The Dangers of Misinformation in Wildland Fire Aviation

The Balance of Cost versus Benefit

Wildland fire agencies have a huge reliance on the private sector to provide the assets and many times the personnel to combat wildfires.  However, this reliance comes as a double edge sword with cost versus benefit, where the benefit is often prostituted based on the advertisement, access, and experience, and cost remains commensurate with the economy.   When balanced appropriately, this is good for the economy, and the taxpayer, as it eases the burden on the governments and agencies for support and ownership of the ever-changing technology, capital investment, and maintenance.

The balance is often difficult to achieve in a multi-layered system involving Federal, State, and Local Agencies coupled with the private sector.  When discussing the benefit of experience, it is important to realize it is sometimes stove-piped and can lead to a bias based on that experience, which is not always bad, if that experience is not responsible to weigh the whole picture.  Experience in any endeavor is what employers are looking for, and what they want to keep if possible.  Why else would one be hired for a specific purpose?  If a company is in the business of utilizing an asset, why would it make sense to advocate for anything different?  It is here where the depth of one’s experience is needed for balance to start occurring.  This is where a wide view is preferable to a focused, (stove-piped) view to achieving balance.

The benefit of advertisement coupled with a good product, whether through observation, word of mouth, or direct publication is often key to the success of any brand or asset.  A good advertisement can be in the form of direct marketing using pictures, reviews, and data in the form of statistical analyses, and not limited to.  There are often whole departments assigned to do this, marketing.  However, if the person using this product, based on an advertisement or stove-piped experience, lacks the experience to see the whole picture where the use is needed, balance can be disrupted and oftentimes never achieved.  We have all seen this in our careers, over and over, where we continue to use the same tactics and behavior without any significant change in the outcome.

No one will argue the benefit of access.  Access is where it all happens when business deals and decisions are forged, and without it, businesses and agencies may pay the price.  Access is often gained through past relationships or funding, and if we are being truthful, there is no way around it.  Leaders and managers who can encourage access will always have a better chance of achieving balance than those who don’t.  Leaders and managers who can see the whole picture, without bias due to open access, will be more likely to succeed and achieve balance.

So where is all of this going?  Lately, there have been publications from both the private and government sectors regarding statistical analyses and business leadership points of view on the effectiveness of various aviation assets.  Most are predicated on marketing a specific asset, whereas others are based on a specific industry.  Our nation has two choices, we either keep repeating the same behaviors and embracing the same policies hoping for change, or we advocate for the balance of reliance.

The balance of reliance must start with an honest look at statistical data coupled with open access and depth of experience, so that realistic advertising can be measured.  The stove piping of data, statistics, and opinions is often needed but must be measured with an honest wide lens.  There are not many things I am expert about, however having spent the majority of my career in fire aviation, emergency response, program management, and education, I can comfortably say I am aware of what resources are utilized for the specific missions and expected outcomes should be.

Anyone who advocates for one asset as being the magic bullet is doing so with a clouded agenda.  Aviation resources are nothing more than tools in a firefighter’s kit to be used to control fire.  While some tools are more diverse and may be used in more than one way, each tool has a specific purpose where it is best suited.  To take them out of the toolbox or to relegate them to only one task is dangerous, and is often done so by skewed statistics, shrewd advertising, and stove-piped opinions.  It would be inconceivable to limit or take tools away from firefighters, however, that is exactly what happens when skewed data, stove-piped experience, and limited access is used to justify or effect an outcome…..

Dan Reese
Dan Reese
Dan Reese is a CAL FIRE veteran having served 20 years in the agency. Dan then went on to become the CEO of Global Super Tanker and now heads International Wilfire Consulting Group.

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