[This is Travis Dotson’s “Ground Truths” column that initially appeared in the Summer 2015 Issue of Two More Chains.]
By Travis Dotson
I’m a little guy. I also look a bit younger than I am (although the grey in my beard is starting to change that).
So when I’m out on a fire and I stand through the re-runs at briefing then stroll over to my “break out” spot—I can read the looks on the faces of all the other resources: “Who brought their twelve-year-old to fire camp?”
Then, when I say: “Hi folks, I’m Travis Dotson – Division Tango Uniform”, I can see the sideways glances, arms cross tighter, a slight lean back, and the ever-present tough-guy glare.
And this is even before they notice the wings on my belt buckle!
Why? Because: “Division is an idiot”—one of our favorite chow line story themes.
I’m Just as Guilty
Why do we do that? Why do we hunt for faults and try to be intimidating?
I’m just as guilty. I’ve done my share of circling-up with the other hyenas to verbally nip away at targets of opportunity—the helitack kid who got our crew name wrong, the trainee from a different region who mispronounced a local feature, or the engine crew who drove over their own chalk block.
Point, pounce, and crucify. That seems to be our default mode, especially if we can get a “dumb smokejumper” story out of it. Damn, that’s some cold-hearted stuff.
Back to the question: Why?
Our behavior certainly isn’t logical. We’re supposedly all working toward the same goal; we’re on the same team, right? Oh, but we’re not!
“My team is who I rolled up with, period.”
OK, I get that. Crew cohesion, shared hardship, bonding . . . all that stuff. I also get all that stuff about doing a 60-second size-up on everyone to inform your decision to trust them—or not—when the shift gets shifty.
But when we encounter those we’ve decided are not “us” do we have to be mean?
Communication is Essential
Communication problems are an issue on every fire (not just fatality or accident fires). We struggle with clarity and understanding as it is. Why do we need to add another layer to this onion?
The bottom line is we need to look out for one another in this business.
The Type 2 crew who speaks a different language than you still needs to know what you know. The engine from across the country might see something you don’t. The trainee who is struggling doesn’t need another challenge.
Our fireline social structure is just a scrambled version of high school. But in this environment the consequences of that behavior are drastically more severe—like your buddy in a casket severe.
Communication is essential. Being unfriendly really screws with communication. Don’t be a turd.
Be nice, Tool Swingers.