Here’s a piece by Mike DeGrosky that recently ran in Wildfire Magazine, reprinted here with permission.


A late-summer road trip with my wife in 2023 brought us near the Smith River, Happy Camp, and Hoopa complexes in Oregon and California. Along the way, we encountered Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHCs) traveling to, from, and around these fires. There are more than 100 IHCs in the United States – highly professional, mobile, and skilled hand crews assigned to the most challenging and high-priority fires. Though organization can vary, IHCs are typically led by a superintendent who is often referred to as The Supe.

As we passed the hotshots going about their business, I reflected on my long association with these crews. I was a hotshot for two fire seasons, one as a crew member and one as a squad boss. I consider those two seasons to be foundational for me as a fire professional, a leader, and as a person. When I worked as a division supervisor, I was always grateful when I was assigned hotshots; an all-career experience came when I was assigned six IHCs, punching hotline overnight, over steep and rugged terrain and through the ugliest snag patch I can recall.


Last year a friend gave me THE SUPE’S HANDBOOK:  Leadership Lessons from America’s Hotshot Crews, by Angie Tom. I am quite proud that I know or knew more than 20 of the people profiled in Tom’s book – firefighting colleagues, training cadre teammates, audience members and training participants, and consulting clients. (Sadly, some are no longer with us.)

I was immediately drawn in by a balanced, honest, on-point foreword by Anthony Escobar, who was the superintendent of the Kern Valley IHC and retired as the FMO for the Los Padres in California. It is worth the price of the book just to read the foreword.

Brit Rosso was the superintendent of the Arrowhead Hotshots and later retired as manager of the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. Included in this book are Rosso’s lessons learned from the line-of-duty death of crew member Dan Holmes. Anyone leading a fire program or an agency with a fire program should read Rosso’s account.

One night while reading this book, I cried; the author’s story of her trip to interview Paul Gleason, right at the time of his passing from cancer, brought a flood of memories. Gleason was superintendent of the Zigzag IHC on the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon long before retiring from the NPS; he was later an adjunct professor for the wildland fire science program at Colorado State University. Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service are legendary, including pioneering sawyer certification and the Lookouts, Communications, Escape routes, and Safety zones firefighter safety concept commonly known as LCES. Gleason made it cool for firefighters to be “students of fire.”

Jim Cook, who had introduced Gleason and Tom, went with her to the interview in Colorado. Cook was the superintendent of both the Arrowhead and Boise IHCs, retired as the training projects coordinator for the USFS, and served as principal architect of the NWCG leadership curriculum.

Tom’s story of her interview with Gleason reminded me that around the time of his death, I spent a powerful, emotional evening in a hotel ballroom in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a group of his NPS  colleagues, reminiscing and processing his passing. It proved an extra intense experience because it just so happened that we were also doing the first staff ride of the Cerro Grande Fire on which Gleason was the burn boss. Some of the people present had been principal players and most were already processing some strong emotions. All these years later, I find myself hoping the people who receive the NWCG Paul Gleason Lead By Example Award have a deep and intense understanding of the fire service leader in whose memory they are honored for their own achievements – and what that means.

I had three takeaways from The Supe’s Handbook. First, I was reminded of how some really intelligent people are drawn to fire. Note I did not say “educated” people. Some people profiled in the book have or had formal post-secondary education. Others are or were self-educated. Formal higher education is not prominent in the group of hotshot supes featured in this book. However, intelligence is.

Second, whether those included overtly acknowledged it or not, they were and are passionate students of leadership, for whom the responsibilities of leadership weighed heavily; they took their leadership very seriously. The fire part seemed to come easily; their focus was on leading their people.

Third, I was reminded of how often I have seen this kind of intelligence and leadership savvy go under-recognized, under-utilized, or even dismissed – because people could not see past the big, sometimes rough and blunt personalities, educational credentials, or their own insecurities.

As a lifelong fire professional, including 20 years as a consultant to wildland fire agencies, I’ve encountered more than one senior leader who would have benefitted from some coaching and mentoring from people in this book.

Mike DeGrosky
Mike DeGrosky

Mike DeGrosky is a student of leadership, a lifelong learner, mentor and coach, sometimes writer, and recovering fire chief. He taught for the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University for 10 years. Follow Mike on  LinkedIn.

Robert Ziel receives Paul Gleason Lead by Example award

Robert (Zeke) Ziel
Robert (Zeke) Ziel

Robert (Zeke) Ziel, the fire analyst for the International Arctic Research Center’s Alaska Fire Science Consortium, was recently named one of the three recipients from across the wildland fire services for the 2019 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. The award was created by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Leadership Subcommittee to remember Paul Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service. More information about the award, including past recipients, is available on the NWCG website. A group of managers from Alaska and the lower 48, representing the Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and National Park Service, nominated Zeke for the award. The following information is modified from their submitted nomination.

Zeke has been instrumental in the evolution of the interagency fire management and science enterprise in Alaska on many levels. His work is driven by the thought of how Alaska’s interagency management community might do better in the realm of modeling and analysis, and he has reinvented how fire analysis is performed in Alaska. His curiosity and drive are evident in the tools that are available to fire managers in Alaska today.  For example, his work with Predictive Services to build and maintain the Alaska Fire and Fuels website, an innovative web platform for displaying the fire, fuels and weather environment, as well as engagement with the GIS specialists and web designers to incorporate modeling outputs, have provided managers and decision makers with ‘one-stop shopping’ information.

Through classroom and web-based instruction, development of user guides, analyses relating fire behavior to fuels and weather inputs, and mentoring budding fire analysts, Zeke has enabled practitioners from different backgrounds within the fire community to more fully understand and successfully implement the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) in Alaska. He is a key figure in not only fire behavior, analysis, and decision support, but also the cross-boundary engagement of scientist and practitioners in the lower 48 and across Canada. The fostering of relationships across the continuum of science and practice is clearly Zeke’s passion. He finds opportunities to bring people together who may not otherwise interact. In doing so, there is a momentum that he starts, participates in, and feeds continually to address new ideas, challenges, and initiatives.

At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Zeke has been involved in several research efforts, including as a member of the Boreal Fires team under the current Alaska EPSCoR Fire and Ice project, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Examples of Zeke’s work:

CFFDRS Online Training Modules (initial framework, development, and implementation)
Fire Behavior Field Reference Guide (continued development and updates)
Why Alaska Fire Potential Assessments Are Different (2018 publication)
Fire Environment Poster (Developed 2019)
Fuel Moisture, Seasonal Severity, and Fire Growth Analysis in the US Fire Behavior Analysis Tools (2017 publication)
CFFDRS FBP Field Guide (2015 Publication)
CFFDRS FWI Field Guide (2015 Publication)
Modeling Fire Growth Potential in Alaska (2015 Publication)

University of Alaska Fairbanks

University exhibit recognizes contributions of Paul Gleason

The exhibit will be at Colorado State University through January 31, 2018

Paul Gleason
Paul Gleason. From Wildland Fire Leadership.

Colorado State University is hosting an exhibit featuring a wildland firefighter who made significant contributions to our culture of safety and leadership. Even though he retired in 2001 and succumbed to cancer two years later his name and legacy live on through the annual Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award and “LCES”. After his experience on the 1990 Dude Fire  he developed the easy to remember concept of “Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES)” which he distilled from the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders. He as also the first person I knew to use the phrase “student of fire”.

The “Student of Fire” exhibit will be at the Colorado State University’s Morgan Library, room 202, through January 31, 2018, at 1201 Central Avenue Mall, Fort Collins, Colorado. (map)

The article below about Paul and the exhibit was written by Linda Meyer for the University.

Exhibit recognizes contributions of Paul Gleason, wildfire safety pioneer

Morgan Library Archives and Special Collections is featuring an exhibit showcasing the contributions of Paul Gleason to the field of wildland fire science through Jan. 31.

Gleason contributed significant training materials to the field, especially on the topic of firefighter safety. After retiring from a career as a wildland firefighter, leader, and strategist he became a faculty member at Colorado State University in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, where a scholarship has been established in his name.

Karen Miranda Gleason donated her late husband’s papers, photographs and documents detailing events such as the Crosier Mountain prescribed fire west of Fort Collins, to Morgan Library. The collection also features Gleason’s 1991 paper, “Lookouts, Communication, Escape Routes, Safety Zones,” commonly referred to as “LCES” or “the LCES concept,” which has become the foundation of current wildland firefighter safety.

Pioneer in wildfire safety
Born in 1946 in Chicago, Illinois, to a homemaker from Seattle and a Baptist minister from Tacoma, Washington, Gleason grew up in Southern California. Becoming an accomplished rock climber in his teens, he continued to enjoy climbing throughout his life. Correspondence between Gleason and his father often refers to his love of the outdoors and mountaineering.

Gleason’s career as a firefighter began in 1964 in the Angeles National Forest as an 18-year-old member of the Dalton Hotshot Crew. He served with that crew through 1970, interrupted only by a one-year tour of duty with the U.S. Army. From 1971 to 1973, he attended Colorado State University and earned a degree in mathematics.

In 1974, Gleason returned to work as a firefighter, serving as the assistant foreman for a Regional Reinforcement Crew on the Okanogan National Forest. In 1977, he became the assistant superintendent of the ZigZag Hotshot Crew at Mount Hood National Forest, moving into the position of superintendent two years later.

Paul Gleason exhibitGleason began work as a district fire management officer for the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest in 1992, eventually becoming the forest fire ecologist. In 1999, he moved to the position of deputy fire management officer for the Rocky Mountain Region of the National Park Service. Mandatory retirement  in 2001 sent Gleason into academia at age 55. He served as an adjunct professor for the Wildland Fire Science program at Colorado State University for two years before losing his battle with cancer in 2003.

Gleason received numerous awards and recognitions throughout his career. He was heavily involved in three significant fires: the Loop Fire in 1966, the Dude Fire in 1990, and the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000.

Paul Gleason Lead By Example Award

2014 Paul Gleason Award
Left to right: Kip Gray, Dan Olsen, Alex Robertson, Kevin Donham, Brian Scholz, Eric Hipke, Shane Olpin

(This article first appeared at Wildland Fire Leadership.)


The NWCG Leadership Subcommittee is honored to announce the final recipients for the 2014 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award. Dan Olsen, Deputy Director, Fire and Aviation for the US Forest Service presented the awards during the 2015 South Canyon Staff Ride. Our congratulations on a job well-done goes to the South Canyon Subject Matter Experts:

Kevin Donham
Kip Gray
Eric Hipke
Alex Robertson
Bryan Scholz

We share with you Dan Mallia’s, Redding IHC Superintendent and Paul Cerda’s, Alpine IHC Superintendent, powerful nomination. The words of the field are by far better than what we could have written.


Describe the significance of the accomplishment made by the individual or group in the stated category.

For 12 years, the Redding IHC Leadership Development Program has traveled to the location of the South Canyon fire to conduct the Staff Ride for their crew. Over the years the Redding Hotshots have invited other crews, other federal, state, local, international fire and aviation management employees and Washington Office leadership to walk the ground where the Storm King Mountain tragedy took place. In that time, close to 900 people have been lead through the events of the day in conference groups, to glean information and develop slides that they can reference and avoid an outcome similar to South Canyon.

Bryan Scholz, Alex Robertson and Kip Gray, former Prineville Hotshots and Eric Hipke, former North Cascades smokejumper provide a firsthand recount of the events that unfolded on July, 6th 1994. Kevin Donham, fire staff on the Ochoco N.F. at the time of the tragedy relates a valuable and important side of South Canyon story which highlights the importance of programs like You Will Not Stand Alone and Taking Care of Our Own.

The South Canyon Staff Ride provides a strong learning experience. The dimension added by Alex, Brian, Kip, Eric and Kevin relating their experiences on the day of the tragedy creates an experience that participants will keep with them. Their presence makes a memorable impact on the participants of the Staff Ride.

The lessons learned by these first-hand accounts are forever branded in the minds and hearts of each staff ride participant. These subject matter experts (SMEs), share their thoughts, emotions and explain in great detail the events from their individual perspectives. These discussions are very raw, the amount of emotion and the openness from each SME is a clear path to connect with every staff ride participant including but not limited students and cadre members. The impact of this staff ride is not limited to agency, GS scale or red card qualifications. The impact and first-hand accounts have helped shape and change the trajectory of the fire service culture as we know it today.

Continue reading “Paul Gleason Lead By Example Award”

Paul Cerda receives Lead by Example Award

Paul Cerda, center, receives the Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award. On the left is Mike Lewelling. Jim McMahill is on the right.

Congratulations to Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew Superintendent Paul Cerda, one of the recipients of the 2014 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award for motivation and vision.

From wildlandfireleadership.blogspot.com/:

Paul was recognized for boldly leading with inspired vision and clear intent. His efforts to lead the Alpine Interagency Hotshot Crew to Type 1 Wildland Fire Module status shows his ability to innovate, communicate, and influence change. This bold effort to diversify for the betterment of the wildland fire service took insight and courage.

As an advocate for leadership development, Paul embodies the values of duty, respect and integrity. His vision, motivational ability, and innovative methods to “build the team” demonstrates true passion for his people and those he serves. Paul has not only created depth within his own organization but also strengthened the entire service through your positive influence.

More winners announced for Lead By Example Award

Two weeks ago the National Park Service announced that two of their wildland fire personnel received Paul Gleason Lead By Example Awards for 2013 — Chad Fisher, wildland fire safety program manager, and Jim Shultz, wildland fire training program manager.

Today the National Interagency Fire Center distributed a news release stating that two other Lead By Example awards were also issued. Below is the text of the release (we added the photos of Mr. Seilstad and the Palomar Hotshots; photos of Mr. Fisher and Mr. Shultz are in the previous announcement).


Lead by Example Award Winners for 2013

Boise, Idaho – The National Wildfire Coordinating Group Leadership Subcommittee announced that Chad Fisher, Dr. Carl Seielstad, Jim Shultz and the Palomar Interagency Hotshot Crew were selected for the 2013 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award. The recipients were nominated for demonstrating valued leadership traits during or in support of wildland fire operations.

The Lead by Example Award is based on three categories: motivation and vision; mentoring and teamwork; and innovation or initiative. Individuals and groups from federal, state, local and tribal agencies are eligible for the award.

The annual award was created to honor Paul Gleason, a wildland firefighter whose career spanned several decades. Gleason is best known for developing the LCES (Lookout, Communication, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) concept that became the foundation of wildland firefighter safety. The awards highlight Gleason’s influence on and contribution to wildland fire management, while honoring those who demonstrate the spirit of leadership for which he was known.

Award Recipients for 2013

Chad Fisher, National Park Service, National Interagency Fire Center, was selected for his motivation and vision work with the Dutch Creek mitigations which resulted in a change in firefighter safety regardless of size or complexity. Fisher’s dedication to ensure safety across agency boundaries has resulted in a shift in culture regarding incident-within-an-incident planning.

Carl Seielstad 2013
Dr. Carl Seielstad

Dr. Carl Seielstad, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, was selected for his initiative and innovation by establishing the Wildland Fire Program and Prescribed Fire Practicum in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, which provides students with hands-on leadership and prescribed fire experiences. Seielstad’s visionary leadership offers students a unique opportunity while providing a background to become highly effective fire managers.

Jim Shultz, National Park Service, National Interagency Fire Center, was selected for mentoring and teamwork across agency boundaries through programs like the Fire and Aviation Mentoring program and National Interagency Joint Apprentice Committee. Shultz’s leadership skills and calm demeanor also helped ensure that all honor guards worked together during the Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial Service

Palomar Hotshots 2013
Palomar Hotshots

The Palomar Interagency Hotshot Crew, Palomar Ranger District/Cleveland National Forest, US Forest Service, was selected for demonstrating initiative and innovation through efforts like their crew website and 2012 “Leadership is Action” video. Palomar Hotshots continue to provide leadership development through non-traditional leadership styles and allow individuals to strive for a higher performance level as a leader.”