One of the five Type 1 Incident Management Teams in California is being disbanded. Bill Molumby who had been Team 2’s Incident Commander for several years retired in November and apparently they are having a hard time replacing him. Mr. Molumby had worked for the U.S. Forest Service for a couple of decades, mostly on the Cleveland National Forest in southern California, and for the last several years of his federal career worked for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Fire Management Officer for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex/Southern California Zone
The California Wildfire Coordinating Group (CWCG) explained in a letter to the wildfire agencies why they decided to disband the team:
Participation on California Type 1 and Type 2 Incident Management Teams (IMTs) continues to decline. In 2009 all Type 1 Deputy IC positions were filled by employees previously retired from federal service and employed by local fire departments or hired by federal agencies under the AD authority during incidents. There were no new applicants for trainee Type 1 IC positions from the ranks of the Type 2 IMTs. CWCG has made the decision to reduce the number of Type 1 IMTs for 2010 due to the lack of qualified Incident Commanders and trainees. The Incident Commander of California IMT#2 (CIIMT 2) has retired and this team will be disbanded.
We have been hearing for decades that with so many experienced firefighters retiring “soon”, that there would be great difficulty in filling upper level positions in wildfire organizations and on incident management teams. Frequently in meetings of firefighters a speaker would ask all those that are retiring in the next 2-3 years to raise their hands, and it always seemed that there were a lot of hands in the air.
With some of the mistakes and errors in judgment that we have seen recently on wildfires and escaped prescribed fires, it makes you wonder if the chickens have finally come home to roost. Would it have made a difference if a more experienced person had made these decisions?
In an email on January 8 to some of his friends and former workmates, Mr. Molumby had this to say, in part, about disbanding Team 2. It is used here with his permission.
The decision to disband Team 2 at first take was purely a business decision, albeit the wrong decision. The primary issue raised was the lack of a federal incident commander as stated. This of course is contrary to previous decisions; hence, it appears as an excuse. I am stunned though at the lost California has just experienced in not accepting Joe Stutler as the incident commander. Joe stepped up and offered to lead the team with the intent of mentoring a “federal” replacement. There were those federal employees qualified to be his deputy but failed to redeem their responsibility. What was important though is what this meant to California and the national incident management team community. Joe not only brought excellence, as demonstrated in his years as a type 1 incident commander, but he brought more experience than all of the current California type 1 incident commanders combined (I venture to guess)! Be that as it may, this will be evaluated in years gone by for what transpires, not what we imagine.
Joe Stutler has offered to lead the team in order to mentor a trainee Type 1 IC until that person could become qualified for the position, but apparently the offer was not accepted.
Mr. Stutler was a long-time Type 1 IC, including leading Pacific Northwest Team 3. He retired from the federal government after working for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for 34 years and since 2004 has been the forester for Deschutes County in Oregon. He served as Lead Investigator for numerous wildland fire accidents and entrapments. His Type 1 team assumed command of the Thirtymile fire after the burnover that took the lives of four firefighters in 2001. The Seattle PI still has an interesting article online about that incident and Mr. Stutler’s team.