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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

Defining the Operational Environment

Wildland fire operations can range from traditional fire suppression, to managing an incident within an incident, to responding to the challenges of the All-Risk environment.

The fire suppression environment is a high risk environment. Fire fighters routinely encounter numerous and varied risks in order to accomplish their fire suppression responsibilities. This environment possesses inherent risks that can, even with reasonable mitigation, cause harm or death to fire fighters engaged in fire suppression operations.

The wildland firefighting environment is a dynamic three-dimensional space dominating the fire ground. The mixture of people, machine, technology, and the unalterable laws of nature creates a highly complex environment that can rapidly transition from normal to chaotic to emergency conditions very quickly.

Fire fighting involves a diversity of people and equipment, all with different limitations, capabilities, experience and qualifications. Resources are assembled from volunteer, temporary, contract and career positions. The dynamic complexity of the operational environment requires a high reliability response organization. The suppression organization must minimize internal friction and remain cohesive and resilient to minimize risks and still accomplish the suppression objectives.

While technology plays a key role in expanding the situation awareness tools of firefighting, the essential job has not changed dramatically from 100 years ago. What has changed dramatically is the amount and condition of fuels in forests and grasslands throughout the United States.

Our imperfect knowledge of nature and fire behavior only increases the level of complexity. The harsh reality is that to succeed and survive, Forest Service fire fighters must first perceive and believe the complexities of this environment; then think, plan, manage risks and then boldly engage. The actions of a single individual at the critical moment can have great impact in suppression operations.

The fire suppression environment is also influenced by a variety of external conditions – political considerations, line officer direction, budget constraints, media involvement, and public attitudes. Rapid expansion of the wildland urban interface contributes dramatically to the political complexity fire fighters face at all levels. Increasing environmental and health concerns call for increased consideration in fire fighting operations. Fire suppression success hinges on decisions that incorporate the impacts of these factors.

This chaotic environment brings opportunity. The challenge is to recognize opportunity when it occurs in the midst of uncertainty and to seize it to meet clear unambiguous objectives. When viewed through time even the most chaotic of systems may reveal recurring patterns that may then be exploited. The experienced fire fighter will look for these recurring patterns that can be exploited to advantage.

Successful accomplishment of the fire management suppression responsibility is essential to support the Forest Service mission. This requirement demands a comprehensive and effective doctrine to empower and guide people to use all their training, experience, and judgment in making the best decisions possible in this harsh operational environment.

As the complexity and nature of the operational environment change, the doctrine of wildfire suppression will also expand and evolve to allow fire fighters to accomplish their assigned mission within allocated resources, incorporate an increasing array of technological advances, and manage risks in the uncertainty of the physical and political fire ground.

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