The Consequences of Politically Correct Management

When the Forest Service changed to a Politically Correct organization it resulted in hindering old standards of supervision.  It took the authority to hire and fire away leaving the supervisors with the full responsibility of those peoples’ well-being and the safety of subordinates but less authority to act as before.

When selected as a Hot Shot superintendent I hired my temporary personnel.  I made out the pay documents.  I set the rules of behavior and let it be known that they would be enforced with discipline and at the worst-case termination.  I found that this authority assured compliance and terminations were few.

As the District Fire staff on two districts I had occasion to terminate some who deserved it:  One was a crew person who exposed his genitals to a Forest Service wife in the station compound.  Two were guys found to be spreading fire as a crew was cutting fire line.  Another was a firebug suspect who was finally caught in the act.  The last person terminated directly was using drugs on duty, which was a firing offense.  This was just before political correctness (PC) was implemented.  How does one supervise someone if you cannot provide discipline when needed?

On some fire assignments some crew supervisors have taken their crew into high hazard situations and been run out.  How many crew leaders have used a frightening situation to create a feeling in the crew of acceptance to follow the leader anywhere?  Proper overseeing would be to sit the supervisor on a stump and tell the person to read the fire better and avoid these situations in the future.  Do it again and you will be disciplined.

Fred Schoeffler’s paper has it right, that poor tactical actions that are risky but with no bad outcome are reoccurring with little proper oversight.  What are the basic tools for proper supervision?  Oversight is needed for the supervisor and by the supervisor.  A weak link here is a potential built-in human factor problem.

I can just hear cries that we cannot go back to past procedures as PC makes things much better in the work place.  Is it our vision is to abolish discipline administered by supervisors and replace it with write them up and report them to my superior?   Crew supervisors need to have responsibility and authority to properly manage a group of firefighters.  Supervision by “snitch” is just not acceptable as a viable control.

Crew supervisors and managers no longer provide common sense supervision practices under the current management program.   Could failure of supervision be the unintended consequence of an agency attempting to become politically correct?

Providing appropriate supervision has been curtailed to the firefighters that deserve proper supervision.  I think there is a lot more on this side of the problem to discuss but managing by PC may be a design fault. Unless proper authority to provide control to crew supervisors is restored the human factor accidents will continue to be a problem.  It will not be fixed until this constraint of limited authority to properly manage firefighters is removed.

Supervisors should have oversight also.  If a supervisor oversteps authority, the supervisor should be disciplined.

A reasonable recommendation would be to develop supervisors to use the authority properly.  Depending on rules and guidelines like the ten’s and eighteens are necessary but not infallible.  Crew supervisors usually prioritize the rules when sizing up an assignment.  How important is my chosen escape route or my selected safe area today?  If people misread the fire potential they cannot accurately predict fire changes that may be important.  In high risk environments supervisors need to be competent. 

We should not make heroes of victims of poor decisions; rather we should make heroes of people who do it right. The heroes are the people who lead crews in effective tactics and have no accidents in their past.

When Heroes are made of the firefighters who have been injured or killed what message does that send to the new hires?  Do some think they too would like to be known as a hero?

Why do we think that victims of accidental burnovers are heroes?

Maybe we should seriously define our vision; that is, what one wants to become.  Be careful what you wish for.

Many firefighters have made improvements to things within their control.  These folks have gone beyond what was required and contributed improvements based on their experience and proven results.

Some examples are: Training, Readiness, Accountability and Proficiency (TRAP Drill programs) and IAP on I-pad. Wildfire Management Tool, “WMT”, which is a quick way to display weather values and BEHAVE calculations on a map using any mobile device.  Another example is the Campbell Prediction System publication and training course.  This was taught in many states in the United States, Canada, and Spain, accepted by field level management folks as a standard for how to read a wildfire and predict the changes in that arena.

This should be a goal for all firefighters and managers.  Unfortunately, in this PC environment they face resistance to many good improvements.  Sure, they can apply for an employee’s suggestion idea but that seems not enough.

By Doug Campbell

4 thoughts on “The Consequences of Politically Correct Management

  1. Given that personnel management is in itself a minefield, subject to the interpretation of the rules and regulations of a bureaucracy that exists within a litigious society, any supervisor is well served to read the tea leaves and decide where to “draw the line” before they act independently. That ability to interpret options within your decision space requires being on the same page up and down the chain of command. That task is fairly easy at the lower levels of the food chain, but becomes a bit more fuzzy as one looks for support from the levels above. Bottom line- what kind of an organization does your organization want to be? One good element within any organization is honestly. Another is trust. Both those elements are the best defense against the organizational politics that rock no boats and serve no purpose.

  2. I, as a T2 overhead, and FMO, fired 2 crew members. One for sexual harassment, one for constanly talking back to his supervisor snd I told one not to apply next summer as a firefighter for being lazy. I had to keep these employees on an extra 7 days for them to appeal
    to the Supervisor’s office. On one of them, i sent her back to my disrict and said I would deal with the situation when I returned! T I felt like I was in a inquisition for firing these people and I told the Forest Supervisor’s office I supported my Crewbosses, because I trusted them! I feel that these decions should not have been questioned, I was fine with doing write ups but not the questioning!

  3. Love love love love this article. Although written for wildland fire fighting it also is the exact way I feel in the SSS role. Bottom line let me supervise or take away the responsibility. I’m a good employee who works hard, puts in long hours, goes the extra mile, helps out with militia ORDM, but I follow command. I have been told my supervision style is “old school” “commands respect” and to that I told my DDR thank you😆

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