Monday, July 12, 2010

Farewell To Reid!

It has been a long while since the last post. There is a lot to catch up on, and I am sure that in time those posts about the crews pre-season activities will be shared. I wanted to share my thanks with all of those who follow this blog. I have been given an opportunity to move on in my career. I have been the Helitack Supervisor for Zion National Park for going on 6 years. Sometimes the road has been bumpy, sometimes full of danger and excitement. There has been plenty of long days, and some that lacked the ability to capture my memories. Altogether it has been a defining experience to support this program in becoming more than it was when I arrived.

I have accepted a position with Aviation Management as an Aviation Training Specialist. Those who know me will understand that this position combines two loves that I have. One for aviation and its use in resource management, the other for training which is the keystone of every good crew and employee. I hope to join a new team of professional individuals that are striving to support our many DOI field units, and their training needs.

I have left the crew with as much knowledge as I had the time to deliver... I have left them very capable of continuing in a positive and respectable way. It is difficult for me to express in words the mix of emotions that I feel! I watched the crew role out to a fire today, and my heart desired to be with them... My hope is that the next Helicopter Manager to call this crew "theirs", will spend the time, energy, and thought required to continue it's growth. There are no perfect crews, but there are crews with the desire to become perfect... That is what my hope is for this crew, that it never loses that desire. Through my own experience I am keenly aware of the fact that the Helitack Supervisor creates the stage by which the crew will achieve or fail. I hope that my successor is also aware of that, and does his/her best to support this crew in achieving greater things.

I have left the blog to capable hands on the crew... this will be my last post. I would encourage those who have become fans of this blog to continue their support. I too will become a faithful follower of the activities that Zion Helitack has in the future...

Cheers, Have a great Season... and we'll see you on the "flip side" of things!
Michael L. Reid (M.L.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Crew is on... Reid attended Honor Guard training... Hillsboro aviation has been on sight for the past week with the brand new 407... and today members of the crew took their first flight on and under the helicopter.

There has been a lot of activity over the past three weeks with the crew. We experienced the crew coming on and going through the activities that often accompany the first week of employment. It was a long week and a crash course in personalities. During that week Reid was absent as he was attending training for the first ever formed Honor Guard for fire within the National Park Service. Something that Zion can be proud to be a part of. The crew followed up week one with a solid week of training... most everyone on the crew had some course that they were either a part of or preparing for. It was another busy week of everyone going a different direction. Runyan, our new assistant, joined us on Sunday. We are excited to welcome him to the crew. He is quickly adjusting to life with the crew.... Hillsboro Aviation has been on sight for about 10 days now. The pilots have been preparing very diligently for what has occured over the past couple of days. Short-haul training began a couple of days ago... today we took our first flights under the belly of a brand new 407. It was a huge culmination of an immense amount of effort in planning and training. Zion Helitack has become a short-haul qualified program. Lay spent two weeks training with the Guard... we are proud to have a member of our armed services on the crew, and we support him in his efforts to enhance this country and its borders. Also we teamed up for a 5K mud run that happened this last weekend. Our crew did well... and represented in honorable fashion at the New Harmony VFD fundraiser mud run.

So as I started... lots to report! I have plenty of video and pictures and when I get a moment to do so... I will post individual posts about each of the things mentioned above. Until then....

stay safe!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mill Flat Fire - Official Report!

The Mill Flat Fire - Discovered on July 25th, it was determined that the fire in the Pine Valley mountains above New Harmony was a good candidate for a "resource benefit" managed event. On August 29th, over a month later, the Mill Flat fire experienced a rapid growth event and descended out of the Pine Mountain Wilderness into the town of New Harmony. August 31st, 2009 a Type 1 Incident Management Team (Muir) transitioned with local management to engage, coral, and extinguish the resource benefit fire that had become a nightmare for local residents in Southern Utah's town of New Harmony.
For a month, residents of New Harmony and Firefighters alike had watched with anticipation and anxiety as the Mill Flat Fire grew in strength. Initially the fire was located in an area where the re-introduction of aspen would have been beneficial to the forest. The introduction of the aspen required a disturbance event much like a fire, and in the early days of the Mill Flat Fire it looked as though "Mother Nature" had chosen the time and place to ensure regeneration of the aspen within the Pine Mountain Wilderness. Something that local land managers were in support of. Everything looked good for about a month... but due to the growth of the fire and change in conditions, the fire was heading for an event that no one anticipated and everyone feared.

When the uncontrolled Wildland Fire, called the Mill Flat, came down off the mountainside it did so with a fury unmatched. It burned long into the evening, well beyond the hours of operation for the aerial assault that was taking place earlier in the day. It felt as though the efforts that the helicopters and air-tankers had made earlier in the day were fruitless. In fact the aviation show had been shut down earlier than nightfall due to the intense winds that were driving the raging inferno. As the town was evacuated, firefighter retreated to a fallback position. Structures had been evaluated for structure protection previously in preparing for worst event scenario, and now as that fell upon the firefighters in the ash of a raging wildfire it was evident that the actions to be taken would be heroic if they were to save every structure. They battled through the night, and in the morning it was reported that several structures had been lost. It wasn't for the lack of effort from the firefighters on the line, as they had engaged the fire toe to toe. In the end despite every effort made by the firefighters, the rage of the inferno and the lack of preparation on the part of some residents made for a losing battle.

As we prepared for the incoming type 1 management team, we spoke with many of the residents located within the area of destruction. In their minds the result of the fire might as well have been a Nuclear Explosion. The land in and around structures standing and destroyed, looked like devastation. It was a difficult fire to extinguish... and the efforts of the firefighters that were on the line should be commended by all.

So the question remains... why didn't local managers take action to engage the fire, earlier in its growth? The answer to this question may not be black and white. In many ways the answer is subjective at best. In our careers as firefighters we understand one thing better than most, "hindsight is 20/20"! So rather than point fingers, or issue judgement we wish to share with you the final report issued just last month. Take a moment to read it, and in your own subjective manner you can feel free to render your own judgement. In so doing, please understand... there is a distinction between decision that are made on a national, regional, and local level by managers and policy makers from those that are engaged in exercising action based on those decisions. Basically, don't disregard the efforts that those young men and women firefighters took to engage this wildland fire. They are heroic actions that put their lives in jeopardy! So be critical of decisions that were made by all levels of management, however don't be judgemental of the firefighters that did their best when the opportunity to fight the fire was given to them.

Here is the link to the final report...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Zion Helicopter Contract Awarded!

Finally... it has been a long time coming. Today we were informed that the contract solicitation for Zion N.P.'s exclusive use helicopter, has been awarded.

Congratulations to Hillsboro Aviation. They will be returning to Cedar City Utah for the 2010 season. This time bringing with them a Bell 407 instead of the L-4.
The new aircraft, less than 100 hrs of flight on it, was delivered to Hillsboro at the end of 2009. The above picture shows our primary pilot, Nicole Ludwig, at the controls of this beautiful machine (N407HL).

This picture shows the 407 doing some training work, full down collective. With this new aircraft comes a brand new fuel vehicle as well. The 800 gallon Dodge truck will be a welcome addition to the contract. This year Hillsboro will also provide us with a mechanic, per contract requirement. It will be good to have a mechanic/driver with us each day to watch over the maintenance of the helicopter.

4 years ago we broke in, what was a near new aircraft... we are once again going to have the pleasure of breaking in an even newer aircraft. So for the crewmembers who will be joining our team this year... start wrapping your mind around the new call sign "seven-hotel-lima". This may be a difficult task for several of us who have been used to the look (which hasn't changed much) and call sign of our previous aircraft (420RL). I personally feel that "seven-hotel-lima" rolls off the tongue a little smoother.

Congrats to Hillsboro Aviation... we look forward to teaming up with you for another contract period!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wildland Firefighter Foundation

Took a moment this evening to watch a wonderful video that was sent to me. It is a short 15 minutes of explanation concerning the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. I, like many others in this industry, have lost people I cared about to wildland fires. The business of fighting wildland fires is dangerous. The compensation for long hours in terrible conditions is sometimes insulting, but then most who have been wildland firefighters for any time at all do so for a love that is deeper than the money they receive. I would encourage you to take a few minutes and watch this video...

Wildland Firefighter Foundation 2010 from Paul Steele on Vimeo.

The Wildland Firefighter Foundation is a valuable part of the society that every firefighter belongs to. It is comforting to know that should something go wrong my loved ones will have support that extends beyond immediate family... to a much larger family... my fire family!

If you are not a member of the 52 club... then join! If you are a current member of the 52 club, my heartfelt thanks for your unselfish support! As we head into the 2010 fire season, it is my hope and prayer that we all come home safely...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Helitack Videos

I am sad to say... the video's that had been posted needed to be removed. Unfortunately, some of the comments being received from the videos reflected a portion of the public that felt as if the government employees were waisting tax paying dollars. I can understand how a person might have that opinion after watching the videos, however I tend to disagree. What we do in the Wildland Firefighting community is not only dangerous but demanding. Young men and women work 16 hour days only to return to a tent and a sleeping bag for rest. Often times we are sleeping in a camp where generators and lights keep you up for hours beyond retiring to bed and wake you up hours before you need to be up. Most people run on 5-6 hours of sleep each night, only to return to a very tough and demanding job the next day. If you have ever managed a crew like this, you know how difficult it is to keep the moral of the crew at an acceptable level. I would be the first to say that we represent the Government and must act accordingly... I would also say that the public should understand that the job is fraught with long hours for mediocre pay and plenty of discomfort and risk. To allow a crew to enjoy a moment or two of silly antics is a small substitute for all that our firefighters do on a daily basis.

Perhaps I am critical in sharing my opinion... however, here I go! Show me a professional who has not left work physically or mentally a few minutes early, or someone who has not taken a pen or pencil from the office. Show me a person who has not jumped on the company computer to take care of personal chores or look at something totally unrelated to their job. Show me the person who hasn't stopped by a store while running a company errand, or arrived at work a few minutes late. I believe that most everyone, with very few exceptions, have found themselves doing something that could be considered unproductive, or down right theft of property (be it time or money). Wouldn't that make most of those who point the finger at a group of young men and claim, "they are waisting government time" hypocritical?

Studies have shown that happy employees are harder workers... perhaps allowing them the opportunity to film a few moments during work time is the inappropriate thing to do, but I would ask what is appropriate? Is it the times on a Helibase where upper management sits around telling stories of heroic actions that they took in the past, despite those "war stories" being unrelated to the task at hand? Is it the times during a meeting when employees complain about policy and management for what turns into hours? Is it the extra long lunch that was taken in order to drop a letter by the post office, or enjoy the company of a friend that you haven't seen in a very long time? I could point out hours of waste that I have seen within the Government... and it isn't just the Government. I am sure anyone reading this could share moments of observed time that was wasted at their offices or that they have seen doing errands on a daily basis.

I support the job that our firefighters do... I support the idea that they are often placed in situations where time is wasted, and it is not due to their actions. I know that as Government employees we represent something beyond ourselves, and must act with a level of integrity. However, why is it we can't support a moment of jovial fun that allowed everyone watching to laugh for a moment before going back to the hard, demanding, and dangerous work that they were doing? As a manager of a group of highly trained professionals who struggle at times to maintain a level of moral, I think it is the little things we do that make the difference for our people. I like to look at it in this way... I demand a high level of action and accomplishment from my people. So when the moment arises, where productivity won't be hurt and the consequences of action are minuscule, why not let your employees relax! Get off of their backs, if only for a moment or two, and let them enjoy what they do. In the end they will work harder, smarter, and longer for you when they are asked to do so.

Food for thought!