Today we have the 11th article of our series in which we ask current and retired leaders in the wildland fire service to answer 12 questions.
We appreciate everyone who is cooperating with this project. Some of their responses may add to the knowledge base of our new firefighters coming up through the ranks. If you would like to nominate someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.
Below we hear from Dave Kohut. Before he retired as the Fire Chief (Forest Fire Management Officer) on the Sierra National Forest in California he was the District Ranger on the Saugus Ranger District on the Angeles National Forest. From 1994 to 1998 he was the Type 1 Incident Commander on California Interagency Incident Management Team 2.
When you think of an excellent leader in the fire service, who comes to mind first? Why?
This is a tough one! Had a few district rangers (Bill Murphy, Art Carroll and Fred Alberico) I worked for that set up good training plans for me and strongly encouraged to be active in “Fire Control”. The first “fire boss” that comes to mind is Lynn Biddison. He was fire boss on the Sundance Fire in 1967 and I was a Cat Boss. He took an interest in my assignment and personally assisted me in assuring the local forest folks that “2 Californians with 5 dozers were not going to bull-doze the mountains down”. Lynn continued this personal interest throughout his career.
If someone is planning a prescribed fire, what is one thing that you hope they will pay particular attention to?
Base all the actions on current and expected fire behavior (which is, Know Your Weather, current and predicted!)
One of the more common errors in judgment you have seen on fires?
Forgetting the basic fundamentals of fire and then making the situation too complicated sometimes with a demand for too much analysis and information.
One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
How rewarding working in fire and emergency management can be and the thousands of friends I have from that career.
The stupidest mistake you have seen on a fire?
A night shift where one crew was cutting line down a ridge and another crew cutting up the ridge from the bottom planning on meeting. However, they were on different ridges!
Your most memorable fire?
I think I learned and had memories from every fire I was on. Some were awesome such as Black Monday in Yellowstone; some were inspiring such as a quiet smoky spectacular mountain top sunrise on the Hog Fire on the Klamath; and some were heart-wrenching tragedy such as the Elizabeth Fire on the Angeles.
The funniest thing you have seen on a fire?
On a fire on the Tahoe N. F., we had Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt spend two days with the Tahoe Hotshots. The crew sleeping area was on the football field of the local high school. Logistics forgot to get the school to shut off the sprinklers. So about 0200, the crew and the Sec’t were seen running in their skivvies from the “man-made” rainstorm.
The first very large fire you were on?
Fire on the Angeles N.F. in 1962
Your favorite book about fire or firefighting?
The old Fireman’s Guide.
The first job you had within the fire service?
Crewman on “Tanker 22” Mammoth Lakes, Inyo N.F.
What gadgets, electronic or otherwise, can’t you live without?
Hell, I failed “smart phone”. Still trying to master the TI-59 and the Planning Wheel!