12 Questions for Harry Croft

Harry Croft

Today we have the fifth 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 Harry Croft, who retired from the U. S. Forest Service as the Deputy Director, National Fire Plan; the first Deputy Director for Fire and Aviation Management in the National Office.


Harry Croft
Harry Croft

When you think of an excellent leader in the fire service, who comes to mind first?
There are so many great leaders at all levels and at different times in my career, but John Chambers and Chuck Mills stand out among the best. I learned so much from both of them…both had integrity and expected nothing but the best from their people.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment as an Incident Commander?
I assume you mean Type 1? Take care of your people, expect results, and trust your staff!

If someone is planning a prescribed fire, what is one thing that you hope they will pay particular attention to?
Follow the plan!!! Expect the best outcome and plan for the worst.

One of the more common errors in judgment you have seen on fires?
Doing the same thing day after day with no change in outcomes. This is especially true on large fires.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
Holding people accountable is a career killer. No one really wants negative oversight, at any level, local or national. Everyone wants to wear the “white hat” of being a good guy. I knew this early on, but didn’t realize the political capital that is involved at very high levels of the organization.

The stupidest mistake you have seen on a fire?
A better word or phrase would be a “dumb decision”; wasting resources and money on a fire best left to burn itself out.

Your most memorable fire?
I was a green Acting District Ranger in So Cal when a fire broke out on the Morongo Reservation and I became the line officer for the decisions. Luckily, Chuck Mills walked me through it!

The funniest thing you have seen on a fire?
I really can’t say I’ve seen anything funny

The first very large fire you were on?
Probably in So Cal. I was part of a crew from Oregon and was scared to death!

Mr. Croft answered 9 of our 12 questions.

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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.

4 thoughts on “12 Questions for Harry Croft”

  1. No apologies necessary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think I’ll do some more reading on the subject.

  2. I could write a book on this topic…very briefly, it all starts at the top. A comparison with big timber in the 70’s… If a line officer didn’t make the cut volume target), there were severe repercussions, up and down the line. Timber funds paid for everything. Today, fire is the cash cow. Where is the carrot and where is the stick? The Flame Act took away one incentive of reducing fire costs and all the inherent issues attached, by not making the agency pay for its mgt.(no other funds can be “taxed.”) So money is “free”, hence there is no incentive for risk taking or frugality. Fire people do what they are good at, but in the absence of hard objectives, like timber volume, there is little to motivate them to do differently. All fire decision docs usually have a phrase to the effect “minimize costs”. If one were to include the cost of timber that won’t be cut, or habitat that is “priceless” or homes that are insured but do no prevention work in any analysis, then open the banks and go get ’em. Initial attack and prevention are the most cost effective things fire can do, but big fires make careers and earn the public’s thanks. One more example…on fed fires, why bring in expensive state fire people or out of state people (travel costs) when the fed has so many local people available. What happened to everyone fights fire to their abilities? Answer: it’s free!! I apologize, but this is not a new subject and much has been written about it, but little has changed.

  3. Mr. Croft says, “holding people accountable is a career killer” right after he notes, “doing the same thing day after day with no change in outcomes” is one of the more common errors in judgment he has seen in the fire world. Perhaps the two are related? If folks never get timely and appropriate evaluations, how will they learn or improve?

    This sounds like a bad recipe for the future of any organization. I wonder what Mr. Croft thinks can be done about this.


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