New Montana DNRC Fire Chief looks at the coming wildfire season

Mike DeGrosky, who started his new job as Chief of Fire and Aviation Management with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation last month, talked to Rob Cheney of the Missoulian about his thoughts concerning the upcoming wildfire season Montana. Below are excerpts from the article:

…“And Billings set a temperature record over the weekend. Now, it could start to rain in June and make everything different. But right now, the call is for significant warmth and continued drought, especially in central and southeast Montana.”

“Almost all the initial attack is performed by the counties, and out there, volunteerism is a huge issue,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of counties where you used to have a volunteer fire department with 25 volunteers and a young, vital crop to recruit from. Now, it’s six guys and the average age is 68.”

Drier fire seasons and declining local firefighter pools combine with a third problem on DeGrosky’s strategic horizon: more things to protect.

“Unregulated growth on the urban interface is a huge problem for us,” he said. “We’ve got more and more people living in fire-prone areas. We’re beyond the time where we think about, ‘What if a fire occurs?’ It’s a question of when a fire occurs – not if. Communities need to think about how they can adapt to survive when impacted by fire. Because we often cannot protect those communities.”…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

Changes at the state fire chief positions in Colorado and Montana

There will be transitions at the top of the state wildfire organizations in Colorado and Montana.

In Colorado, Paul Cooke, the Director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control, is retiring. He became the Director in 2012 after the Colorado legislature and Governor Hickenlooper made major changes in the organization and structure of state-level fire and life safety programs. Chief Cooke will remain in the position until his successor is appointed and onboard.

In Montana the Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) recently selected Mike DeGrosky as the new Fire and Aviation Bureau Chief following the retirement of Ted Mead in December. The Fire and Aviation Management Bureau provides resources, leadership and coordination to Montana’s wildland fire services to protect lives, property, and natural resources; working with local, tribal, state, and federal partners to ensure wildfire protection on all state and private land in Montana.

“Our effort to involve a number of DNRC staff members as well as external partners was met with support and enthusiastic participation across the state, and I found it both rewarding and inspiring to see so many people engaged in the process. We offered Mike DeGrosky the position and he accepted enthusiastically. The DNRC welcomes Mike and is excited to have him join our team,” said Bob Harrington, Forestry Division Administrator.

Mike comes back to DNRC with over 38 years of wildland fire and incident management experience as well as extensive experience in facilitation, consulting, and conflict resolution experience in wildland fire and natural resource organizations.

From 1982-1995 Mike worked for the DNRC in various positions including Rural Fire Forester, Fire Management Specialist, Unit Fire Supervisor and Fire Program Manager. Other services and roles in his career include Volunteer Fire Department Captain, Training Officer, and consultant to fire and emergency management organizations.

DeGrosky is a graduate of the University of Montana, College of Forestry and Conservation, holds a Master’s degree in organizational leadership from Fort Hays State University, and a PhD in Business Administration with an emphasis in organizational leadership from Northcentral University.

“I am looking forward to working with each of you. I will put a high priority on getting out and meeting local officials, fire service organizations and agency partners. I am pleased to be back with the Department and look forward to our work together,” DeGrosky said.

He began working part-time in late January and will assume the duties as Chief full time on February 8, 2016.

Attend a fire conference while at your office

IAWF logoWith many agencies suffering severe reductions in their travel and training budgets, attending wildfire conferences can be difficult. Acknowledging this issue, the International Association of Wildland Fire is stepping into the brave new world of a virtual conference. For their 3rd Human Dimensions of Wildland Fire Conference, April 17-19 in Seattle, you can either attend in person or watch it live on your office or home computer.

Chuck Bushey, the Incident Commander of the conference, said it is becoming more common for conferences to offer the virtual, live-streaming, option, but this may be the first time it has been done for a wildland fire conference. If you were to register today to attend the conference in person, paying the non-member late registration fee, it would cost $525, plus travel, food, and lodging, which would probably total $1,000 to $2,000. To view the entire conference live on your computer will cost $185 for non-members and $125 for members, or $2 per session. Non-members will receive a free 1 year membership with registration, a $60 value that includes a subscription to Wildfire Magazine.

There will be two simultaneous tracks, so viewers will be able to choose which one they want to see. And, all of the 90+ sessions will be archived within moments, allowing viewers to see them at their leisure for up to three months. This could work out well for people in other time zones, especially in Europe and Australia, to see the conference when they are awake!

Viewers will be able to interact with the presenters to ask questions, just like the live audience. They will also have access to session handouts. The video stream will be viewable on standard PCs and Macs, as well as on most iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and Android based devices.

The conference will explore the human dimensions of firefighter and community safety, preparedness, and highly reliable organizations. Presenters include Colleen Morton Busch, Lyle Laverty, Sarah McCaffrey, Anne Black, Alexis Lewis, Jim Saveland, Dave Christenson, Ivan Pupulidy, James McLennan, Ernesto Alvarado, Mike DeGrosky, Jennifer Ziegler, and more.

A company in Seattle, Social 27, that does this for a living, will be providing the live streaming and archived services.

More information about the conference is HERE. You can register for the virtual conference HERE.

Clearing the Air: Perspectives on the Large Cost Fire Review

Below is a guest post written by Mike DeGrosky, the CEO of Guidance Group, Inc.


I want to thank Bill for allowing me to blog as a guest at Wildfire Today.

In 2010, my company, Guidance Group, Inc. coordinated the work of the Secretary of Agriculture’s Independent Large Cost Fire Review Panel, which reviewed the six fiscal year 2009 wildland fires whose suppression costs exceeded $10 million. The six fires included the Backbone, Big Meadow, Knight, La Brea, and Station fires in California and the Williams Creek fire in Oregon.

Phil Schaenman (of TriData Corporation) and I presented the Panel’s final report in a briefing to the U.S. Forest Service on August 13, 2010 followed by a briefing with the Secretary of Agriculture’s Chief of Staff later that week.  Apparently, sometime after these briefings, but before the Departments of Agriculture and Interior had completed their review and transmitted the report to Congress, someone, who remains unknown, leaked the report.  The report found its way to a group of Forest Service retirees as well as Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Pringle, both who were critics of the Angeles National Forest’s handling of the Station Fire.

Large Fire Cost ReviewWhen excerpts from the report began showing up in LA Times articles critical of the Forest Service and in Congressional panel hearings, a commenter on Wildfire Today accused me of leaking our own report.  Not only was this accusation false, this person offered neither justification for their accusation or evidence to support it.  In fact, it would not have been in our interest to leak the report and endanger our reputations and working relationship with the Forest Service, but you never know why people get the ideas they do.  At the time, in deference to the Forest Service and their review process, I felt it best to say little.  However, now that the report is out in the public domain, I would like to clear the air.

In reality, we first became aware that the report had found its way outside agency circles in early October, when I received a call from a member of the Forest Service retirees’ group challenging the Angeles Forest’s handling of the Station Fire.  The caller complimented our work, commended the report, and asked me to verify its authenticity.  When I enquired as to how he had come to be in possession of the report, he told me that the group had received the report “from a contractor’s association.”  I can only speculate as to how it found its way to Paul Pringle at the LA Times.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Pringle never contacted either the panelists or I.  I would have loved the opportunity to help him put his story in context.  Interestingly, the members of Congress who conducted panel hearings on the Station Fire in October never contacted us either, nor have the various organizations investigating the Forest Service’s action regarding the Station Fire. That is, in part, my purpose for my entry on Bill’s blog.  Those who want to understand how the 2009 Large Fire Cost Review does (and does not) relate to the Station Fire need to know a few things that have gotten lost as the controversy took on a life of its own..

First, having the report in the public sphere was not troubling to us.  We are proud of our work and do not fear public scrutiny of it.  However, a few people focused on a single paragraph taken from a six-page section discussing the Station Fire.  Wanting it to support their point of view, they stretched a few phrases beyond their intended purpose and presented these passages outside the context in which the Panel made them.  For example, the Panel’s findings included the following:

Incident Management – The Station fire represented a very large, complex incident, in rugged terrain, involving multiple jurisdictions at the edge of the City of Los Angeles. Fire personnel faced extraordinary challenges. However, the agency personnel, including agency administrators who were actively engaged, handled the situation as well as one might expect given the circumstances. The fact that the IMT came from southern California and had experience with this type of high profile fire proved advantageous” (p. 26).


Initial Response – Controversy continues over whether Forest personnel could have stopped the fire on the morning of August 27 (day 2). Critics claim that if the Forest had airtankers and heavy helicopters on station over the incident at first light, they may have stopped the fire’s spread. If true, more than $90M in cost could have been avoided. However, the Forest Service, Los Angeles County, and CAL FIRE jointly reviewed the initial and extended attack. Their report, issued on November 13, 2009, found that the initial attack ICs acted appropriately and made prudent decisions regarding the safety of firefighters, including those involved in air operations. Further, the report determined that aggressive air operations in the early daylight hours of day 2, without necessary ground support, would not have been effective. The matter remains under investigation and, therefore, beyond the scope of this Panels’ review” (p. 26).

In short, the Panel was largely complimentary of the Forest Service’s incident management under nightmare conditions and, more importantly, the Large Fire Cost Review for FY2009 purposefully avoided the initial or extended attack of the Station Fire.  However, these facts remained largely unreported.

Unfortunately, the Panel’s report included an unintended choice of words, causing confusion.  Citing factors that increased fire costs, in referencing troubles with ordering federal resources, the report described how, in early 2009, the Regional Forester issued a letter providing budget guidance for the region’s fire preparedness funds.  In the course of our fieldwork, it became obvious that field personnel interpreted the letter to mean that the Forests should order Forest Service personnel and equipment before ordering state or local resources; and that this interpretation had delayed, on occasion, the arrival of critical resources.  As an example, the report recounted a situation in which the nearby Morris fire released a strike team of CAL FIRE engines who returned to San Diego while an order for a Federal strike team of engines for the Station fire remained unfilled.

Unfortunately, we inadvertently included the word “initially” in the description of events, leading some to believe that this example had bearing on the controversy concerning the extended attack of the Station Fire, despite the Panel’s statement that the initial attack of the Station Fire was beyond its scope.  Some even called it the “smoking gun” that they had been seeking.

In reality, this strike team (and another that was reassigned) were released on August 29th, three days after the start of the Station Fire, not during initial attack.  However, it is important to note that, way back in October, as the Paul Pringle referenced report passages in the LA times and the report came up in Congressional panel hearings, we acknowledged to the Forest Service that this section of text described resource orders made early in the fire, but not during initial or extended attack.  I still contend that other text in the Station Fire section of the report made that context clear.  Inclusion of the word “initially” was inadvertent, and the Panel was aware that the situation occurred days after the fire’s start.

I am pleased that the report is finally out in the public eye, where people can read it for themselves rather than speculating on its contents or allowing others to interpret it for them.  I hope that these remarks clarify the relationship between the Large Fire Cost Review for FY2009 and the controversy surrounding the Station Fire.

Large Fire Cost Review released

Dollar SignThe U.S. Forest Service has released the Large Fire Cost Review for fiscal year 2009 (Oct. 1, 2008 through Sept. 30, 2009). It is posted on their Publication/Resources page.

Here are direct links to the related documents; they are all .pdf files:

An independent panel managed by Guidance Group, Inc. reviewed the six fiscal year 2009 wildland fires whose suppression costs exceeded $10 million (M). The six fires were: Backbone ($16.9M), Big Meadow ($16.9M), Knight ($12.1M), La Brea ($34.9M), Station ($94.7M), and Williams Creek ($14.2M). The Williams Creek fire occurred in Oregon, the others in California.

The review was conducted by:

  • Mike Degrosky, founder and CEO of Guidance Group, Inc.; DeGrosky’s emergency service background spans 34 years, including service as a rural fire forester, fire management specialist, unit fire supervisor, fire program manager volunteer fire department captain, career fire department training officer and consultant to fire and emergency organizations. He has served as a member of interagency IMTs and maintains current qualifications as an Operations Section Chief Type 2 and Incident Commander Type 3. DeGrosky has been a principal researcher and interviewer for several milestone Forest Service studies.
  • Philip Schaenman, President and founder of TriData. He is a senior consultant specializing in risk management for fire operations, and performance metrics for the fire service; Associate Administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration from 1976–1981
  • Donald Artley, past National Fire Director for the National Association of State Foresters working out of Boise; past Montana State Forester; past Chair of National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group; past NWCG Chair.
  • Richard Mangan,owner/president of Blackbull Wildfire Services, LLC; Type 1 Operations Section Chief; past USFS Forest Staff Officer; has served on numerous wildfire fatality investigations.
  • Peter Moy, CPA; has participated in financial and cost effectiveness reviews of many fire departments studies.
  • Paul Woodward, Professor in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, and President of Ram Fire International Inc.

Wildfire Today will be covering this 86-page report in more detail in the coming days. Check back later to read more coverage of this important report.

Which large fires are reviewed?

Earlier on Wildfire Today there was a discussion about the policy and thresholds that required these large cost fire reviews. The USFS has a policy requiring that their regional offices conduct reviews. Here is a quote from their “Region Large Fire Cost Review Guidebook, May, 2007“.

Each Region must [review] at least eight fires over 5.0M (if applicable for the region) and no less than 75% of their total fires over $5.0M. For example, if a region has 8 fires that meet the threshold they must do all 8 of them; if they have 15 fires that meet the threshold then 11 fires need to be reviewed (75% of 15 fires).

Congress has a different requirement, as stated in House Report 111-316 – Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010.

The conferees reiterate that both the Interior Department and the Forest Service should ensure that cost containment is an important priority when suppressing wildland fires. Both Departments must examine and report promptly to the Congress and on agency websites, using independent panels on each and every individual wildfire incident which results in suppression expenses greater than $10,000,000.