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News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 326

Fire leadership "boot camp"

Safe and effective fire fighting requires a force of highly trained professionals, and the training goes far beyond driving fire engines, laying hose and cutting fire lines. Leadership, teamwork and communication are essential skillls for firefighters, and the focus of an interagency training course offered annually by the BLM NorCal fire organization.

The 16-hour course titled "Followership to Leadership" targets firefighters aspiring to be single resource bosses, such as engine captains and crew bosses. It includes classroom lectures and exercises designed to develop leadership skills. This year, 14 students from the BLM, Forest Service and National Park Service participated in the course held at the Ted Overton Training Center in Susanville. Field exercises were held at the Susanville Ranch Park (BLM participates in management of this 1,500-acre tract).

Student Sam Donahue, left, gets a briefing from instructor Steve Shaw while his crew waits for an assignment (background).
Taking notes during a briefing on a new assignment

Following instructions from their team leader, the crew first works together from two different maps, discussing their interpretations to determine their exact position on the ground.
Two groups lean over, examining maps laid out on the ground

The next challenge was to determine how to pass a solid hoop around a circular formation without breaking linked hands. Completing the exercise requires planning, communication and teamwork.
A tangled group works on passing a hoop around without breaking linked hands, looking a little like a game of twister but more upright

Another challenge required the teams to negotiate the "boardwalk," formulating and executing a plan to negotiate a course without falling from two 4x4 boards. It requires close coordination of all four team members and the direction of a leader.
A team learns to walk in unison on two two-by-fours

Assigning leadership to the most mechanically inclined team member is the key to completing the chainsaw exercise, where, in the space of 15 minutes, the teams must sort through a pile of chainsaw parts and assemble two complete saws. Both saws have to start and run.
Two crew members sift through saw parts, trying to assemble complete working chainsaws

"The five exercises used in this course, which is part of the National Wildland Coordination Group training catalog, were adapted from business and military training," said Mark Beterbide, the BLM NorCal assistant fire management officer. "The exercises depart from normal operational and tactical training associated with fire fighting to encourage firefighters to focus on how to lead and communicate."

The course is coordinated by Dan Varney of the Diamond Mountain Hotshots, with the teaching cadre composed hotshot and Eagle Lake Field Office Fire staff members.

- J. Fontana, 4/08

BLM California News.bytes, issue 326

Last updated: 04-09-2008