Defining the Operational Environment
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.
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
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.
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.
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