and safety of responders operating in high-risk
environments. The simple fact of using your own
personal experiences or those of others to hone
and shape the skills of the team is tried and tested.
I am an advocate of supervisors modeling correct
behavior to subordinates, and one elemental behav-
ior is humble self-assessment. The forum or tool to
demonstrate this desired behavior is the AAR.
Effective leaders are constantly looking for ways
to improve their individual performance and that
of the team. The strategies to improve that are identified during an AAR are the fundamental first steps
in making positive change. Capturing the effectiveness and areas in need of improvement of an entire
organization at the completion of a fire season
drives change at the macro scale.
ACTIVE LISTENING IS FUNDAMENTAL
For the AAR process to be effective, each member
present must be actively engaged in listening to the
issues raised by all the members present. The true
value of the answers to the question asked and ideas
raised can’t be realized if nobody is listening. We
must all drop the default reaction of defensiveness
when the need for improvement in our individual
or team’s performance is identified.
If all members present understand that the AAR
is not meant to cast blame or to embarrass, then
recommendations can be captured and imple-
mented. I can’t stress the fact enough that active
listening must be used during an AAR.
Wildland fire response is a high-risk operation
that can quickly grow to affect many aspects of our
modern society. Wildland fire can threaten homes,
civilian lives, critical watersheds, and major infrastructure in a very compressed timeline.
We in the fire service owe it to our communities
to be as highly effective, well trained and equipped,
and ready to improve as humanly possible. The
seasonal level AAR process is a perfect activity to
start that improvement process. Positive actions and
negative outcomes experienced during the 2016 fire
season can be identified and discussed and
improvement strategies developed. It is important
to recognize both positives and negatives directly
experienced by one’s team or others in your
operational area so as to correct or emulate during
the upcoming 2017 fire season. We owe that to
ourselves and to those who have gone before us.
Todd McNeal is a 26-year veteran of the fire service and chief of
Twain Harte Fire in Tuolumne County, California. He has a diverse
background in wildland and structural fire management and
suppression and has been serving as a division/group supervisor
on a Federal Type II Incident Management Team for 10 years.
McNeal has been an instructor in the fire service for 15 years,
holds numerous ICS qualifications in wildland operations, is a
registered instructor with California State Fire Training and a
California fire officer, and has a bachelor’s degree in natural