USDA Forest Service
This doctrine was created at the Pulaski Conference in Alta, Utah, June 6-10, 2005
Fire Suppression Foundational Doctrine
Over the past several years we have seen a tremendous increase in expectations—both internally and externally—placed upon our wildland fire fighters. Fire management complexities have propelled this evolution of today’s fire environment onto a critical path increasingly rules-driven at the expense of addressing the fundamental human factors that lead to critical decision errors, delayed judgments, and improper actions.
Though the environment and the mission of the wildland fire fighter is
demanding increased agility in decision making, the fire fighters’ ability to
adapt and react has become more constrained. Fire line performance expectations
have become increasingly rules-driven at
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Defining the Operational Environment
The difference between good and bad outcomes often depends on fire organization leaders, senior and junior, who can and will best focus their efforts on fighting the fire. Firefighting is about thinking creatively and acting decisively.
Knowing why we fight fire and the concepts and ideas that guide our actions, not rules or prescriptions for action, provides the bedrock of our fire suppression philosophy.
The following pages express our foundational doctrine for fighting wildland fire and cooperating with our partners. It provides foundational firefighting principles for exercising authority by fire managers, incident commanders, subordinate leaders, and fire fighters. It describes how to think about the conduct of firefighting and applies to all Forest Service personnel.
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.
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Defining the Operational Environment
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.
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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.
Forest Service Mission
The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” We express our mission as, “Caring for the land and serving people.” Fire management is central to meeting the Forest Service mission. Fire management is holistic and we believe that fire can be both beneficial and destructive.
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Fire is a natural process that has profoundly shaped the landscape and is vital to restoring and maintaining ecosystem health. We will take initiative to enable fire to play its natural role where appropriate.
Like wind and water, fire also can be destructive and can be a formidable threat to critical ecosystem components, human life, and communities – such instances require decisive and creative action on the part of the Forest Service to protect values both within and adjacent to National Forest system lands.
When it’s time to fight fire, we will do so with maximum efficiency and the highest regard for safety, operating in and occupying that critical ground between risk aversion and unacceptable risk. Our intent is to protect life, property, and at-risk lands and resources.
We expect creative and decisive action and directly support our people on the ground. We grow and adapt while preparing for and learning from the chaotic and ever-changing operating environment.
Every Forest Service employee will support fire suppression emergencies.
The Forest Service’s greatest asset is our people and their knowledge, skills, and initiative working within our highly adaptive organizational approach. In emergency situations, we effectively mobilize a professionally trained, highly efficient workforce able to bring order to chaos. We will manage incidents as effectively, responsively, and efficiently as possible, providing the American public with the best value for their investment.
Other Emergency Response
While the primary responsibility of our fire suppression force is wildland fire suppression, we will support national emergency situations when asked or ordered.
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We also will respond when human life is immediately at risk, or there is another clear emergency, and the responders consider themselves capable of assisting without undue risk to themselves or others.
In responding to emergencies, we will bring the same highly adaptive organizational approach, professionalism, and passion for safety to these situations.
Role of agency employees in fire suppression
Since fire management is integral to the mission of the Forest Service, and fire suppression is integral to the mission of fire management, every employee will have a basic understanding of fire management and each have the responsibility to support the program. Employees have a personal responsibility and will take personal initiative to educate and train to the best of their abilities to meet their fire suppression responsibilities, including clearly understanding and accomplishing their leader's intent.
Line officers – Line Officers must have knowledge of fire program management including the ability to integrate fire and fuels management across all program areas and functions; ability to implement fire suppression strategies and integrate natural resource concerns into collaborative community protection and ecosystem restoration strategies; knowledge to oversee a fire suppression program including budget, preparedness, prevention, suppression, and hazardous fuels reduction; ability to serve as Agency Administrator during an incident on an assigned unit; and ability to provide fully staffed, highly qualified and diversified fire suppression workforce that exists in a “safety first” and “readiness” environment.
Fire management training and experience is a prerequisite for service as a line officer.
Line officer and fire organization relationships – Line Officers have the responsibility to establish clear and concise objectives ensuring that fire suppression is managed as safely, effectively, and efficiently as possible. Fire management personnel will keep the line officer informed and provide professional fire suppression expertise and advice. Line Officers and their fire suppression personnel need to develop strong professional relationships addressing training, preparedness, suppression, and fire use activities.
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Line officers and fire personnel will establish effective communications. Personnel, at any level of the organization, will freely express concerns to management.
Fire management positions – Fire fighters will be qualified for assignments. All employees assigned fire suppression responsibilities at the local, geographic area, or national level will meet established interagency and agency competencies and associated qualifications. Fire fighters have a responsibility to be aware of the roles of fire and resource management in the fulfillment of the Agency’s overall mission.
Employee’s role in creating a positive work environment – It is the responsibility of every employee to foster a work environment that is enjoyable, rewarding, recognizes the value of diversity, and is free of harassment. Employee awareness of the functions of all levels of the agency fosters respect for the contributions of all employees regardless of rank or responsibilities. Forest Service employees must gain knowledge and develop awareness of agency programs and various disciplines essential to program implementation. Informed employees reduce departmentalism, lead to enhanced cross-department communications, and increase trust and respect for professionalism throughout the diversity of disciplines within the agency.
It is the agency’s responsibility to orient and mentor new employees and provide cross training to enhance inter-disciplinary and organizational awareness.
Other agency personnel – Every employee has the responsibility to support and/or participate in the fire management program. Administrative employees, engineers, resource specialists, and researchers play a critical role in successful fire operations. There is a broad spectrum of opportunities for participation; each person will identify the niche that is most consistent with their personal/ professional needs, abilities, and goals.
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The roles of inherently governmental and contracted resources
Each region or geographic area will evaluate and coordinate between local and state resources. Areas to analyze include draw-down levels and ability of state and local government to perform and assist in fire suppression activities.
Primary initial attack is inherently governmental. Contracted fire suppression resources are a supplemental resource.
Contracted resources will meet the same qualification standards, professionalism, training, productivity, and efficiency as governmental resources.
Relationship of agency targets and fire suppression Support for local fire operations takes priority over accomplishment of local resource targets. Support for non-local fire operations does not take priority over local resource targets unless determined by regional or national priorities.
The professionalism of fire suppression personnel The leadership, knowledge, skill and initiative primary fire fighters attain and exhibit is integral to the success of fire suppression and overall mission of fire management. Recognizing primary fire fighters as professionals in their field helps to bridge the communication gap between fire fighters and fire management as a whole.
The role of other agency cooperators
The cooperative relationship between the Forest Service and other agency cooperators is essential. It is the responsibility of the Forest Service to develop working interagency relationships with these agencies.
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The Forest Service will continue to work with cooperating agencies to strengthen pre-suppression planning for incidents on public lands including mission difference and specific land management issues.
We will develop strong local relationships for incidents occurring on non-Forest Service lands.
The role of the agency in public education
Educating and informing the public about both the natural role of fire and fire risk is becoming extremely important, especially in wildland urban interface areas. Where these areas exist Forests must work with cooperating agencies and the media to increase awareness in these communities. Public contacts must address the risks and mitigations to these risks, and to educate the public about their own responsibilities when living in fire prone areas.
The Forest Service will be proactive in initiating and participating in public education when fire conditions exist that may have public impact. When fires occur in multi-jurisdictional protection areas every effort will be taken to partner with other cooperating agencies and the news media to foster strong working relations in educating the public with a common message.
Purpose of Fire Suppression Doctrine
Fire suppression doctrine covers our fundamental beliefs on the subject of fire suppression. Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking about fire suppression. It provides a philosophy for leading fire fighters in suppression operations, a mandate for Operations professionalism, and a common language. Fire suppression doctrine does not consist of procedures to be applied to specific situations so much as it sets forth general guidance that requires judgment in application. Therefore, while authoritative, doctrine is not prescriptive. Doctrine is about tools, not rules.
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The Nature of Fire Suppression
Fire is a complex, dynamic, and often unpredictable phenomenon. Fire suppression requires mobilizing a complex organization that includes management, command, support, and fire suppression personnel, as well as airplanes, vehicles, machinery, and communications equipment. While the magnitude and complexity of the fire itself and of the human suppression response to it will vary, the fact that fire suppression operations are inherently dangerous will never change. A fire fighter using the best available science, equipment, and training, and working within the scope of agency doctrine and policy, can still suffer serious injury or death. Any doctrine or policy that neglects this basic truth is incomplete.
Fire Suppression Preparedness Philosophy
Fire suppression preparedness is the result of activities that are planned and implemented prior to fire ignitions. Preparedness is a continuous process that includes developing and maintaining fire suppression infrastructure, predicting fire activity, identifying values at risk, hiring, training (interagency drills & scenarios), equipping, pre-positioning, and deploying fire fighters and equipment, evaluating performance, correcting deficiencies, and improving operations. Preparedness provides the basis for identifying required fire suppression capabilities and implementing coordinated programs to develop those capabilities. All preparedness activities should be focused on developing these capabilities and successful suppression operations.
As the hardware of wildland fire suppression improves through technological development, so must the tactical, operational, and strategic usage adapt to its improved capabilities to maximize our own capabilities. Standardization should be considered and implemented where appropriate, but not at the expense of innovation.
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Fire Suppression Philosophy
Fires are easier and less expensive to suppress when they are smaller. When the management goal is full suppression, aggressive attack is the single most important method to ensure the safety of fire fighters and the public and to limit suppression costs. When the management goal is other than full suppression, or when conditions dictate a limited suppression response, decisiveness is still essential but a less aggressive attack is acceptable. Aggressive attack provides the Incident Commander maximum flexibility in suppression operations. Successful attack relies on speed and appropriate force. All aspects of fire suppression benefit from this philosophy. Planning, organizing, and implementing fire suppression operations should always meet the objective of directly, quickly, and economically contributing to the suppression effort. Every fire fighter, whether in a management, command, support, or direct suppression role, should be committed to maximizing the speed and efficiency with which the most capable fire fighters can engage in suppression action.
Fire Suppression Command Philosophy
It is essential that our philosophy of command supports the way we fight fire. First and foremost, in order to generate effective decision making on the fire line and to cope with the unpredictable nature of fire, command and control must be decentralized.
That is, subordinate commanders must make decisions on their own initiative, based on their understanding of their leader’s intent, coordinated efforts, and operational objectives. Further, a competent subordinate commander who is at the point of decision will naturally better appreciate the true situation than a senior commander some distance removed. Individual initiative and responsibility are of paramount importance.
However, this does not imply that unity of effort does not exist or that suppression actions are not coordinated. Unity of effort requires coordination and cooperation among all forces toward a commonly understood objective. Unified coordinated action, whether between adjacent single resources on the fire line or between the highest command level and the most subordinate fire fighter, is critical to successful fire suppression and is not incompatible with the philosophy of decentralized command.
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Principles of Suppression Operations
The primary means by which we implement decentralized command and maintain unity of action is through the use of universal principles of suppression operations. These principles guide our fundamental fire suppression practices, behaviors, and customs, and are mutually understood at every level of command. These include but are not limited to the Standard Fire Suppression Orders, the 18 Watch Out Situations, LCES and the Downhill Line Construction Checklist. These principles are fundamental to how we perform fire suppression operations. They are not absolute rules. They provide guidance in the form of concepts and values. Using these principles requires judgment in application, which is intended to improve decision making and fire fighter safety.
Principles of Action
Additionally, the Principles of Action are a set of precepts that, as fundamentals, lend context in developing overall fire strategy. They help us frame the management and conduct of fire suppression operations. Again, these are not absolute, immutable rules. These four principles give us a consistent set of considerations with which to evaluate decisions, plans and actions in different situations.
Objective - The principle of the objective is to direct every fire suppression operation toward a clearly defined, decisive, and obtainable objective. The objective of fire suppression operations is to achieve the suppression objectives that support the overall management goals for the fire.
Speed and Focus - Speed is rapidity of action. Focus is the convergence of resources at the desired position to initiate action. The principle of speed and focus maintains that rapidly deploying and concentrating fire suppression resources, in a calculated fashion, at the decisive time and place increases the likelihood of successful suppression actions.
Positioning - The principle of positioning maintains that rapid, flexible and opportunistic movement increases the effectiveness of fire suppression resources. Positioning ranges from single resource offensive or defensive reactions to dynamic fire conditions to prepositioning of multiple resources based on predicted activity and values at risk. Positioning should always be undertaken with speed and focus in mind, and with sufficient time for positioning to occur before operations begin.
Simplicity - The principle of simplicity is that clear uncomplicated plans and concise orders maximize effectiveness and minimize confusion. Simplicity contributes to successful actions.
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Leadership & Accountability
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:
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Leadership & Accountability
Leaders demonstrate respect by:
Leaders demonstrate integrity by:
Physical, mental, and emotional attributes contribute to leadership fitness. Effective leaders:
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:
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Leadership & Accountability
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:
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:
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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When fire suppression is deemed necessary in order to protect lives and property, our efforts will be undertaken with the highest regard for safety and incidents will be managed as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Cost management is a very significant component of meeting fire suppression objectives, but is not an overriding goal in itself. Once the objectives of the suppression effort have been clearly defined, the appropriate resources will be committed to meet the stated objectives. Successfully and efficiently meeting objectives will not be sacrificed for the sole purpose of “cost savings.”
Fire suppression will be based on sound risk management decision making-processes and take into account values protected and resources at risk. Care will be taken to ensure that the expenditures undertaken to meet the suppression objectives are commensurate with the values to be protected, while understanding that other factors may influence suppression expenditures, including the environment: social, political, economic, and biophysical. These factors can all lead to expenditures that, though they are not tied directly to values at risk, can be legitimate reasons for undertaking suppression actions.
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Risk & Risk Management
Fire suppression is an inherently dangerous job and very hazardous. No resource or facility is worth the loss of human life; however while working within their agency doctrine and policy, fire fighters using the best available science, equipment, and training can be killed or injured. Our employees are expected to make reasonable and prudent decisions to accomplish the agency mission while minimizing loss of life and serious injuries. Fire fighters are empowered and expected to manage the risks of fire suppression.
Risk Management Concept:
The purpose of risk management is to minimize the exposure and affects of the inherent hazards in fire suppression while maximizing the opportunities to achieve mission objectives during fire suppression operations. Risk management includes communications and a process for situational awareness, hazard assessment, hazard control, decision point and evaluation.
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Risk & Risk Management
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Making It Happen
Reading and understanding the ideas in this publication are the initial steps on the path to becoming more creative and decisive leaders and fire fighters. The primary way a fire fighter becomes a fire leader is through training and education, both of which are firmly rooted in doctrine. Doctrine establishes the philosophy and practical framework for how we fight fire.
Education develops the understanding, creativity, judgment, and the background essential for effective fire line leadership.
Training follows doctrine and develops the tactical and technical proficiency that underlies all successful action. On-the-job training completes the picture by allowing individuals and groups to integrate their training and education, producing a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. The lessons we learn from training and operational experience then modify doctrine.
Doctrine establishes the fundamental beliefs of the Forest Service on the subject of fire suppression and how we practice our profession.
Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking about fire suppression and our way of fire suppression, a philosophy for leading fire fighters on the fire line, a mandate for professionalism, and a common language. Doctrinal development benefits from our collective experience and distills its lessons to further education and training.
Our doctrine within the Forest Service begins with the philosophy contained in our mission statement. This philosophy underlies publications that contain tactics, techniques, and procedures for specific functions. This body of thought helps form fire fighters and fire suppression leaders through its implementation in education and training.
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[text overlaying a photo of a crew] Dedicated to the Forest Service tradition of creative thinking and decisive action in protecting America's great natural resources and protecting the public interest.
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