Principles Driven Fire Suppression –
The Pulaski Conference
the first week of June, a group of line officers, fire managers and
practitioners, safety and occupational health professionals, researchers,
and representatives of seven other federal, state, and local fire agencies
from across the country convened in Alta, Utah to take a clean slate
and draft the “doctrine” – the body of principles
– that would guide our agency’s fire suppression activities
and actions into the future.
was time for the Forest Service to rethink our approach to fire suppression.
Over the past several years we have seen a tremendous increase in both
the complexity of the wildland fire suppression environment and the
expectations placed upon our firefighters. At the same time the layering
of rules and processes resulting from tragedy fires have not ensured,
and in many cases have actually worked to confuse the situational awareness
necessary to safely accomplish our fire suppression objectives.
Pulaski Conference participants drafted, and delivered to Tom Harbour,
Director of F&AM, principles focused on defining the fire suppression
mission, on displaying the realities of the wildfire environment, and
on clarifying the roles of agency administrators, fireline leaders,
and firefighters. They identified principles that would guide operational
performance, define leadership and accountability, and explain the role
of cost management, and risk and risk management. In combination, these
principles form the doctrine for fire suppression.
Some aspects of the doctrine represent a significant departure from
our current point of reference, and answer some of the most salient
issues before us today.
Declares fire management (and therefore fire suppression) is critical
to accomplish our agency mission, and avers that all agency employees
have some role in supporting fire suppression in accordance to their
skills and capabilities
• Accepts responsibility to support other national emergencies,
and empowers employees to respond to local emergencies when they can
do so safely
• Acknowledges fire suppression as inherently dangerous work,
where fire fighters working within agency policy and rules, and applying
the best available science, equipment, and training can still be seriously
injured or killed
• Adopts a risk management approach to minimize the exposure and
affects of the inherent hazards
• Embraces principles critical to the success of a risk management
reliance on rules and processes and greater reliance on judgment
fitness for command in fire leadership positions
based on the quality of behaviors and decisions with respect to
known expectations – not just outcomes
of the need for decisive and effective fire suppression actions
decentralization of command and control on the fireline
This brief summary doesn’t do justice to the doctrine drafted at
the Pulaski Conference. To see the entire work, visit the website at:
The Forest Service National Leadership Team is currently in the process
of formalizing their acceptance of this foundational doctrine for fire
suppression. In doing so, they recognize that much of the doctrine is
service wide in scope. Some of it spans the gamut of Fire and Aviation
Management. To their credit they understand and embrace the prospect that
the work started at a small lodge in the mountains of Utah will have profound
and lasting affect on the entire agency.
** Special thanks to Harv
Forsgren for contributing to this issue of the Safety Zone. **
are times in which genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm
of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed.
The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.
Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated
by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise
lay dormant wake into life and form the character of the hero and the
Abigail Adams in a letter to her son, John Quincy Adams, 1779.