By Travis Dotson
She’s only two, but everyone can tell she’s “tough.” She constantly climbs and runs and falls down, just like any toddler. It’s a rare occasion for her to be scabless. People often comment on her “physicality.” “She’s so brave!” “She’s so agile.” Eventually, someone says: “A little firefighter in training!” And my heart sinks.
I understand that in relation to profession, children often follow in the footsteps of their parents. I don’t want my daughter anywhere near this profession. My hesitation has nothing to do with the risk of physical injury or death.
It’s because she won’t get a fair shake.
My daughter will face sexism. My daughter will have to deal with gender bias. I will have to watch her struggle with these issues no matter what path she chooses in life. If she chooses to be a construction worker or an engineer, at least I won’t know all the gory details of how she will be judged and mistreated—all the things I know intimately about the fire service.
Ashamed of Our Culture
I don’t want my daughter to become a wildland firefighter because I am ashamed of our culture regarding women in our ranks.
Wildland fire is filled with amazing women and they have to put up with a ridiculous amount of B.S. They are second-guessed, passed over, mistreated, and talked down to on a regular basis. I want my daughter to be evaluated by her peers on the basis of her performance and her contributions alone.
I don’t want her to be denied an opportunity for no other reason than her gender. I also realize that what I want matters little, for the world is a patriarchy and I’m part of it. But I can still take a swing at it.
The things I hear:
“I don’t hire women.”
“They’re just more trouble than they’re worth.”
“If girls can do it, it’s not tough.”
We are the Problem
Who says those things? Men, that’s who. Face it fellas, WE are the problem. I thought about all this stuff before, but the minute I had a daughter it became personal—and that’s pathetic. The very fact that it took a daughter to reveal my veiled view just goes to show how ignorant most of us are to the existence of our unearned advantage, as well as our active role in maintaining it.
Who am I kidding? I’m trying to connect with a bunch of blindly privileged whiners who vie for victim status every time a female is hired.
Even if the “think about your daughter” tactic did work, we can’t wait around for all the males in the fire service to have daughters so they can half-way empathize with the injustice faced by the women in our workforce. It’s a bad strategy and it’s not going to happen.
We need all men, whether they have daughters or not, to feel this.
Believe me boys, you aren’t the only ones who are tough; and tough isn’t the only attribute we want anyway. We want anyone who can swing a tool all day long and still make good decisions when it counts the most. Women can do that every bit as good as men can—arguably better.
Think about your perspective on this subject. Take stock of the words you use and how you interact with the people around you. Women aren’t the only ones we isolate, exclude, and minimize.
Test your behavior against our core values of Duty, Respect and Integrity. Chances are you fall short on this subject. If you fail, study up and test again—growth is painful.
Be the change, Tool-Swingers.
Don’t shy away from the topic.
It’s real. We own this.
It’s got to change.
49 thoughts on “We Are The Problem”
I disagree with this article entirely. If you associate with men who say the things you point out, you are the problem. Step up and make an on the spot correction! I seek women who want to work in wildland fire. I’m a Airborne Ranger veteran. But I seek women because they think, instead of use muscle. Often, complex fire situations require a strong mind and then muscle, applied with reason. If you are looking for responses, and I have seen you o this before, you got a strong one. Fix yourself before you put this junk out there.
Scott – thank you for your thoughts. Please tell us more about your advice to “fix yourself before you put this junk out there.”
This is hardly junk. If you think it is then maybe it’s your eyes that need to open. It’s a hard truth that as a male I’ve heard my whole career. It’s not all men but it’s many. Some call it out… some don’t. There have been times when I have and times when I’ve looked the other way. I’m sorry to tell you not everyone is the picture of perfection you are.
Identify yourself if you are so spectacular so that those who know and work with you can support your noble statements.
Hey, Scott. I have 61 years in fire in the Forest Service between my Dad and me. You haven’t got enough time in the outfit to know what Travis means. I do. I’m glad you’re doing the right things. Keep it up. And ask around to see if your intel is right…..
Maybe the writer has been away from Ops too long, or the blinders are too big, or their own bias is too great. As a former IHC Supt, and a current fire ops on a district, I have not seen nor heard the type of behavior on a rampant basis as your article would suggest. I have never stood around the hood of a truck talking to other IHC Supts or fireline leaders and heard mention of any of those comments you posted. You don’t speak for my culture, and your views and experiences are your own, not mine. In my opinion you are branding the majority based off the small minority. If thats all you hear then I suggest checking yourself and the groups you find yourself in. My daughter is not entitled to anything in life, just because she is a female. Nor am I entitled to anything just because I am a male. If she wants to be a kickass Hotshot, she will earn it just like any of the men I’ve hired who earn it alongside their female peers.
I’ve stood around that same hood… as a WOMAN, surrounded by IHC supts. and heard that type of behavior and am ashamed to say I’ve not always stopped it for several reasons. That’s for another article. But to deny it would be a lie, avoidance or sheer ignorance. You choose.
Here-here! I agree; women and men should get the exact same treatment. I don’t think that the fire culture is full of evil men who consistently mistreat women. In my experience, it’s been the exact opposite. While I was on a fire crew, I was treated with respect by 98% of the men 98% of the time; it was just a few who weren’t respectful. It’s time for us to stop pointing the finger and complaining and instead, find a way to move forward that doesn’t involve blaming men.
If there’s no problem, what happened to the Chief and Abby? Coincidence?
Pure garbage. Don’t assume or dare to lump me in with the “we” in this article. I have always and will always maintain a zero tolerance toward any of this crap that we face in our industry. I find it extremely disgusting. I also find it disgusting that the author thinks he can lump me in with all the degenerates in our work force that condone or are guilty of this behavior simply because I am a man. I sincerely hope that the author has the wherewithal to put a stop to the things he has heard and not write about them in a convenient article. I am not the problem. I am not a blindly privileged whiner. I have zero respect for the author after reading this article that assumes all males are the problem.
It’s the majority… not all. But the majority indeed.
Please post all of the documents you have showing your zero tolerance. Because if you have had any time in this agency and haven’t experienced anything like this… you’re blind. Also please sign with your name to prove your integrity. Do those two things and maybe the real men in this agency that know better will believe you.
Wow Garbage… your extreme defensiveness sounds pretty guilty. Why are you so worried about defending yourself? It’s clear what side of this you have chosen. Denial. Didn’t work out for Tooke but at least he spoke out with his actual name while he patted himself on the back. Show where you’ve been a part of stopping something or improving the environment. I see many defensive comments above but no proof otherwise. You are certainly now part of the “WE”.
Travis… I am a male in a federal fire agency. I bend over backwards to treat everyone with the utmost respect. It’s hard to be grouped in with the wrong doers but I totally get what you are saying. It is even something as small as body language from certain individuals when a woman steps up to speak or give direction. We’ve all witnessed it or participated in it and if anyone says different they are still the problem.
Keep your chin up Travis…keep speaking the hard truths that many either cannot see or choose not to see. Ignorance is bliss. For those who don’t know you…..it’s easy to fall prey to assuming the worse in the intent of your article.
For me, this is not solely a female issue…it happens on all sides of the gender equation. There are many, many good people in the fire service doing great things and I didn’t take your article as an all inclusive “we”….I took it as calling out those who partake in poor behavior either through silence and not standing up or having the morale COURAGE to put peers or themselves in check, or through participation of mobbing, or bullying.
As a father of two daughters and as a former IHC Superintendent, I appreciate you re-posting this article. It’s close minded people who choose not to see beyond their “district” or “forest” or “regional” boundaries that makes it all a part of the issue for not being able to change the system for the collective whole.
I stand by you brother!!!
USFS Pacific Southwest Region
Assistant Fire Director
Operations Southern California
I am part of the WE and I am a WOMAN. It’s a culture we have all been a part of no matter your stance or actions. As a female I have doubted women. Unconscious Bias is a thing. Conscious is even worse.
Keep in mind brothers… even when you commend a woman for working her ass off as a woman… even then you are part of the culture. If you ever hear the line “for a woman.” Follow a compliment. Bam! You’re part of the WE. That’s one I’ve heard many times and even said. Hell even when we find out a helicopter pilot is a female we are a little more impressed… why??? Why not be as impressed male or female??? Because it’s rare and you all know damned well she had to work her ass off to get there prob harder than the men. You know that in the back of your mind even if you don’t say it because it’s part of the culture.
My first year in fire I was told by a supervisor that women should not be in fire and I was taking a job away from a good firefighter. Fortunately I was raised in a manner where I could laugh at him and take it as a challenge to prove that man wrong.
I’ve been told several times as I moved up in my career, wow it’s a good thing you are a woman so you could get that Engine Captain position, wow competition for that AFMO job was tough you think being a woman helped? Again, ops normal, take it as a challenge to prove them wrong. And even last year on a large fire as I walked through the chow tent I overheard two young men saying, “there are TWO divisions on our branch that are women”!
When I first read Travis’s article my first thought was “no! It’s not THAT bad Travis. She will be able to prove they have no grounds to judge. She will be AWESOME because her daddy will teach her to be resilient in the face of sexism, like my daddy taught me.”
Now, in light of the past couple weeks I have a different perspective. There ARE many, many amazing people in this business who do not view color, race, ethnicity or gender diversity as a bad thing but as standard ops. I had an AMAZING supervisor who supported me throughout my pregnancy and did not judge me as I struggled with my identity as a mother and a firefighter. There are many of you who look at abilities (mental and physical), willingness to learn, and work ethic as the desired traits regardless of the packaging. So speak up. Do not rail against Travis shining light on the ugly parts of our culture. Shine your own light on your own deeds. Shine your light on your own brothers who have NOT said the things that have been said to me. Share THOSE stories so our culture can reveal the multiple perspectives of OUR story and not just the darkness.
Thank you Travis for having the courage to speak.
I really can’t say that I agree 100% with the article that this is as rampant as Travis is saying, this clearly goes on. I have numerous friends in fire who are women, and strong ones at that. Not only in physical strength, but their mental fortitude in not taking the BS and standing up for themselves. This is what I’ve tried to teach my daughter to be like. I feel that in the short 16 years of fire I’ve been apart of, I truly feel the culture has shifted for the better, but I am a male.
As a former Hotshot Superintendent, I tried very hard to recruit and bring on quality talent, regardless of gender. That could only go so far with a 10:1 ratio of m/f applicants. Even on the district I work now, I make it a point to try and teach and promote this idea of the best person for the job, and drop the m/f BS. I feel my district is very good at promoting this, supporting this, and stomping out the gender BS if it starts to surface. But that is ownership and leadership from the top, where it needs to be.
Maybe going out of my way to bring on more females is going about it wrong? Is that a false sense of doing the right thing? When I see a female in fire, I dont always think to myself, hey she’s pretty good at this for a girl. I wait and see what she bring to the table, then I judge her on her capabilities just like any firefighter on the line.
So while I don’t feel I am part of the problem, but try to be part of the solution, maybe a better solution should be called out. I don’t think calling every male out for being a sexist dirt bag is appropriate. Why not highlight the good as well? There’s lots of good going on, but you can’t make it sound like there’s zero good out there,especially with the format and forum that you have.
I run an 20 person IA crew. I also have a young daughter. Women in the Wildland Fire world present a bit of a paradox. We evaluate and judge our crew members by just a few simple guidelines. How hard/ long can you work and how good of a teammate are you. The crew members themselves also create a “pecking order” of sorts based largely on these same guidelines. Of these two main points of judgement, work ethic and team work, I have to admit a hard work ethic is valued more that being an excellent team member. This is simply because the nature of a fire crew members job is solely based on manual labor. Basically, if you work your ass off, day in and day out, then you are not only respected by your peers and supervisors, but you’re allowed to be not as proficient in say, other areas of fire crew operations like, leadership, positive attitude, crew relations, technical duties, etc. Let’s be completely honest with ourselves. It is a plain fact that men are physically stronger than woman. Who ever tries to argue this is a moron. This is basic physiology and science. Given that men are more likely to excel and thus be interested in fire crew jobs. This framework then creates the sexist environment we have today. When men are dominating a certain sector these issues almost always arise. The reality is that men are weak. Not physically but emotionally and sexually. Women have a huge advantage here. Fire crew men get drunk, yes almost all of these instances happen during times of alcohol consumption, and think because of their “standing or place” in the crew order they are allowed to help themselves to the new females on the crew. Or maybe they believe they are desired because of their elevated status among the group by younger females on the crew. Either way mans ego and desires are getting the best of him, as history has taught us time and time again, man has a weakness and it is desire of women. My main point here lies in the paradox, we need to hire more woman, but women who excel in tough manual labor jobs are truly hard to find for two reasons, the physical aspect mention above and in these jobs most women believe they will be judged/treated differently and looked at as sexual objects, therefore they don’t apply. So this is why we see a 10 to 1 ration on our hiring list of men to women. As long as fire is fought with hand tools and brute strength I’m sadly admitting that this will be the case, a male dominated environment. We need strong male and female leaders to ensure harassment And objectification aren’t allowed.
So basically you are saying men lack self control and especially when they are drinking.. I cant even begin to tell you how disturbing your logic is ” Either way mans ego and desires are getting the best of him, as history has taught us time and time again, man has a weakness and it is desire of women.” this was the most disturbing of your comments. ( Google rape culture). The fire service is not Clan of the Cave Bear or Lord of the Flies it is a job. The core values of this job is Duty ,Respect and Integrity As a leader you need to put those behaviors in check and make it very clear that sexual harassment is not tolerated by anyone…good grief..
For those who don’t believe this is as big of a problem as Travis says, I challenge you to find five women. And ask them about their experience in fire, ask them if they have felt dismissed because of their gender, ask them if they feel like the belong, ask them if there is a double standard, ask them if they have ever been hit on while on the job, harassed, or had to deal with unwanted touch or worse. I think the answers would shock you. It has happened to me, I often feel undervalued or unheard because I am a woman. I have been told I am not strong enough, fast enough, smart enough. I only started talking about what was happening to me two years ago, because until then I didn’t want to be labeled “that girl” or “a trouble maker.” I kept my mouth shut and “grew a pair” as I was often told. Like Travis things changed for me when I had my daughter in 2016 and realized this is not ok, and my silence was making the problem worse not better. My silence was acceptance and I refuse to accept it anymore. We can all improve, we are all guilty of being biases, of making inappropriate and offensive comments. I don’t care who you are, until as a culture we all face the hard truth and change our reality we are all still part of the problem! Don’t tell me you have done your part and can’t be labeled as part of the problem until you have done everything in your power as a firefighter and as a human being to rectify this and any other form of discrimination. We all still have a lot of work to do!!
I think we are taking this way too far by blaming every single white male. There will always be jerks in every profession; it’s a fact of life. No, it doesn’t make the mistreatment of women – or anyone – okay, but it doesn’t mean that all men are horrible. I don’t like how we are singling out white males, constantly pointing the finger at them, berating them with all of these problems and making them feel like they should suffer because of the bad apples. It’s not right.
I also don’t think we should be making the situation worse by hiring more women instead of hiring the most qualified people, regardless of sex, race, etc. Hiring people based on numbers is a recipe for disaster, but that’s exactly what is happening. I see it all the time, from the district level to the highest ranks; we are now trying to “remedy” the situation by hiring more women, regardless of qualifications, which is a horrible way to handle this.
As a woman, sure, I’ve experienced some sexual harassment issues on and off the fireline, but I also don’t blame all men for it and I certainly don’t feel like I have to CONSTANTLY talk about it. Plus, I’ve seen a lot of women who use the sexual harassment ticket or the female card to their advantage, which is very, very wrong. I’m sorry, but you can’t be an engine captain and work an 8-5 schedule; it’s just not part of the job. So why are all of these women claiming that they are so mistreated and belittled when they are asking for telework privileges as engine captains? They are abusing the system and it’s not right; our jobs are a privilege, not a right, so just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you get to demand all sorts of ridiculous accommodations that don’t fit with the job. I’m tired of hearing, “I became a mother and then everyone discriminated against me,” when they’re asking for demands that absolutely do not fit with the job description.
I’m not saying that we don’t need to work on these issues, but women need to be realistic about their jobs and their demands. We aren’t going to move past this and fix the issue if we are constantly dwelling on how mistreated everyone is and how it’s the fault of all men in fire. I’ve heard the same women telling their stories over and over again and I’m tired of hearing it – we need to move on and focus on a positive solution, not the drama.
I hear what you are saying and you make points that I don’t disagree with, it is unreasonable to expect to be an engine captain and work from 9-5 and be able to telework. That is unreasonable of anyone, man or woman. I also agree that is not a white male problem, it’s everyone’s problem. Women are just as guilty of letting this type of behavior be acceptable. I also agree that we should be hiring the best person for the job regardless of gender. I do believe though that the opportunities present to men and woman in our culture are not always equal. I understand that it is not every man that makes these comments, but when I am told even though I successfully completed S-212 that I will never be able to use a saw because I am a woman and it is a man’s job, how am I supposed to be able to get the skills need to compete at on an equal ground for the next job? I also agree that we need to focus on a positive solution, but I also think we need to CONSTANTLY talk about it because otherwise we will forget about, that’s just reality. Until our fire community agrees that it is an issue and that we need to find a positive solution I don’t think we can stop talking about it. I also believe that the women you speak of how use and abuse the system are in the minority, just as the actual male perpetrators are in the minority. If you ask me to stop generalizing all men and treat each case individually than we also need to stop generalizing women in fire and start treating each of their situations as individual occurrences. It’s time we all start living up to our values of Duty, Respect, and Integrity.
There’s a lot of great discussion going on but I’d like to start hearing from folks about solutions. The agencies can’t fix it, they’ve proven themselves to be inept and ineffective….the system’s broken. I certainly don’t have the answer but believe the answer comes from us. Can we start the dialog about real solutions? Can we lead from behind on this?
I was actually sent a link to this just this morning and it seems appropriate to this conversation. I like how at the end she says men are not the problem, they are part of the solution. It is our time to create a new definition of normal. I believe that we suffer in our environments from things very similar to locker room talk. If you are interested it is worth a 15 minute watch.
People need to complain, I get it, and they also feel a constant need to focus on the drama. I agree with Firebug; it’s time to lead from behind. I don’t agree that people are ignoring this and that we constantly need to talk about how we are mistreated and CONSTANTLY remind everyone how awful some women feel. That has been done a million times. I know that management sees the issue and is working to fix it, but it’s not going to happen overnight, which is why Firebug is right; we need to lead from behind and stop dwelling on the “horrible stories.”
I agree we need to lead from behind. The question is how? I believe people are not ignoring it because we aren’t letting them. This has been an ongoing issue for decades and finally management is dealing with the issue because these women have refused to stay silent. Do we need to hear the same stories over and over, probably not, but do others need to share their experiences so those who believe this is not an issue will see that it is, maybe. You are right it won’t happen overnight. I am pushing for in my job and with the EEO lead here at NIFC to change the way we train on these kids of subjects, to create something that is meaningful for most, that doesn’t just use bad actors to show examples of what not to do. I want to see us shift our mindset to one of resilience and emotional intelligence. Let’s teach people how to process these kinds of situations and how to have the difficult conversations. I know it is still hard for me to tell someone I felt a joke was offensive. I can’t even imagine having to tell someone who grabbed my ass or breasts that it wasn’t ok in a calm and rational manner. We need to educate our employees, help them become leaders off the fireline. I think there are a lot of things we can do to improve our work environments and our culture. I posted a Tedtalk above that I thought was pretty interesting on locker room talk and how as a society we are programming men to disrespect women. You may disagree with her talk, but it is definitely worth watching. It gives me hope to see you and firebug fighting to find a solution, I believe we all want the same thing, we just have different ways of trying to get there.
Oh, such good comments and really interesting to read the diversity of perspectives. Being able to have these discussions is what will bring on change.
It’s great that there are a lot of people that stand up and correct poor behavior when they see it. I would like to be comfortable making corrections every time they are needed, but I’m not. Is it because sometimes it’s easier to “keep the peace” than to initiate an uncomfortable discussion? Or because mistreatment can be so diverse in severity sometimes we don’t even see it and then the subtle comments/body language/etc is just reinforced?
None of these issues are unique to our organization. But wouldn’t it be cool if as an organization that has the image of being a “good old boys club” we became an agent of change for workforce equality? Our district leadership has been talking about what to do and how real change will come from the ground level. We are planning on scenarios and discussion at the module and district level as a place to start. Advocating for yourself and others, healthy conflict, and reading your audience are skills that we will practice so that when we do encounter blatant or subtle harassment we will address it appropriately.
The comment about female engine captains working 9-5 hits pretty close to home for me. I’m an engine captain with a young baby and this will be my first fire season with her. I certainly don’t expect to telework or work 9-5 every day, but I do expect to be able to some of the time. I feel guilty and apprehensive about it. And I can also recount many times when I worked long hours or extra days in support of a coworker who couldn’t because of family issues. My supervisors and coworkers have shown me a lot of support. I know that they will be there to help me when I need it and that they won’t think less of me when I prioritize my daughter.
I really appreciate Travis’ honest thoughts in his article. Harassment and discrimination isn’t a reality for everyone, but if it’s a reality for anyone it’s an issue that matters and deserves our best efforts at making improvements.
I love hearing what you are doing at the local level and I hope that catches on like wildfire! Pardon the pun 🙂
Thank you Travis. I know you took a lot of hits the first time your essay ran. Thanks for being willing to post again, and take hits again. You are the epitome of leadership — you addressed it, you owned it, you challenged the masses, you committed to be part of the solution. Right on, brother. Much respect.
Interagency Fire Staff Officer
West Central Oregon Fire Zone
I completely agree! You are part of the solution and I appreciate you speaking up!
Thank you for your candor Travis. As someone who has been working for the past 30 years with both male and female employees to change the culture we need more folks like you to stand up and say what needs to be said. For those disagreeing with Travis, it is never comforting to be grouped, just like Caucasians being uncomfortable discussing race discrimination. We have to be like Travis and get past it.. It’s ok to be uncomfortable, but don’t be in denial. Don’t be defensive. These discussions are critical to the steps of problem solving. It’s not insurmountable. We can do it.
First of all Thank you Travis for publicly recognizing this issue. Like you, I have children and I am in Fire the difference being I am a female with 2 boys. If my boys were to end up doing fire you better believe they will be respectful towards women (and men) So what I am saying is it starts at home. My boys (unfortunately) have seen or heard some of my work struggles and know how hard I work. They know better they have been taught respect. But We as women have been part of the problem. Like CAROLYN said we have felt more comfortable “keeping the peace” and it’s because it’s easier. 100% of time we are out numbered in this field and if we say something there generally isn’t anyone to stick up for you so it 1 against 10 and it’s obvious who will win. So keeping quiet is safest thing if you want to “fit in”. I realize men have been harassed too but the numbers are MUCH higher for women. Thank you Travis for being one of the few that aren’t afraid to be a leader and advocate for what you think is right. Wish I had you around my station.
This article and the media reports are a watershed moment for us all in the Forest Service. If we are angered or embarrassed by these reports, then we have a choice to make. Fix the problem or accept that these perceptions describe who we are.
If we do not like being associated with this bad behavior and do not accept these awful actions as something we want to be associated with, then we must find our voice. Do not let any sort of harassment, bulling, intimidation or humiliation get started. We are guilty when we wait for the victim to speak out and put the expectation solely on them to defend themselves.
IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING. Make the correction in the moment! Set a standard to speak out and remind us all to be better! We do not need a national program to tell us how to treat one another. All of us must find the courage to speak out and hold each other accountable to the expected standard of behavior that we aspire to represent.
I stand with those who have the courage to accept the perception described to us in this moment and are willing to reflect, and insist on being better. None of us are perfect, but we all must be better!
Fire Management Officer
Wow..you talk alot of crap considering the forest you run has been at the epicenter of all of this…still amazes me they let people like you are in charge considering everything that has happened..wow to go anonymous to…we all know who wrote that ch1…
Thank you and very well said! I only wish more people in the agency had the courage to speak out and not victimize the ones that do. Unfortunately, the Forest I work for is not changing at all. I am still hopeful that this can be fixed because I have met mostly great people working for the Forest Service.
Travis you are a true example of leadership, standing up for something you believe even when you know some may try to knock you down.
This post in 2016 and the recent podcast regarding identity spoke to me in ways I never expected. I would also like to mention something I posted on the FS employees group… There is not one employee in my workplace… NOT ONE, including myself, who didn’t gossip and chat about things they knew and or witnessed that were wrong regarding behavior of other employees, especially supervisors. I’m not talking about sexual harassment. I’m talking about general unfair treatment of another employee that causes a hostile work environment. Even if you are just gossiping, but not doing something about it, you are allowing and promoting it. It’s time we changed the integrity of our workplace, turn away from negative gossip (fact or fiction) and acceptance of wrong doing and assist with a culture shift where it’s no longer tolerated.
Thank you Travis, whether people agree or not, they are listening.
Thank you for bringing up the overall culture. As a Union representative in the Forest Service, I see this as a root of the issues that we are seeing. There may be some unique circumstances in a fire crew, but the institutional response to those situations (or lack thereof) is rooted in this overall pattern of failure to respond to the everyday hostility.
A few thoughts to ponder in here… upinflames.org
A lot of good comments and dialogue on this wordpress. Thank you all for sharing. Somebody wrote about ask five women… here is one of your five women response.
I started my career in 1989 on an engine, then Helitack the next year. My crew members told me I should be a Hotshot. So in 1991, I applied to two hotshot crews. I called the first crew (from a pay phone on the corner of Maryland and Flammingo, in Las Vegas NV), and the superintendent told me they didn’t hire women. Not knowing anything about anything, I called the second crew that I applied for, Craig Workman of the Black Mtn Hotshots, he hired me. I still remember it today – as if it was yesterday.
I have received comments throughout my career, that women don’t belong in fire, and that I would never be a superintendent, or you are just here to get your ticket punched, etc. Most times I just blew off the person making the statement and just kept doing my job. We need to change that of response- to empower our folks to speak up and to empower our folks to encourage all.
When I become the Superintendent of the San Juan Hotshots in 2002, some superintendents didn’t invite me into the Superintendent culture. Thank you to those who did support me. In fact, I was told, by another superintendent, I got the job because I was a female. I didn’t know much what was going on outside my job and just continued to work hard in my new role.
Now, I am here in this role your National Director of Fire and Aviation Management. My 30th season. We have much work to do. We have great employees and we have employees who can do better. We need a massive movement led from all of us and every level.
Duty, Respect and Integrity. See something Say Something. Teach others how to respond when they hear something said that is inappropriate, teach us before it is too late. We teach each other how to dig good fireline and what tools to use but we need more on Just Culture and the basic fundamentals of The Golden Rule. We need to get rid of bad behavior and have an ethos of appreciating and accepted one and all and helping those who may need a little extra help.
We must be in this together and not divided as men and women. I have much more to say but I will hold off and LISTEN, and follow this blog.
Lets make the changes we need. I am proud of you all and want the best for you.
Shawna A. Legarza, PsyD
National Director Fire and Aviation Management
USDA Forest Service
Thank you so much for your support Shawna!
Shawna, this is a solution that I employed succesfully throughout my career in fire and it worked very well. I watched many men do the same. Empowerment comes from within, it can’t be given to you, and no one (or agency) can do it for you.
I couldn’t agree with you more about working together without the division of men and women. I worked for some outstanding leaders who were men, many not knowing how their leadership and guidance profoundly influenced me as an employee and as a leader.
We should all endeavor to mentor and educate individuals in what is acceptable and appropriate behavior…and for those individuals that choose not to modify their behavior, we must all hold them accountable or direct them to an exit strategy.
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Nice work Travis, getting the conversation going is half the battle. Especially when you know you are going to take some licks.
Even though it is uncomfortable for me to be “lumped” and I, of course, have a high opinion on my career actions related to “duty, respect, and integrity”, culture change involves all of us. As fire bug stated, I got to keep on mentoring/educating/set the example of how to have a respectful workplace.
Right on, Travis. Your piece is blunt and provocative, and that’s probably what we need in order to get a real discussion going. Us guys need to get past being butt-hurt if we feel like it’s unfair to all be under some level of scrutiny on this. The important thing is to invest energy and open minds into understanding our culture, and being part of the discussion and the solutions.
Hopefully before your daughter is 18, we will have improved the culture of the wildland fire service so much that you’d rather see her in nomex than in other professions.
disclaimer: in self-examination of my own work and private life, I have to admit to too many examples of harassment, sexual harassment, sexualization/objectification of women, going along with and/or not opposing misogyny, etc. I’m past denial and moving on to just being better.
US Forest Service since 1985
I find all of this interesting, from the point of a woman! I made it through the ranks to an ICT2. I did notice that some women had problems with men in certain areas. In the south I met a woman complain about guys and she had a hard time keeping up! I took her aside and told her she would be treated by her own actions. I told her she had to keep up by with carrying gas cans, water bags, tools and most important had to be willing and able to do anything a man could do. I have seen men carrying things for women or doing a physical job that the woman should be doing. I corrected these issues if I was aware of this happening! But on the other side I have seen men bothering women in an inappropriate way.I took statements ftom a few women that a squad boss was very inappropriate. I agreed with them, he was not an appropriate squad boss. I had to fire him. There was another man I fired for sitting in his truck while his crew was done the mountain. I talked to him and told him he would be fired on safety issues alone. I look at it this way: man or women who are not doing they’re job will be disciplined! I try to set an example for all the resources working under my command, some look at me like I am an ass, most give me the credit I deserve and have earned! Some have even told me I am doing a great job. So, if a woman or man is being harrased, I deal with it swiftly!
As a woman in wildfire I did not notice discrimination at the district level, nore from my own IHC crew that had 4 women on the crew (believe it!) but other IHC crews treated myself as incompetent because of my sex. Let’s realize this and change it boys, it’s 2020, there is enough research to support the fact that there are pros to each sex being on the crew.
Heck yeah Travis, As usual good job!
The first thing we can do is to create a dialogue amongst ourselves.
As for my background I am on my 13th year as an A.D.. Working many RX and WX details and the day to day I have met many phenomenal folks from all over the U.S. both male and female. They have all promoted team work with the we all go in we all come out attitude! Have I encountered inappropriate comments ? of course. But that being said in all cases when I’ve had a one on one chat with the person in question both male and female behavior has changed for the better.
I am also a retired U.P.S. driver of 31 years. I have addressed both management and rank and file members with positive results.
I’ve read posts from a few guys who now have daughters and look at things differently, well done.That being said I have 4 boys ages 38 to 49 and have taught them from day one to respect all people. It has made a big difference in the way they treat business associates, there wives and kids.We fathers can do a better job, lead by example.
Ladies, if I ask you if you need to take a break or switch out I have your physical wellbeing in mind. I ask the guys the same thing we are a team remember that! Ask for help if you need it.
Sups. you to can help by addressing concerns in a timely manner.
Lastly, is it time to take the gender and race box off job apps. and hire by quals only?
Ask yourself are you part of the solution or part of the problem.
Be safe out there.