The Repeats

[This is Travis Dotson’s “Ground Truths” column that appeared in the 2021 Winter Issue of Two More Chains.]

By Travis Dotson

Are you a “regular” anywhere? Hopefully not at the bar. Although many of us have occupied the stupid stool more often than we should. Maybe you are a regular at the station—showing up early and staying late. (Be careful with that one as well.) Maybe you are a regular at the local library, or the ski hill. Hopefully you are a regular at the gym, on the trail, and at the dinner table with your family.

I’m trying to get you to think about how and where you spend your time. This will tell you what your priorities are. It’s sometimes surprising to compare what you SAY your priorities are vs. where you actually spend your time.

Don’t feel bad; I’m a liar too.


We have some regulars here at the Lessons Learned Center. I’m talking about incident/accident types. Activities or outcomes that show up with a certain amount of regularity.

Some regulars are not surprising. They have always been part of the scene. And unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine wildland fire ops without them. Things like “Hit by Tree” incidents or entrapments show up every year multiple times. I wish we could find a way to eliminate these regulars. The impacts can be so devastating. 

Every so often we get a newbie that just starts showing up—not sure why or how it happens. Things like rhabdo, fuel geysers, drip torch leg burns, loose lug nuts, and UTV floorboard fires. Our most recent regular is chainsaw cuts to the leg when chaps are worn loose (see page 3).

The important point to ponder here is what should a “regular” trigger in all of us?

Bad Math

First, let’s talk about what it shouldn’t trigger—the knee-jerk “not me, I’m better” reaction. By now I feel like we all understand that the combination of standard human performance (imperfection) and our dynamic hazard-filled environment (all the stuff we highlight in recruitment videos) will consistently result in an ever-shifting list of “regulars” (similar bad outcomes). I know it’s tempting, but please resist the urge to use Bad Math, which goes like this: “This one thing happened and then this other thing happened, so I will make a random correlation and spout some overused catchphrase (‘They lost SA’) as if it were an actual solution and expect people to listen because I have a belt buckle.”

Don’t do that.

Instead, use the actual wisdom you acquired while earning your buckle to consider a few more layers and keep your eyes forward. Identify and focus on how you can take action to support the specific lesson available. This often requires a little “elevation gain” to get some perspective.

The Outcome after the Outcome

Let’s focus on the outcome after the outcome. You know, that part where the dude with stitches in his leg and Kevlar in his saw sprocket says: “I really wish I would have cinched down the leg straps on my chaps.” The outcome after that outcome is when a similar sentiment is shared by several other sad sawyers. In addition to the reoccurring event, we now we have a reoccurring lesson.

These types of regulars should really get your attention. They are often paired with a common activity and a seemingly simple fix. But, unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as it seems.

I will now finally spit out the thing I set out to say.

Your Part in the Progress Recipe

The lesson is not the same for everyone. The lessons are different for different levels. You need to put some thought into your part of the progress recipe. Yes, the obvious lesson is: “Tighten Your Chaps.” But that is only for the person running the saw.

  • The Squaddie needs to think: “How will I make sure my sawyers cinch their chaps down?”
  • The Crew Lead needs to think: “Do we have the right size chaps for everyone to effectively implement this lesson?”
  • The Manager needs to think: “Are my folks aware of this and have I empowered them to act on it?”

And on and on.

Please review a few of our LLC regulars in this issue of Two More Chains, figure out your piece, and then take action.

Swing on, Tool Swingers.

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