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Observations & Lessons Learned

This week I helped out on a large wildfire here in Yavapai County as a liaison trainee with an incident management team (IMT). I've been talking about getting into this for a while and this week I finally jumped in. It was the perfect scenario being close to home, knowing a lot of people connected to the team and the incident and spending most of my time with access to the internet in case something came up for my day job which was the case.

    1. New and inexperienced guy

    I have quite a bit of experience interacting with IMTs on fires that directly threatened Walker but not in the capacity of being on the team for an incident. I've have done some work along these lines for planned events which is a different thing. Being inexperienced is ok, everyone starts at some point, even guys who are experienced continue to learn

    2. Assess the group dynamic

    Like our department or just about any other organization, the team I worked with has a culture. Part of succeeding in a culture like this is being able to see how things work, to take in how things flow. There's a balance to fitting in and injecting your own personality. People who can't figure this out will have a harder time fitting in and having fun.

    3. Being there for the right reason

    Yes, the pay can be lucrative but I think it is crucial to want to be there, being part of the solution, wanting to help whoever needs help.

    4. What is your attitude

    Staying genuinely positive, not complaining and not having so much ego that you think you know it all.

    5. What impression are you making

    Part of responding to emergencies is getting a general or first impression of the scene. For a medical call, what do you see as you approach the patient, what do you see when you look at the patient and so on? This carries over to IMT members. There is a lot of interaction between the various team members. Are you the person people want to avoid for always being negative or are you likeable, willing to be part of the solution even if that requires detective work? No one wants to repeatedly have negative experiences with the same person. Some time you butt heads of course but it is not good if people think "oh man, I don't want to deal with that guy" about you.

    6. What is your personal objective(s)

    For my first incident I was hoping to start my position task book (qualification process that documents training progress for evaluation) and hope my work would leave the door open to do more with the team on future assignments. The first one, yes, I got a lot of "ink in my task book." On the second, it appears that was a success. I got to know the people who would make the decision and I feel like they went out of their way to encourage me versus "yeah, put in for it and we'll see what happens." From this standpoint, this went better than I could hope for, there more on this topic that I find encouraging but for economy of words...

    7. Stay in your lane

    This is one of several learning curves for me. There can be bad outcomes for people affected by emergencies when emergency workers get out of their lane. One part of the liaison job description is relaying information from the team (operations or command usually) to local agencies, law enforcement, certain types of companies and businesses. In this capacity, I am relaying information, not interpreting anything. You want to help but it may be bad for the people you're trying to help getting outside of the information you have.

    8. Genuine desire to learn

    Wanting to learn, being open to learning from others even if they're younger than you is vital on every level of this work.

    9. How you inject humor

    I got feedback that I did a good job of occasionally injecting humor. Cool, but I held back a lot as trying assess the dynamic as mentioned above. Some humor is good, especially laughing at yourself, but I can see where less is more.

    10. Really understand how chain of command works

    Our department has had people do IMT work before in different capacities than liaison usually. A couple of the guys could never fit in for a couple of reasons including not accepting and maintaining the chain of command. Asking why something is being done a certain way is an example of not maintaining the chain of command. Not feeling safe and not understanding something are valid questions although the safety issue is unlikely to come up very often in overhead position in an IMT. I'm no stranger to asking "how it works" questions which is about learning, not questioning tactics.

    11. Want to help and have fun

    Wanting to help and wanting to have fun works in just about every situation. Yes, there are people adversely affected by these incidents like wildfires but God forbid that is ever you, you probably want help from people who truly enjoy helping people get through emergencies.

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