An after action review is a meeting usually held by the District Protection Forester (my boss) after a large incident (of which 99% of the time is a fire) where those involved in the incident can get together and
constructively discuss the events that took place on the incident.
The incident I wish to concentrate this After Action Review concerns my employment at the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) for the 2007 season. The meeting was called at the beginning of my employment with the agency and every member of the district I worked with or spoke with concerning the state of my employment at ODF and the state of ODF in general were the members in attendance. What follows is merely my record of the meeting, a compilation of notes and thoughts into a blog entry.
Coming back to work for ODF on my first day was nothing short of surreal. One day I was saying goodbye to all my friends, some of whom I may never see again, and the next I was immersed in a world I thought I had left behind for good a year ago. Needless to say, there was much reminiscing with old friends and a lot of getting acquainted with new hires. Instead of being on a hand crew this year, I had the opportunity to work on an engine which provided me with an opportunity to learn and become familiar with an area in the district instead of having to rely solely on a map for direction. My engine crew was good; one of the members was a fellow UofO student (an anomaly because most student/workers at ODF are from OSU) and the other was a school teacher. We all seemed to get along OK.
Two weeks in (right after all training and refreshment courses) we started getting hazardous weather (read: lightning) that led to our first wave of fires. We fought three or four smaller fires before one, which had been sitting dormant, found the right time to start up and burned 160 acres, trapping my crew on one side of the hill. Long story short: fun times.
Alas, the good times didn’t last for long contrary to what we were hoping for. What looked like one of the more promising seasons of firefighting quickly disintegrated into a rather dormant year for fires. Things started getting boring around the office and around our entire district. This usually leads to boredom which, in turn, leads to ODF veteran’s favorite pastime: gossip (aka: s**t talking).
Certain ODF vets were every bit as bad about gossip as they were in years past (which is disheartening in every sense) while a very select set of others, instead of seperating themselves from it, became rather adapt at the art of complaining. By the end of the season, it seemed as if everyone had at least one person they absolutely hated at ODF. Most hated people that contributed to gossip. In turn, they would vocalize their hatred in the form of gossip serving only to perpetuate the cycle of hatred at ODF.
The season ended with a small lighting bust and the mass realization that our boss often times had no plans for any of the days we worked (on the occasions that he bothered to show up) coupled with the constant state of gossip and animous feelings towards fellow crew members that resulted in the premature seasonal departure of many distinguished wildland firefighters.
Fortunately for me, there were a ton of little moments that made the season bearable. I changed engine crews two or three times. We had a guard station that we could go to during the day instead of headquarters where we could escape the majority of s**t talking that took place. We re-discovered areas in our district that hadn’t been patrolled in who-knows-how-long.
All in all, the season seemed to pass by very slow, was overshadowed with less than desirable moments, but resulted in good paychecks and a (small) sense of purpose this summer. I’m glad I did it, I’m glad it’s over, and I’ll be glad to get back to school and forget the bad stuff.