12 Questions for L. Dean Clark

L. Dean Clark

Today we have the fourth 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.

Below we hear from L. Dean Clark, who retired from the National Park Service as the Deputy Fire Management Officer for the Intermountain Region, working out of Denver.


L. Dean Clark
L. Dean Clark

When you think of an excellent leader in the fire service, who comes to mind first?
Tom Zimmerman

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment as an Incident Commander?
Make sure your pants are zipped / buttoned up.

If someone is planning a prescribed fire, what is one thing that you hope they will pay particular attention to?
Interactions of the winds & lay of the land.

One of the more common errors in judgment you have seen on fires?
Poor timing of actions, not basing actions on expected fire behavior. Examples: tactics dictated by the clock & calendar (or other human/administrative/fire cultural factors) rather than timed for advantage with natural factors.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
The other guy’s point of view might improve my own.

The stupidest mistake you have seen on a fire?
I kicked a burning Digger Pine cone over the trench I had just built on a steep side slope. I wanted to see if the trench would hold. It didn’t. Dumb squared.

Your most memorable fire?
Fan Fire in Yellowstone National Park, 1988

The funniest thing you have seen on a fire?
My Bud doing a spontaneous Yellow Jacket-up- the-pants dance in front of misc. bosses and overhead.

The first very large fire you were on?
Del Puerto Canyon 1970, west of Patterson CA. Rancher was killed when his cat [dozer] rolled over on him. Our Engine crew (Tank Truck 4265) had backfired behind him on his range earlier in the evening.

Your favorite book about fire or firefighting?
Young Men and Fire for the literary value… Fire Weather the single most useful reference.

The first job you had within the fire service?
Forest Firefighter with the then California Division of Forestry in Mariposa, CA. Stationed at White Rock FFS in June 1969.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
Pocket knife and cell phone. Smart phone will be there soon, I foresee.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “12 Questions for L. Dean Clark”

  1. L Dean, the “old ranger out on patrol.” He has been a friend and mentor for many years and the man has a gift for gab. One of my favorite L Dean-isms occurred when we were driving the Glacier Point Road in Yosemite many springs ago, back when I was a young, brash Arrowhead Hotshot foreman and L Dean was the Prescribed Burn Manager at Yosemite. We were looking at fuel and forest conditions, and for the umpteenth time I asked Mr. Clark why doesn’t he burn yet another unit, one of many that day. His reply, which immediately made an impression on me and then served as a mantra for me later in life: “It’s easy to be brave (with fire) when the woods are wet.”

    1. A little more clarification on the above… L Dean and I were out and about looking at fuel problems and potential RX burn units. Me being the brash young guy was suggesting a potential burn just about everywhere we traveled. After so many suggested projects covering a large amount of acres, L Dean set me straight and brought me back to reality with the one sentence I quoted above.

  2. Being much younger then Mr Clark, I always appreciated his wise counsel. He was always able to provide a honest and often humerous perspective on any issue. I consider him a cherished mentor who never pulled any punches.


Comments are closed.