Rim Fire Revised: Strike While the Iron Is Hot

After completing a two-week assignment as a part of the Incident Management Team (IMT) assigned to the 255,000-plus-acre, third-largest fire in California history, the Rim Fire of 2013, many thoughts raced through my head. The lessons learned, the...


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Cement and solidify relationships

Never before have I experienced the rapid and essential development of relationships for increased effectiveness so poignantly as on the Rim Fire. Relationships were formed between members of the same engine company or crew who may not have worked together in the past because they were assembled for the immediate response. Relationships developed between IMTs from different parts of the country. Community-based relationships formed between residents and between residents and responders, even agency administrators and subordinate personnel.

The power was apparent, the influence was real, the benefits were innumerable and the need to preserver and solidify these relationships for future benefit never more in evidence. The communities involved put aside previous biases or judgments and people worked together. This was evident in the responder community, in the agency community and in the actual communities affected by this massive fire.

Words cannot express the importance of relationships forged or necessitated out of an emergency. To not see the value, to not capitalize on the barriers dropped or to dismiss them as temporary and insignificant other than during the incident is foolish. These are relationships formed during a time of extreme challenge. These are relationships you cannot buy; you cannot campaign for or hire a consultant to develop. This happens in real time and comes from a significant emotional investment by all parties, and therein lays their strength and power.

I saw communities rally behind each other, behind the responders, and open up their minds, homes and wallets to address the needs of others. We in fire service leadership need to be cognizant that these types of massive emergency incidents don’t occur in our jurisdictions every day and thankfully so. However, if it does happen, and it triggers the most likely human response of dropping past prejudice and working together, fire service professionals must fight to maintain them after the incident has concluded. We as leaders need to exhibit gentle reminders within our community to keep that emotion, that feeling of unity, fresh in the minds of our communities.

Although the damage from a large-scale disaster is life changing and traumatic, there are positives that do surface. There will be many discussions about the Rim Fire, many agreements and disagreements, but that doesn’t preclude the need for the fire service to capitalize on the identified benefits. We all should strive to find those pearls or nuggets of wisdom and clarity that comes from being tested as a service and a community.

It is times like these when I am immensely proud to be a member of the greater fire and emergency service community, a member of my local community and part of the global community. Although we are spread across this complex planet in a variety of situations, we generally respond the same way when faced with a threat and that is to bind together to create the most resilient community possible when tested.

 

Todd McNeal presents “Strike While the Iron is Hot: Lessons Learned from the Rim Fire” and “Tactical Decision Points: Improving Firefighter Safety in the WUI” at Firehouse World 2014.