face your fear

Learning requires the willingness to allow others to see that you don’t have it all together, to be willing to be vulnerable. In wildland fire culture, this is a very difficult thing to do.

It is possible that even in jobs we love, with people we see as friends, there are areas where we are creating a culture that is intolerant of vulnerability, that reacts very strongly against anything that is seen as weak, and too often equates weakness with feminine attributes–whether those attributes are expressed by women or men.


As groups of people, we push those we see as the weak link because we are afraid of what failure might mean. For wildland fire culture to learn from its own mistakes, we all need to be brave enough to admit to that we have some learning to do.

 The wisdom of don’t F… it up

It is no one’s fault that this correlation with vulnerability and weakness exists. In a risk-taking profession like wildland fire, vulnerability can be dangerous when it applies to fireline tactics. I’m not arguing that failure is truly safe, because it isn’t. Avoiding vulnerability is an excellent tactical decision-making mindset. However, when this tactical decision-making mindset is uncritically applied in the day-to-day culture of how we lead, how we communicate with one another, and how we build our teams, this negatively impacts our ability to learn. When things that are different are labelled as weak, and those individuals shamed into silence, there are significant consequences for learning and growth in the profession as a whole.

Recognizing this intolerance for vulnerability in our own culture, and admitting to the need for change is not failure.

It means there’s room to grow – room to learn. Together.



“I think everyone’s going to feel uncomfortable in one way or another as it all comes out and as things start to change,” says Katie.

Casey described the change this way: “We need to be better individuals, you know, better human beings…Maybe it’s not ‘women’s thinking’ [about fire], but just being a decent human.”

Read part 1    Read part 2

The WTREX was supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resiliency through Collaboration: Landscapes, Learning and Restoration, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior. For more information, contact Lynn Decker at ldecker@tnc.org or (801) 320-0524.


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