I’m glad you asked. Although I’ve received quite a few inquiries asking “who” in the past and have answered them privately, this will be the first time I’ll answer publicly here on “they said”. But, for a moment, let’s skip that part and focus on “why”.
In the early nineties I became concerned and frustrated with the lack of a quick, reliable system to allow firefighters and other employees (and their families) the ability to voice their thoughts, ideas, experiences, or even ask a few simple questions. The primary methods of wide area information dissemination or exchange was limited to annual workshops/meetings, training courses, inadequately distributed paper reports, or announcements transmitted via the agency computer system. In my experience these methods were less than effective and often failed to reach the ground level troops.
Sometime in 1993 I was conversing with a silviculturist who was very dismayed his department had just wasted a couple of years duplicating an experiment whose data had already been analyzed (and hypothesis rejected) by another agency a little further south. I realized then it wasn’t just the fire department suffering from lack of communication. During this same era, the Internet was beginning to become widely available, along with the rapidly growing newsgroups areas. I believe it was early in 1994, I submitted an Employee Suggestion to my agency to establish a place on the corporate computers for employees to input and respond to specific discussion group areas. Details included at least one area for each sub-department, i.e. personnel, fire, timber, engineering; a volunteer to moderate each group (remember moderated newsgroups?); how the existing computer system could easily handle the structure; and how it could be accomplished with little impact to the agency information system managers.
Some time after submitting the suggestion I asked my fire manager if he had seen it and what his thoughts were. I don’t remember his exact response other than it was less than enthusiastic, but I do remember one comment. “It sounds like just another way for employees to waste more time at their computers,” he said. So, I shut up and waited patiently to see if anyone else in the chain of command had enough insight to see any potential benefit.
I recently (six years later) inquired one last time to try and discover any clues as to the fate of the suggestion and found, without much surprise, there are none. It simply disappeared. If there existed any benefit to the government from the suggestion (as of yesterday wildlandfire.com’s main page has received over 67,000 hits on the main page), then the employee suggestion process appears, at least this time, to have failed.
A while back I heard a rumor that a highly placed agency official, commenting on “they said”, asked why the agency didn’t have something like that “inhouse” for their employees. Well Sir, you could have and for that matter, you still can.
I’m not sure when I first began creating the web site. The archives of “they said” begin in October of 1997, but in the beginning I gave little thought to archiving, so I suspect it was sometime after the summer of 1996 when I would have had the most free time. The site began as a personal website with a whopping two megs of space under one ISP, then obtained its own domain in July of ’98 with its current host and a substantially larger space for growth.
In 1996 there were very few Internet sites pertaining to or for wildland fire. There were a handful of sites I recall with a few Smokey Bear type prevention messages, some photos, and I think one of the wildland fire mags was gearing up, but there were no discussion areas, newsgroups, or in-depth places to find specific information or ask questions. There wasn’t even a place to read the National Situation Report, hard to believe, huh? I’ve held high hopes for some of the wildland newsgroups as they emerged during the last few years, but as others who’ve observed or attempted participation have noted, they seem to quickly degenerate into internal bickering, or spam.
There are currently several wildland fire related web sites with autopost discussion areas that contain good, solid content, and faithful, continuing readership on a variety of specific subjects. However, I feel, and ever-increasing traffic indicates that wildlandfire.com continues to provide its original purpose. The obvious difference in the auto-posting sites and wildlandfire.com is that “they said” allows anonymous posting. There are many reasons the posters to “they said” wish to keep their names private and it’s seldom due to any whistle blowing or negative comments. One thing which should be obvious to long time readers is, your email addresses are NOT and will NEVER be revealed, shared, or sold to ANYONE without YOUR explicit, written permission.
To summarize, I began wildlandfire.com because I felt there was a demand for it. The motivation to create and maintain the site may just stem from needing to prove my ideas were valid. Well, that’s it, I hope I’ve fully answered your “why” question without being toooooo long winded.
Now, who is Abercrombie? Abercrombie is the dirt digg’in, hose pull’in, shovel flipp’in, dozer boss’in, rotor lov’in, firefighter in all of us. Abercrombie has always had more questions than answers. Abercrombie is unable to stop asking why. He feels people are capable of and willing to do a much better job if they understand the “why” in addition to knowing “how”. Abercrombie likes to push people’s buttons sometimes to provoke an honest response. Abercrombie has a few of his own buttons get pushed occasionally, although he seems to be getting better at slowing his emotional responses.
When I first began the “they said” discussion area I used the term Editor, or Ed. to post replies or comments. This worked ok at first, but began to seem a bit pompous and lacked any character or personality. Thus Abercrombie was created. The choice of Abercrombie for a moniker was arbitrary and was mainly selected for its ability to be easily remembered (and so most folks would quickly identify it as an alias).
As time passed and site traffic increased along with the daily messages, I realized my goal of updating the site at least once a day, especially during fire seasons was becoming increasingly difficult. With the increased workload and the fact that I am occasionally in locations without the time or ability to update, I began seeking help. I approached a few reliable individuals to see if they were willing to assist posting new messages. Admittedly, not all were enthused at the prospect, however enough responded to provide coverage that surpassed my highest expectations.
I will take this opportunity to offer my deepest, heartfelt thanks to those folks for their excellent, uncompensated, and anonymous commitment. They have responded, often at a moment’s notice for extended periods, to enable the uninterrupted flow of information the viewers of this site expect.
So, you see, I must confess, Abercrombie is a. . . collective. Others were assimilated.
I’ve received comments from readers about Ab’s propensity to refer to himself in the third person. Several readers questioned if there were more than one person replying as Ab and I’m sure others have merely assumed as much. It’s not as easy as one may think for another individual to try and adopt Abercrombie’s character on an intermittent basis, but I think (and I hope readers agree) an admirable job has been done. Their capable support allows me to take time I need to attend to personal or job related events, or even accept fire assignments.
There is one last issue to address before closing. I am aware there may be those who find fault or disagree with wildlandfire.com and certain content therein. I acknowledge and support their right to disagree while I encourage their active response to any topics they find offensive. I realize, as with any form of medium encouraging free speech, there are and will always be some who are intolerant of opposing or conflicting opinions and ideals. I am, however, disappointed by certain individuals who appear to allow personal opinions to influence their official actions as they promote censorship by removing links to wildlandfire.com from their web pages. Rumors indicate the link-removers justified their actions by pointing to and denouncing one small phrase, taken entirely out of context, from the thousands of letters on hundreds of subjects posted on “they said”.
The phrase they objected to? [short drum roll] “Sex-change operation”. Quick, fellow firefighters, cover the eyes of any juveniles in the room who may be trying to read this over your shoulder.
Disappointed? Yes. Willing to attempt to control Abercrombie’s thoughts, modify any web content or deviate from the original mission to please a few misguided at the sacrifice of many? Hardly. Wildlandfire.com was around years prior to the link removing sites and has every intention of remaining committed to the ideals and practice of free speech and not-always-politically-correct information exchange. We will continue to contribute our time and services to promote the wealth, knowledge, and safety of all wildland firefighters. In fact, actions such as these (which invoke an image of my employee suggestion being shredded) may just provide the stimulation Abercrombie requires to keep going during a long, hot, dry fire season (not to mention the next fifty years).
I encourage anyone unhappy with the existence of wildlandfire.com or mislead by speculation or groundless accusations to personally investigate the content of the site with an open mind. To help alleviate any concern from the suspicious, I offer the following information. Contrary to rumor, myself and any others who have participated in creating, maintaining, updating, or otherwise promoting this site, have done so on their own time using their own resources and equipment. I have yet to accept a single penny in payment, contribution, or donation from anyone under any pretense since this site began operation (although I appreciate the intent of those offering). Anyone assisting my venture in this site is without the benefit of any monetary payment or promise of financial gain.
There may be an absence of journalism or legal graduates here, but as professionals, technicians and firefighters, we are all aware of our job related vs. personal, rights, rules, and responsibilities.
Take care my friends in fire, be safe this most promising and dangerous season so we may all enjoy its end and return home to our loved ones. Take time to remember those firefighters who came before you and those families who have lost their firefighting members. Know that Abercrombie and I have learned far more about fire and those who fight them, from you the readers, than our contributions to this site will ever be able to repay.
The “Original” Abercrombie.