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USFS Fire Suppression: Foundational Doctrine

Sen. Maria Cantwell's April, 2005 statement on:
Wildland Firefighter Safety Act of 2005

Ed Hollenhead's March, 2005 proposal:
The Review of Fire Suppression Doctrine for the USDA Forest Service

Jim Cook's June, 2004 analysis:
Trends in Wildland Fire Entrapment Fatalities

Jim Saveland's 1995 Wildfire article:
Creating a Passion for Safety vs. Management Oversight & Inspection

Professional Status:
The Future of Fire Service Training and Education

USMC Doctrine: Warfighting


Foundational Doctrine

June, 2005

Leadership & Accountability

Fire Leadership

People are our most important asset in the fire suppression organization. In true professional manner they execute operations in a complex, dynamic and at times unpredictable environment. They deserve our very best leaders of character and competence with the initiative to achieve excellence while maintaining accountability in the face of a sometimes daunting task.

Leaders in the organization must be capable of independent and intelligent action willing and eager to accept the new roles and responsibilities required of them. The hallmarks of Forest Service leadership are action, attitude, and accountability.

Leadership defined means providing purpose, direction and motivation for wildland firefighters working to accomplish difficult tasks under dangerous and sometimes stressful conditions. This concept as well as improving the organization applies to all individuals, not just those in leadership positions.

Leadership is a heritage passed from Forest Service leader to leader since the founding of the agency, mainly acquired by observation, experience and emulation. Working with other leaders is the most effective Forest Service leader’s school. Our agency culture embraces mentoring and continuous learning as essential to development of future leadership where every leader is a firefighter, and every firefighter is a leader.


Leadership Values and Principles - Effective leaders demonstrate a commitment to duty, respect for others, and personal integrity.

Their commitment to duty is reflected in:

—Proficiency of skills in their job – both technical and leadership.

—Sound and timely decisions.

—Their ensuring tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished.

—Development of subordinates for the future.

Leaders demonstrate respect by:

—Knowing and looking out for the well being of their subordinates. q Keeping their subordinates informed. q Nurturing the capacity of their team. q Employing subordinates in accordance with their capabilities.

Leaders demonstrate integrity by:

—Knowing their strengths and weaknesses and seeking improvement.

—Seeking and accepting responsibility for their actions.

—Setting an example worthy of emulation.

Leadership Attributes
Physical, mental, and emotional attributes contribute to leadership fitness. Effective leaders:

—Take actions to promote good health and physical fitness that enhances their ability to better think, decide and act under stress.

—Demonstrate inner drive to improve and succeed; have the capacity to think and apply what they learn in accomplishing the leader’s intent; maintain situational awareness; and exercise good judgment under stress.

—Remain level headed and exert self control in tough situations; maintain a balance of attitude to place proper perspective in different situations; have the humility to seek assistance; and have the confidence to act appropriately under stress.

Competence and Accountability

Effective leadership occurs when there is a partnership among agency administrators, fire supervisors, and fire fighters in which roles and responsibilities are commonly understood, honored, and redeemed.

Demonstrated fitness of command is a requirement for leadership positions associated with fire fighting. In this context, we do not accept mediocrity in leadership at any level. We do not measure fitness simply by the training courses and tasks completed. Those selected for leadership positions will have demonstrated they:

—possess and exercise interpersonal, conceptual, and technical skills;



—physical, mental, and emotional capacity.

Leaders will have also demonstrated high self-awareness – an ability to recognize when a situation may exceed their capabilities and a willingness to request appropriate help. This demonstrated fitness provides for greater operational flexibility and discretion.

Leaders clearly communicate intent. Effective leaders prepare clear, concise, uncomplicated plans and concise instructions to ensure thorough understanding of:



—End State

—Acceptable actions and restrictions (consistent with the leader’s intent)

Leaders empower their subordinates. They will only order details regarding execution if measures which serve the same objective have to be harmonized, if political or “fire fighting” constraints require it. They give the latitude to subordinate leaders in the execution of their mission.

Leaders regularly monitor performance for effectiveness and have a duty to take action when there is recognition of performance problems or exceptional performance.

Accountability, both positive reinforcement and negative, at all levels of the organization will be based on individual behavior as measured by:

—Adherence to the rules.

—Appropriate application of doctrine, principles and guidelines.

—Execution of responsibilities commensurate with role.

—Appropriate use of available information.

Administrative actions are based on agreed to and known distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable behavior – on agreed to and known distinctions between errors and willful violations.

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