Interview with Myron Lee

Myron Lee was a very well-respected Type 1 Incident Commander and Fire Management Officer of the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California. We were saddened to learn he has passed away.

Myron Lee Interview
Above: The header for the .pdf version of the 2007 interview with Myron Lee.

When Myron Lee retired in 1982 the U. S. Forest Service lost the services of a very skilled and experienced firefighter. He was the Fire Management Officer for the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California from 1968 until 1982, including the periods when the fire organizations were transitioning into FIRESCOPE and the Incident Command System.

While checking out the “El Cariso Interagency Hotshot” Facebook page last week I was saddened to see in a post by Bill Molumby that Myron had passed away. It didn’t say when or how, but I’m guessing he must have been about 90 years old. His 36-year career started in 1946 as a firefighter on the engine crew on Palomar Mountain on the Cleveland.

He was Incident Commander, or at that time “Fire Boss”, on some of the largest blazes in California, including the 175,425-acre Laguna Fire on the Cleveland NF in 1970 and the 177,866-acre Marble Cone Fire on the Los Padres NF in 1977.

I worked on the Cleveland for 13 years while Myron was FMO on the Forest and did not know him well but as a Hotshot Captain and Engine Captain I encountered him a number of times. He was friendly, down to earth, intelligent, and had an air of self confidence and a command presence when it was appropriate.

I am reminded of a conversation he and I had. In describing someone, he said, “If a person tells the same lie often enough, even HE begins to believe it”.

Some of the areas of emphasis that were important to him included building relationships with other agencies, assisting fire departments just across the border in northern Mexico, and making sure that firefighters on the Cleveland understood what their role and responsibilities were and importantly, what they were not. He made it clear that medical aids and structure fires were to be handled by other agencies.

In the Facebook post, Jim Huston and Anders Borge Andersen identified a 2007 interview with Myron conducted by Larry Schmidt, apparently as part of a USFS Region 5 (California) History Project. We have the entire interview below. It’s very long, 30 pages, but if you’re a USFS history buff, or worked in Southern California in the 1970s or 1980s, you will enjoy it.

There was one thing that surprised me. In the early 1970s Camp Pendleton intended to test the ability of a laser to shoot down missiles. The Marines asked Myron if resources from the Cleveland could be used to help detect and suppress the expected fires. The interview does not say if the test occurred. I did not know the military has been trying to use lasers since the early 1970s to shoot down aircraft. I think only in recent years have they found much success. The story is on page 16.

The transcript of the interview follows. Keep in mind that it was created from a recording by a person that may not have been familiar with the names and jargon.


LARRY SCHMIDT: This is Larry Schmidt. Today is January 19th. I’m in Twin Falls, Idaho, and I’m interviewing Myron Lee in regard to his experience with the FIRESCOPE program and also his Forest Service history. Myron, can you tell me a little bit about your Forest Service career?

MYRON LEE: Yes, I can. I was a young hoodlum, referred to in the newspaper in San Diego as “a long-haired guttersnipe.” I wasn’t just a young hoodlum later in life, I was a young hoodlum in the third and fourth grades. I believe the teacher wrote on both my report cards from the third grade and the fourth grade that I was “inclined to mischief.” Now, I thought that’s a terrible to write home to tell my parents, but I suspect they may have known it anyway. But I didn’t like school, and I wouldn’t stay home. I was running away from home all the time. And so my stepmother finally made an appointment, and her and I went downtown San Diego to the county courthouse and met with a probation officer first and then a judge, Judge [Turntine?], and Judge Turntine told me I was going to go home and go to school. I told Judge Turntine I was not

Myron Lee, 01/19/07, page 2

going to go home. If I went home, I’d just leave again. I said I wouldn’t mind going to school, but I’m not going home.

Well, we had a fairly serious discussion over it, and he finally found out that I was not going to go home, so he said, “How would you like to go to Mt. Woodson?” I said, “What’s Mt. Woodson?” And he said, “It’s a forestry camp.” And I said, “What do they do?” He said, “Oh, they plant trees and build trails and fight fire, things like that.” I said, “Fine,” so off I went to Mt. Woodson.

After I arrived at Mt. Woodson, I learned Mt. Woodson was the only juvenile detention facility in San Diego Country at that time, and I learned that all of the kids there except me were sentenced there, and most were sentenced for six months. I stayed there for eleven and a half months because it was actually the best life I’d ever had. I loved it. The gentleman I worked for most of the time was an assistant ranger for the California Division of Forestry. That’s what it was known as in those days. “Slim” Carlson, and Slim explained to me one day that he was not going to raise me the rest of my life and that he was going to get me a job and I was going to take it and I was going to do what I was told. So I said, “Okay.”

So I went to work for the California Division of Forestry. I worked as a firefighter at Dulzura, [Lyons?] Valley and La Mesa, and enjoyed the work. I didn’t enjoy the time we were not out working, because I thought there were a lot of things to do out there, but we were dealing with more urban type development areas, and we spent an awful lot of time polishing the fire truck, and I didn’t enjoy that. Continue reading “Interview with Myron Lee”

Dierks Bentley talks about song he wrote for movie about Granite Mountain Hotshots

The country music star co-wrote “Hold the Light” which is featured in the movie “Only the Brave”

Dierks BentleyWe talked with Dierks Bentley about the song he performed and co-wrote, Hold the Light, that is featured in the movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, “Only the Brave”. He is from Arizona and said the tragedy had a major impact on him.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it on YouTube.

We also interviewed Josh Brolin who played Eric Marsh the superintendent of the crew, James Badge Dale who played Jesse James Steed the second in command, Brendon McDonough (the lone survivor of the crew), Miles Teller (who played Brendan), and Amanda Marsh, Eric Marsh’s wife.

The movie opens October 20, 2017.

Interview with Josh Brolin about his role in “Only the Brave”

Josh Brolin

Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today sat down with Josh Brolin in Phoenix about a week before the opening of the movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, “Only the Brave”. He explained that he and the other actors felt that the subject of the film was very meaningful.

If you are having trouble watching the video above, you can see it on YouTube.

You might notice that he wore a Granite Mountain Hotshots shirt during the interview.

The film opens nationwide October 20, 2017.

Interview with Dan Buckley, NPS Fire Director

In this interview with Dan Buckley, the National Fire Director for the National Park Service, he talked about Unmanned Aerial Systems, 75 drone pilots in the BLM, extending the terms of seasonal firefighters, prescribed fire, air tankers, tracking the fire and firefighters, and the work environment in the National Park Service.

It was recorded April 20, 2017 at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Shawna Legarza: There’s no task book for National Fire Director

An interview with the U.S. Forest Service’s National Fire Director.

About seven weeks after Shawna Legarza started her new job July 4, 2016 as the National Fire Director for the U.S. Forest Service, she experienced what so far has been her toughest challenge in that position. She was asked to speak at the memorial service for Justin Beebe, a member of the Missoula-based Lolo Hotshots who was killed by a falling tree August 13 as he was running a chainsaw on the Strawberry Fire in eastern Nevada. She searched for the right words to say in front of what turned out to be 750 to 1,000 people at the service.

“I thought, what will I say?”, she told us on Monday. “I didn’t know Justin Beebe, and I knew that their eyes would be on me because I was the new Fire Director”, she said.

Shawna Legarza
Shawna Legarza at the Rose Parade, January 1, 2015. USFS photo.

She spoke to the crowd in Ogren Park in Missoula from a podium set in front of the pitcher’s mound. The attendees included approximately 15 fire crews dressed in fire resistant pants and their own crew T-shirts.

“You know what I did Bill?” she said. “I wrote [and read from] a letter to his parents. I thought long and hard about the stuff I put in that letter to mom and dad. That probably has been the most difficult thing I have done. They don’t give you a task book for how to be the National Fire Director”.

I reminded her about an interview she did with CBS News June 30, 2014 when she was the Regional Fire Director for the USFS in California. The subject of the 19 fatalities on the Yarnell Hill Fire came up and she mentioned the concept of a Common Operating Picture “… of what the fire is doing and where our people are”. I asked if the federal wildland fire agencies will implement this technology in the near future.

“I still believe and I still want a Common Operating Picture and I also believe that we have a long ways to go on information technology”, she said. “I think the federal land management agencies are behind the curve on that. We work with the Department of the Interior. We have an [Interagency Fire Unmanned Aircraft Systems Subcommittee] that’s looking at the different policies, rules, and regulations using technology — drones — to help us in wildland firefighting. You know, it takes time to work through some of those things, but we’re working through them right now….. I live for the day when there is a drone carrying a jerry can [with fuel] up the hill to help the firefighters for a burnout or carrying supplies to fire camp.”

She said that would lessen the exposure of aviation personnel.

“I hope someday there are approved unmanned aerial aircraft that can fly the fire and instantly download a map to our Incident Management Team or agency administrator to see where the fire is at and where the resources are…. We could look at fires before we go in, to make sure it’s safe for us to go.”

I asked if there was an area that she felt strongly about, enough that she would give it special attention, and she said, “Absolutely! I’m trying to make some changes in the workplace environment, I feel very strongly about that. I want to see the agency have a work force that is completely inclusive of each other … and that people’s voices can be heard, understood, listened to and incorporated into all that we do, and that there is no discrimination of any kind. I am very passionate about that and I want to try to make a difference in the workplace environment for all wildland firefighters, for the Forest Service and other agencies.”

“I talk about,” she said, “having a workforce where everybody comes to work, they’re proud to be there, and included in whatever area they are working in, their voices are heard, they are listened to — free of discrimination, free of bias — it’s just a way of being. We’ve got some new initiatives that we are trying to roll out to the work force.

I asked her if there was one thing she would like a new Type 3 Incident Commander to know. She asked if she could name two, saying they need to know that “we have their back”, and “to ask for help.” She said, “I can remember when I got signed off as a Type 3 IC. Ask if you need help and guidance on a fire assignment. It’s OK. We don’t know all the answers. That’s why we’re a team.”

To answer the question, how many large or very large air tankers do we need, she said, “I would say we need anywhere from 18 to 28, you know that’s what it says in the [2012 Large Airtanker] Modernization Strategy. I think that’s a good range….I think the big thing to understand is that the Forest Service has become the overarching contract agreement holder of large air tankers and they are not all just for us. They are used by state and local governments all across the nation, so it’s hard to say how many just us, the Forest Service, needs because we work together with state, local, and tribal agencies to help them with wildland fire response across the nation. I think it’s hard to target just one number just for the Forest Service knowing that we’re all in it together in the cohesive strategy. I think we’re setting up with a good mix for this year and the coming years.”

Tom Harbour Shawna Legarza rose parade
Tom Harbor (in front, on left) and Shawna Legarza (in front, on right) pose with firefighters who walked in the Rose Parade, January 1, 2015. At that time Mr. Harbour was the National Fire Director and Ms. Legarza was the Fire Director for the California Region. USFS photo.

She said the FS will have about 10,000 firefighters this year, which is the same as the last several years, and that the Trump administration’s federal hiring freeze did not have a huge effect on the hiring of firefighters for this summer. “We worked really swiftly… to get the exemptions through for firefighting, but we’re alright”.

When asked about her advanced degrees, she said, “Yeah, I’m an overeducated hotshot! I have a doctorate in psychology and organizational leadership. My masters is in kinesiology.”

Does that help you in your present job, I asked?

“Absolutely. I focused on transformational leadership. The four elements of transformational leadership I believe have helped me in my job, in this position I am in and my ability to influence others to help them in their decisions. I’m not a line officer, I’m a staff officer so I feel I need to influence inspirational motivation. I need to inspire and motivate the folks where I go and talk and be an inspiration to them for the agency…. individualized consideration. So everybody is different, right, so if you work for me, how I interact with Bill may be different from how I would with Mike, or Tom, or Bob, or whatever, so I find that really gratifying because I believe that leadership takes energy and to have that energy you have to be motivated and you have to treat everybody for who they are as a human being so that they feel they are more valued and inclusive into the team. That’s easy when you’re running a hotshot crew, you’re right there with morning briefing and evening briefing, you’re there with them, but when you come into a large organization it becomes more challenging for those different attributes of transformational leadership to be able to influence my small team and they can continue to influence their teams throughout the organization, and hoping that it makes a difference down the road for how people feel valued in the Forest Service.”

“I went to college my whole career”, she continued. “I’ll be paying for it until l turn 74 — working hard and taking out loans. I think it finally paid off. My parents would say, ‘Why are you still going to school? What are you studying now?’ … I continue to learn every day, I make mistakes just about every day. I learn from them and continue on the next day.”

About the next fire season, she said, “I’ve always prepared for every fire season like it’s going to be the worst. So you get ready and you prepare your team. You prepare like it’s the real deal. I saw that on hotshot crews and I see that now with the staff here, getting them ready…You have to be prepared, you can’t say, oh, it snowed and rained a lot in California so we’re not going to have a fire season, it could be just the opposite. All those fine fuels could dry out and we could have a very destructive fire season.”

Part 3 of Tom Harbour’s Exit Interview

Tom Harbour, National Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service, was interviewed by Bill Gabbert for Wildfire Today, December 14, 2015.

In this final installment of the three part series, Mr. Harbour talked about the Cantwell-Hastings Bill that requires a criminal investigation of firefighter fatalities, fire areas that need more research, the accomplishments he’s most proud of, previous fire directors, what he will do after leaving the USFS and whether or not he will lobby for Lockheed-Martin.

Previously we published Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview.