My Commitment to Being a Student of Fire

Redding IHC Crewmember – 2012

I have been an employee of this agency for eight years now and can honestly say that as a teaching tool no lessons learned experience thus far in my career has ever come close to providing what the South Canyon Staff Ride provided for me.

Redding 4

I had attended the Rattlesnake Staff Ride on the Mendocino National Forest two times before attending the South Canyon Staff Ride. And though the Rattlesnake event was a well-coordinated staff ride, the differences that set these two staff rides apart are why the South Canyon Staff Ride is such an important training tool.

First off, the amount of investigative work put into the fire behavior analysis of this event coupled with the book “Fire on the Mountain” provide an extremely in-depth analysis of the event and the details surrounding it from beginning to end. That the Redding IHC gives this material out to its crewmembers to read and digest prior to attending the staff ride is extremely important because it sets the foundation for understanding the decisions and dynamics of the resources and the agency at that point in time.

This staff ride is historically important in so far as the agency is concerned because this tragedy was the catalyst for a fundamental shift in agency attitude by admitting, finally, that human factors were at play and, as a result, these factors would now have to be studied.

That Redding IHC uses its crewmembers to brief the folks attending the staff ride on the human factors that were present and in play during various phases of the fire is extremely important because it exposes the crewmembers to the concept of human factors and sets the stage for all those in attendance who may not be familiar with the details of the tragedy.

Perhaps the most important thing that sets this experience apart from the others is that at the very spot in which the event took place you get to hear the story from the survivors themselves. You can see it on their faces, hear it in their voices, and feel the emotion as they recount the events on the timeline and walk you along the ground where their brothers’ and sisters’ crosses still stand. I will never forget what I saw and heard from the survivors. Their stories will forever serve to reinforce my commitment to being a student of fire and a professional for this agency.

I’d like to point out that the combination of the above mentioned elements was critical to this staff ride and the effect it had on me personally. I felt fully engaged in every way due to the amount of information I was given, the time I was given to prep the human factors briefings, and the extra time we were given to walk the hill on our own to digest the information we felt was of personal significance.

All of these components fit together like pieces of a lessons learned instructional puzzle. The Redding IHC provided all those pieces for its crew and for the collective group. Multiple agencies and personnel are present at this event. I truly believe that the quality of this staff ride has a lot to do with those who step up to manage the details of putting it together so that everyone in attendance gets the best possible product.

I was not aware prior to coming here as a crewmember the amount of time and energy the Redding IHC program invests in this staff ride. They fill multiple roles, from incident commander of the entire staff ride to team leads and squads who give informational briefings, from the introduction phase to the closeout dinner. They help maintain the trails and the stands of the actual fire site and are key players in the logistical coordination of the entire event. To lose their involvement would be extremely detrimental to the quality of the staff ride and would be a disservice to future crewmembers of the Redding IHC.

To put it bluntly, the Redding IHC has produced some of the finest leaders in the U.S. Forest Service over the course of this crew’s existence. There is a reason people come to this crew. They know they will be given a unique opportunity to receive high-quality training and have the opportunity to thrive in a pure learning environment. The staff ride and the experience gained from it epitomizes the Redding experience and ties in everything they teach during the previous seven weeks. It is vital that they are allowed to continue to uphold their training standard.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.