The Impact of a Staff Ride

By George Risko

Staff Ride for Experiential Learning and So Much More
Many in the wildland community are familiar with the use of a staff ride in the learning process. The value of a staff ride goes well beyond training and education; it can be a very therapeutic and healing event as well.

Don’t underestimate the impact a staff ride can have on your agency. I would like to focus on the use of a local staff ride based on an event that took place within the Florida Forest Service and had the most impact on our family.We were very fortunate that the USFS Leadership Development Program and Lessons Learned Center teamed up with OMNA to host a national staff ride workshop. The workshop focused on what right looked like and how to develop a local staff ride. Based around the staff ride for the Battle of Shiloh, teams gathered to develop staff rides pertinent to their local unit.

Our team built the Blue Ribbon Staff Ride. The Blue Ribbon fire took place in 2011; on June 20, we lost two of our own—Brett Fulton and Josh Burch, our family, our Brothers.


George Risko with Ms. Mollie Burch, Josh Burch’s mom.

When we arrived at the workshop, we had a direction and an intent based on our Director’s vision, and we had his total support. We had the report and detailed information and the desire to honor our own. Putting the staff ride together was a task we had never tried before. At the workshop, information was gathered from us. With the help of mentors and subject matter experts, the information and ideas began to take shape into a plan—a plan we could execute through an Alpha delivery of our staff ride.

The Blue Ribbon Staff Ride Alpha delivery took place October 23-26 near Lake City, Florida. Our development team grew as we brought in more subject matter experts and conference group leaders. We were supported every step of the way by our mentors/SMEs from the workshop. We delivered our Beta in January and will be delivering the operational in the future.

 Based on my limited experience, I have found the staff ride development process to be an emotional and healing process. Valuable information can now be passed on to our current and future teammates while honoring the ultimate sacrifice of the Brothers we lost in 2011.

On site at the Blue Ribbon Staff Ride.

As we look forward, we can see the value of creating smaller local staff rides as part of annual fire refresher training, including RT-130. Staff rides can be built for a vast array of situations—a large prescribed fire, hurricane response, etc. The workshop gave us the tools and confidence to develop more staff rides and share our knowledge with others.

Thanks to staff ride workshop team, we now have the tools to move. So, if you have a vision or an idea for a local staff ride, I recommend attending the National Staff Ride Workshop or hosting a session of your own. It is the most rewarding hard work you will ever put in, and you will meet some incredible folks to assist you along the way.

Respectfully Submitted,
G. Risko, Florida Forest Service

George Risko is the Fire Training Officer for the Florida Forest Service and a member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. All expressions are that of the author.

This article is reprinted from the Wildland Fire Leadership Blog.

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