‘And Other Duties as Assigned’

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The following is one of the many writings featured in the most recent “One Foot in the Black,” the official newsletter of the U.S. Hotshots Association. This newsletter’s aim is to focus on “the issues, insights and innovations that will shine a light on the IHC mission.”

As Anthony “Crobar” Escobar, Editor-in-Chief of “One Foot in the Black,” points out in this newsletter’s introduction, “. . . the stories herein have an applicability unattached to any particular time frame, and the observations and lessons that may be drawn are valuable no matter the time of year, or the year.”

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‘And Other Duties as Assigned’

By Anthony “Crobar” Escobar

When I was first hired as a crewman on the Los Prietos Hotshots (today’s Los Padres Interagency Hotshot Crew) I enjoyed being in a Position Description (PD) that ended with these five simple, all-inclusive words: “And Other Duties as Assigned.” Granted it was a different time, a different workforce and a different social environment, but it didn’t matter. “And Other Duties as Assigned” was an honest statement. It implied that in addition to all the aforementioned specific requirements and responsibilities, we will be asking you to do some unforeseen tasks and some yet to be thought of projects.

As a young, immature, naïve and easily impressionable crewmember on the Los Prietos Hotshot Crew (LPHS), I was exposed to countless unique challenges, many of which turned out to be invaluable learning opportunities. It would be impossible to list all of the fun and not so fun tasks we attempted, or all of the imaginative and bizarre projects we were assigned to complete. We took on the essential and the pointless, the planned and unplanned, and the funded—or not—projects all with the same zeal. We completed them all because to us “it all paid the same.” As a testimony to hard work, high standards, and effective leadership, many of them still stand and work today.

There wasn’t an engineer, a mechanic, an architect or an accountant amongst us. We didn’t have a contractor’s license, a building permit or a hazardous waste disposal plan that I was ever aware of. Those of us who could read couldn’t read blueprints, and those of us that couldn’t read, didn’t need to read them either. Nobody wanted to work with us, but everybody wanted us to take on his or her projects. We got the things that needed doing done, and we got the things many believed couldn’t be done, also done.

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Wildland firefighters working under the Southern Area “Red” Incident Management Team help load the sick and injured onto medical transport planes during the “All Risk” response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

We rarely had all of the right tools or everything we needed. We worked with what we had and/or what we could find. None of these inconveniences could detour us, because what we did have was substantial: a Bonehead, great with a chainsaw, and a Turkey that could fix it if it had a motor. We had a Goat that could draw, and we had a Willie who could drive a stakeside and a nail with the best of them. We had Killer and Perv who could break anything, even if it didn’t need breaking. The Guard could wheel a bus and tow anything—especially if it was off-road. Speedy and Righetti were like match and fuse, Ratso liked cookies, Rookie had smoke in his eyes, and the Ugly Kid was “coo coo for coco puffs.” Jdub was always thoughtfully trying to figure out how he could make his foreman’s life a little better, and I was just happy to assist.

We were a well-led, tightknit fire crew. We were willing to do most anything no matter how far-fetched. We cut fireline and fuel breaks with the same zeal, tenacity, and humor. We chipped brush and chip-sealed roads. We planted some trees and we cut others down. We built fences to keep people out, and others to keep cattle in. We dug ditches and filled in ruts. We helped build roads and then we built gates to close them off. We built and maintained trails and we built our own tools to make the job easier. We painted, paved, and roofed the entire compound, and then we got evicted. But that just turned into another project for us. We cut the poison oak from underneath the oak trees, and just like that we had a new home, a new area of operations. And through it all I never once heard anyone say: “It’s not my job” or “It’s not in my job description.”

“And Other Duties as Assigned” was a fun, healthy, and motivational philosophy for us. It was a liberating phrase; we understood that there were no bounds to what we might be challenged to do. To know that the agency thought we were capable of anything made us capable of everything. Never once did I feel exploited while learning a new skill or using one I had brought with me. We often mocked the phrase. At times it was the only legitimate justification we could come up with for some of the crazy things that we attempted and accomplished.

It was because of “And Other Duties as Assigned” that I learned many useful skills, skills that have since been used many times over. I even learned some semi-advanced skills in plumbing, electrical, roofing and concrete work. The colorful cast of characters that were the Los Prietos Hotshots was a talented bunch of fools. Together there wasn’t much we couldn’t accomplish. Collectively we had the intelligence, creativity and the perseverance to overcome every obstacle and every naysayer, to successfully complete every assigned task and even some that weren’t assigned.

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The Bureau of Land Management’s Jackson Interagency Hotshot Crew grids through Texas pastureland searching for remnants of the Space Shuttle Columbia on this “All Risk” assignment in 2003. Photo by Tom Iraci, U.S. Forest Service.

As far as I could tell, almost everyone understood and embraced “And Other Duties as Assigned.” We understood the need for the ambiguity and welcomed the diversity of the challenges. Moreover, it was something of a catch phrase for us; it was the closest thing we had to a slogan, or a mantra. The Marine Corps has “The Few, the Proud . . .” the Army used “Be all that you can be,” the Navy says, “it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” and the Air force tells us to “aim high.” The phrase “And Other Duties as Assigned,” similar to these recruitment slogans, said something about the experience and the people you could look forward to working with.

I don’t know why the phrase isn’t in the PDs of today. The challenge of a well-written PD, given all of the legal requirements—from format to content—tends to marginalize the real nature of the day-to-day reality of the job. By any other name, a Forestry Technician working on an IHC, an engine, helicopter, dozer, or any other primary or secondary position, is a “FIREFIGHTER.” The debate goes on. I would contend that “And Other Duties as Assigned” is the reason our wildland firefighters of today are used so extensively on all types of “All-Risk” incidents.

There was a time when the thought of using a U.S. Forest Service engine to protect a structure was unheard of. Today, sending Strike Teams of federal engines on structure protection assignments is commonplace. Today, vehicle fires, traffic collisions and medical aids are typical emergency responses for many of our stations.

Hotshot crews were sent to assist in the aftermath of the Mexico City earthquake in 1985. In 1992, IHCs were sent to Hawaii to assist recovery after Hurricane Iniki. Countless personnel helped recover debris following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. An Incident Management Team was assigned to the Pentagon after the terrorist attack of 9/11. Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico saw the deployment of an IMT.

These are just a few of the new and/or unique assignments I can recall. The hurricane, flood, earthquake, terrorist attack, and medical aids are today’s version of “And Other Duties as Assigned.” A willing and able attitude, combined with a bias for action, lie at the core or our IHC success story.

When faced with a challenging project, when a natural disaster strikes, or when an IMT has a need, among the first considerations and initial resource orders is a request for Hotshot crews. And Hotshots stand at the ready to assess, and then accomplish, what is asked of them—not charging blindly into any and all requests, but finding a way to accomplish the objectives safely and efficiently, while mitigating unacceptable risk(s).

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ALL EARS – Newly arrived wildland firefighters receive hazardous material identification training before heading out into the forests and rural countryside to grid for Space Shuttle Columbia material on this 2003 “All Risk” assignment in Texas and Louisiana. Photo by Tom Iraci, U.S. Forest Service.

At the end of my career, the debate between Agency Administrators and the Rank and File still raged.

The debate today is often referred to as “Mission Creep.” By any name the questions remain: what can we do, what should we do, and ultimately, what will you do? All firefighters are faced with complex problems, time sensitive decisions, and other unique challenges that lay beyond the scope of PDs. “All-Risk” has become a way to describe the range of tasks and assignments our personnel face today.

Training, qualifications, and your experiences are designed to prepare you for the requisite duties of your position. That said, when faced with the new and unique situations in today’s dynamic environment, moral judgement, effective leadership, and creative problem solving become critical elements in the decision: can you safely engage, or not.

Ultimately, it comes down to doing the right things, at the right time, for the right reasons, which is another way of saying “And Other Duties as Assigned.”

4 thoughts on “‘And Other Duties as Assigned’

  1. Then…after all the years of busting hump and hills and reaching the “Magic Age of 57” one can get into more of “Other duties as assigned by non fire personnel after one would desire to go the emergency management route.

    Once again…all duties NOT mentioned do creep up as Mission Creep

    Enjoy Fire while you can….”Other Duties as Assigned creeps up on us ALL even after Fed service

    Just like to mention it just not in the IHC wheelhouse…this is life after being a FFTR1/2, ENOP/ ENGB/ Engine puke and Heli Slacker not to mention a twenty years stint as an helicopter and aircraft mechanic

    Yep….”other duties as assigned” luuuuuuv it….and it still exists even after Fed age of 57

    STATE OF NEBRASKA CLASS SPECIFICATION EST: 9/10 – REV: 08/15
    EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PROGRAM SPECIALIST I CLASS CODE: A68202
    DESCRIPTION: Under direct supervision, assists in planning and coordinating the development,
    administration and evaluation of multi-faceted emergency management and homeland security programs;
    and performs analysis and evaluation of assigned programs. Performs related work as assigned.
    DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS: (A position is assigned to this class based on the scope
    and level of work performed as outlined below.)
    This is the second of seven levels in the Emergency Management series (Planning Specialist, Program
    Specialist I and II, Radiological Planning and Training Specialist I and II, Unit Supervisor and Section
    Manager). Positions in this series are responsible to work with state and local governments in statewide
    emergency management and homeland security planning and preparedness for, and response to natural,
    man-made and technological disasters and hazards.
    The Planning Specialist is the first level and primarily responsible for developing local emergency
    operations plans, and hazard mitigation and homeland security activities. Persons in the planning
    specialist class have had some prior experience in dealing with emergencies, generally through
    employment and/or volunteer work in law enforcement, firefighting or EMT/rescue and/or have a
    background in planning. The Program Specialists have completed numerous training courses at the
    federal level which are required to work with the more complex grant programs such as.
    Training/coursework for the Program Specialist levels can take up to four years to complete. The
    Radiological Specialists are primarily responsible for planning and preparedness for, and response to
    radiological events/disasters and hazard mitigation. Persons in these classes require specialized
    training/coursework/experience in radiation, physics, chemistry, radiological instrumentation and
    numerous courses at the federal level which can also take up to four years to complete. The Supervisor
    and Manager classes have completed all the required training/coursework at the federal level and have
    first-line supervisory responsibilities and/or program management responsibilities.
    The Program Specialist I is distinguished from the Program Specialist II in that the I level has not
    completed all the required federal coursework/training and can only assist with the more complex
    emergency management and homeland security programs. All work is reviewed by a Program Specialist
    II or supervisor. The Program Specialist II has completed all the required federal coursework/training and
    can independently work the more complex emergency management and homeland security programs.
    EXAMPLES OF WORK: (A position may not be assigned all the duties listed, nor do the listed
    examples include all the duties that may be assigned.)
    Reviews and analyzes state and Federal regulations, state laws and their administrative requirements to
    assist in formulating appropriate policies, procedures and interpretations for the development and delivery
    of emergency management and homeland security programs.
    Assists with development of reports, position papers, emergency operating plans and related documents
    needed to formulate policy and program material to cover specific program areas within the agency.
    Assists with the development, implementation and administration of complex emergency management
    and homeland security plans for the agency and the state including, but not limited to, State Emergency
    Operations Plan, State Communications Interoperability Plan, State Hazard Mitigation Plan, State Public
    Assistance Plan, Radiological Emergency Preparedness Plan and the National Response Framework.
    A68202 – EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PROGRAM SPECIALIST I (continued)
    Page 2 of 3
    Analyzes current program resources and requirements to assist in the development of recommendations
    and corrective active plans by comparing program operation to divisional and departmental goals and
    objectives.
    Assists with inspection of damaged public and private facilities, reviews damage reports for completeness
    and cost estimates, and assists individuals and local officials in the preparation of aid applications for both
    public assistance and hazard mitigation programs.
    Maintains, reads and interprets case files for the agency, as well as, assisting with programmatic audits of
    sub-recipients within the agency grant programs for homeland security, emergency management and
    disaster relief.
    Support state agency Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government (COOP/COG) planning
    activities by ensuring state agencies have COOP/COG plans that meet national planning standards issued
    through the Emergency Management Accreditation Program.
    KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES REQUIRED: (These are needed to perform the work
    assigned.)
    Knowledge of: Federal, State and local laws, policies, rules and regulations governing Homeland
    Security and Emergency Management programs; the functional relationships between federal, state and
    local organizations; terminology and concepts associated with specific program plans; emergency
    response procedures; research methods and techniques for fact finding and data gathering for plan
    development; means to use in obtaining or disseminating information in a proper format; a variety of
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    mitigation programs; the fiscal accounting system in handling state and federal funds; principles and
    practices of planning, administering and organizing; the Federal grant application process and local grant
    review procedures; Hazardous Material Planning and Community Right to Know.
    Skill in: writing in a precise, comprehensive manner; making judgmental decisions based on sometimes
    vague criteria and/or insufficient guidelines; conducting one-on-one interviews in such a manner to
    extract the maximum amount of data required for plan development; making presentations to various and
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    graphic displays.
    Ability to: establish and maintain effective working relationships at the federal, state and local
    government levels; interpret and apply emergency planning rules and regulations; translate various data
    and items of information into comprehensive plans suitable for use at the operating level; persuade
    government and private officials to become active in preparedness and planning activities; work in a
    multi-agency coordination center or be activated under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact;
    effectively and efficiently proof work for errors; grasp abstract ideas; be innovative and creative;
    communicate effectively; work under stress effectively and productively, and meet deadlines; learn new
    concepts quickly; be flexible; listen to and understand other ideas/problems and make suggestions for
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    A68202 – EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PROGRAM SPECIALIST I (continued)
    Page 3 of 3
    MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: (Applicants will be screened for possession of these qualifications.
    Applicants who need accommodation in the selection process must request this in advance.)
    Post-high school coursework/training in one or more of the following areas: emergency management,
    regional/urban/community planning, disaster planning, public safety program planning, transportation
    planning, public administration or business administration and social sciences or health sciences and/or
    experience in one or more of the following areas: emergency management, regional/urban/community
    planning, disaster planning, public safety program planning, transportation planning, public
    administration or business administration, and social sciences or health sciences.
    AND
    Successful completion of NIMS and FEMA Independent Study Courses identified within the Emergency
    Management Planning Specialist class specification
    AND
    For staff assigned to the Preparedness Section: NIMS 300 & 400; FEMA IS 5, 10, 11, 22, 139, 208, 235,
    241, 242, 701, 702, 703, and 704.
    For staff assigned to the Response and Recovery Section: NIMS 300 & 400; FEMA IS 102, 111, 139,
    208, 235, 241, 242, 253, 271, 394, 403, 632, 701, and 703.
    For staff assigned to the Radiological Section: NIMS 300 & 400; FEMA IS Courses 1, 3, 10, 11, 22, 42,
    100.HC, 100.LE, 100.PW, 100.SC, 101, 111, 120, 130, 200HC, 230, 235, 240 241, 242, 244, 288, 301,
    302, 331, 340, 346, 362, 393, 394, 547, 548, 650, 700, 701, 702, 703, 706, 775, 800, 801, 802, 803, 804,
    808, 810, 813, 820, 821 and 836.
    AND
    Familiarity with the National Response Framework, the State Emergency Operations Plan and Local
    Emergency Operations Plans and their functional relationship to each other.
    SPECIAL NOTES:
    This position utilizes the following Federal and state programs and must maintain a working knowledge
    of the inter-relationship between the programs: Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG),
    National Incident Management System (NIMS), State Emergency Operations Plan (SEOP), Local
    Emergency Operations Plans (LEOP), State Communications Interoperability Plan (SCIP), Homeland
    Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP), DHS/FEMA Continuity of Operations/Continuity of
    Government (COOP/COG) planning templates, Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) – core
    program and five subordinate grant programs, Public Safety Interoperable Communications Program
    (PSIC), Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP), Emergency Management Assistance
    Compact (EMAC), National Preparedness Guidelines (NPG) and Target Capabilities List (TCL).
    Incumbents are assigned as Agency Duty Officer on a rotational basis and, when assigned, must be
    available for emergencies on a 24-hour basis for a seven day period. At all other times, incumbents must
    be available for duty around the clock in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
    State agencies are responsible to evaluate each of their positions to determine overtime eligibility st

  2. I had “Other duties as assigned” on every job description I can remember while I was in the Army. We always made fun of it as well – and it’s really useful becasue it breaks down that silo/specialist wall. “Oh – we don’t do that.” That wall builds up and you can forget you’re part of a much bigger team.

    I remember as an NCO how many times I heard “Why are we out here cleaning up this mess? This is XXX’s job!” Response: “Other duties as assigned Troop. It needs doing.” I always think of mission creep on a macro scale and a micro scale.

    On a macro scale, yes. Other dutues as assigned has the potential to become a new normal and that has to be guarded against to prevent being all things to all people and assuming ongoing responsibilities without resources.

    On a micro-scale, technically if “Other duties as assigned” are assigned… then that’s your mission. If it’s important to the overall objective and end state, and it needs doing and its within your capability and does not prevent or distract you from performing your core mission at the same time – I don’t see that as mission creep. I see that as adding value to the whole and garnering a reputation as a crew who isn’t elitist and one that’s willing to chip in and help the team.

    Misison creep in that case is getting sucked into one or more tasks that end up distracting you from your core mission to the point where you are expending time, energy and resouces at the expense of your core mission and/or accepting unecessary risks for non-essential gain.

    And I would love to have seen Crobar as a: “young, immature, naïve and easily impressionable crewmember”!!! He is one of my Hotshot Heroes.

  3. Chief Anthony ‘Crowbar’ Escobar, You hit the mark with a high hit. I really enjoyed reliving the adage, “Other duties as required,” because I also grew up with the directive and loved it.

    You have made a difference for so many firefighters; I hope you realize it. Might be good to go into the restroom, look in the mirror and realize that who you see is a genuine person, not PC sick or worse and someone who cares or would have never produced this article.

    I differently define Mission Creep. To me, genuine change to better serve the public is written off or excused by many federal officials as an excuse to avoid the fire service recognition of what federal wildland firefighters really do. The naysayers of expanding our roles will never admit the same; admitting the truth would force them to learn a whole new world and not be so PC. Enough said or written.

    Thank you very much.

  4. “Ultimately, it comes down to doing the right things, at the right time, for the right reasons” -Great quote to read on July 3rd 2020; the 157th Anniversary of The Union Army’s victory at Gettysburg. As I hung Old Glory at my duty station today I was so grateful it wasn’t an ugly rebel traitor rag. Thanks Colonel Joshua Chamberlain for your bayonet charge that sent the rebels packing. Sometimes your other duties include bayonets and sabers when you’re running low on musket balls.

    Anyway, I digress. Sorry if that triggered any wannabe rebel snowflakes. It’s probably hard enough having all your participation trophies torn down.

    This was a great article. You never know what kind of assignments you’ll get as a Forestry Technician. Reminds me of the time when I was a hotshot on a staging assignment on the LP in 2008. Our other duty assigned was removing invasive ice plants from a hill at Pfeiffer Beach. Not quite as courageous or historically significant as Chamberlain’s Charge, but when I returned to Pfeiffer Beach with my wife in 2010 there was no sign of ice plants on that hill. I said, “Look over at that sandy hill honey. You see that?” She said, “See what?” I said, “Exactly. You’re welcome.”

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