Throwback Thursday: Time to think

On Throwback Thursday today, we’re reprising an article we wrote on August 9, 2008.

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When I walked into Bill Supernaugh’s office one day in 1995 I found him looking out the window with his feet up on his desk. I was the Fire Management Officer and had an appointment with the Assistant Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to brief him about the prescribed fire we were going to ignite in the park in a few days. I got along well with him and felt comfortable smiling and saying, “Oh sorry, I didn’t know you were busy–I’ll come back later” and half turned to walk away.

He pointed to a chair and told me to sit down. In the banter that we usually engaged in before getting around to business he explained that he was “thinking”, something that he felt was important for a manager in his position, supervising the Operations of a large workforce and a big chunk of public land. Taking time to think gave him the opportunity to mull over the issues of the day and strategize about the direction the park would take. He said a person in his position was more of a thinker than a doer.

I wanted to slink down into my chair and disappear, because what he said made perfect sense and I was giving him a hard time. I was there to brief him about a project I was going to DO, and he was going to take my information and THINK about it, then approve it, ask for more information, or give me advice about how to do it differently, or not at all.

At 5:00 a.m. on August 26, 1992 Hurricane Andrew made landfall, knocking the crap out of south Florida and four national parks including Everglades, Big Cypress, and Biscayne Bay. Early the next morning I was in a rental car south of Miami driving through Homestead trying to navigate on back roads while driving over downed power lines and other debris. The first power line was scary as hell, but then we realized there was no electricity anywhere. Navigation was difficult because all of the road and street signs and many of the usual landmarks were gone. Even someone with us that was familiar with the area was disoriented.

We were a Type 1 All-Hazard Incident Management Team with a mission to rescue park employees and restore the infrastructure. It was a huge job and after a few days as Planning Section Chief I felt a little overwhelmed, with lots to do and not enough time in the day to get it all done. In confessing my situation to our Incident Commander, Rick Gale, he said “Order the personnel you need to get the job done. You are paid to think, not do.”

After that, I made time, like Bill Supernaugh, to think. Occasionally I even put my feet up on a desk.

Until he retired from the day to day operations of Microsoft, Chairman Bill Gates scheduled a twice-yearly “Think Week” ritual, where he would take a helicopter or float plane to his secret lakeside cabin and… think….by himself….barring all outside visitors. He would rarely leave the cabin during the week except for an occasional walk on the beach, having a caretaker slip him two simple meals a day at the cabin. He subsisted on the two meals, Diet Coke, and Orange Crush.

Think Week was legendary in Microsoft. Gates would pore over about 100 papers written by company executives, researchers, managers, and developers, who hoped to obtain approval for their new project, or a new direction for the organization. Comments that Gates wrote on the papers could give the green light to a new technology that millions of people would use, or send Microsoft into new markets. He had to be careful what he wrote, after finding that a casual “Hey, cool, looks good” could result in 20 people being assigned to a project.

Barack Obama appears to understand how important it is to set aside time to think. Here is part of an accidentally-captured conversation between Obama and British Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron. Cameron asks Obama if he will be taking any time off for a vacation this summer:

Mr. Cameron: Do you have a break at all?

Mr. Obama: I have not. I am going to take a week in August. But I agree with you that somebody, somebody who had worked in the White House who — not Clinton himself, but somebody who had been close to the process — said that should we be successful, that actually the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking. And the biggest mistake that a lot of these folks make is just feeling as if you have to be …

Mr. Cameron: These guys just chalk your diary up.

Mr. Obama: Right. … In 15 minute increments and …

Mr. Cameron: We call it the dentist waiting room. You have to scrap that because you’ve got to have time.

Yes. You have to have time to think. Those of us in the emergency management business too often see time to think as a luxury we don’t have. True, at times, when split second decisions can have life-long, or even life-dependent outcomes. But when initial attack becomes extended attack morphing into a long duration incident, thinking is not a luxury. It is a necessity.

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Effective firefighter recruitment?

USFS recruitment

The U.S. Forest Service’s “USFS Fire-California” (@R5_Fire_News) Twitter account distributed this photo Tuesday, with the following text:

Picture yourself in a wildland fire career w/ the U.S. Forest Service fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/fire… #jobs #hiring

My first reaction? I could not picture myself in a photo like that. It reminds me of the photos you see at the Awkward Family Photos website.

I am certainly not criticizing the firefighters in the photo. I’m sure they are not responsible for how it turned out.

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Report released about entrapment of three firefighters on the Beaver Fire

Beaver Fire entrapment

Photo taken of the Beaver Fire the day after three firefighters were entrapped. It was shot from along the Klamath River about a mile west of the Incident Command Post, looking in the direction of the entrapment, which occurred beyond the smoke visible in this photo taken by Bill Gabbert.

A facilitated learning analysis has been released about the entrapment of three firefighters August 11, 2014 on the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California.

Entrapped that day were a Dozer Operator (DZOP), a Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB), and a Heavy Equipment Boss Trainee (HEQBt). They all got inside fire shelters in a small deployment site that was not large enough to qualify as a safety zone. Their injuries included some first and second degree burns, but overnight hospitalization was not required.

The dozer operator’s story in his own words:

By the time I got off the dozer, the fire had closed in on two sides—and was closing in on my third and fourth sides. I worked as long as I could to get us more protection. I intended to push up more berms. Embers were falling everywhere. I spent too much time getting dug in. I backed the cat in. I should have deployed sooner. My intent was to get us all together under the dozer. I was not in the best position.

I tossed off my ball cap, put my hard hat on, grabbed my gloves and shelter. I had my web gear bungeed to the cage. I grabbed it quick and rolled in the dirt under the dozer. I pulled the shelter’s tabs, but they didn’t work. So I ripped at it to get it open.

It was a confined space so it took a while to get the shelter open. I had to physically unfold every fold to get it deployed. That’s when my leg got a little scorched. Overall, the shelter worked the way it was supposed to. Those shelters no doubt saved our lives.

The video below includes videos and still photos taken during the entrapment.

beaver fire convection column

Don Hall sent us this picture of a convection column over the Beaver fire, saying it was taken at about the same time the three firefighters were entrapped.

We first wrote about the entrapment on August 12.

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Former CAL FIRE Battalion Chief pleads not guilty to murder

Orville Fleming

Orville Fleming

A former Battalion Chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection pleaded not guilty Monday to murdering his live-in companion. An instructor at the agency’s training academy at Ione, California, 55-year old Battalion Chief Orville Fleming had been charged in the May 1 stabbing death of 26-year old Sarah Jane Douglas. The plea was in spite of having earlier “admitted culpability in the stabbing”, according to Sheriff Scott Jones.

After the murder Mr. Fleming ditched his CAL FIRE truck and disappeared but was found 16 days later when he left his hideout near his home and boarded a bus to obtain food.

When he did not show up for work for five days, he was fired from his $130,000 a year Battalion Chief job. Earlier in his career he was a firefighter with the city of Madera for three years when the city contracted with CAL FIRE for fire protection. He was promoted to fire captain in 2001 and to battalion chief in 2012.

Read more about the capture of Mr. Fleming.

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Photos from the Norbeck prescribed fire

These are photos taken October 20-21, 2014 at the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire being managed on State, Federal and private lands approximately 4 miles northeast of Pringle, South Dakota. More details about the project can be found here.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Wetting down the six-foot wide mowed firellne just outside the Wind Cave National Park boundary, before the lighters touch off the vegetation on the other side of the wire fence, meant to contain bison, but not flames.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck prescribed fire

As far as I know, there were no significant spot fires or slop-overs in the area shown above.

Norbeck prescribed fire Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck prescribed fire

The south end of the Norbeck prescribed fire as seen from the Rankin Ridge Lookout Tower.

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