Bias for Action

Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2020


Leaders in the wildland fire service are not only empowered but also duty-bound to act on a situation that is within our power to affect, even without direction from above.

This empowerment is not intended to encourage freelancing.  In a high-risk environment, freelancing is a dangerous and unpredictable element, causing more harm than good.  Ultimately, leaders are always accountable for their actions.

  • A bias for action acknowledges wildfire as an environment where events do not always go according to plan.
  • At times during an incident, one person may be the only one in a position to see what needs to be done and to make it happen. 
  • Time may not permit gathering all of the information that one might like to have; if you wait until you have all the facts to be 100% sure it will almost always be too late.

In these time-critical situations, fire leaders use judgment, act within the intent of their leaders, work in unison with others, develop and communicate a plan, and then inform leaders of actions as soon as safely possible.

On a chaotic and rapidly developing wildfire, one person taking the initiative can make all the difference in seizing and taking advantage of an opportunity.  Being hesitant, risk-averse, or indecisive can expose firefighters to greater long-term risks and translate into a waste of time, opportunity, energy, and money.

Discussion Points

  • Discuss the difference between freelancing and a bias for action.
  • Describe and discuss instances of taking appropriate action and indecisiveness / non-action.
  • How are some ways we train for situations requiring a bias for action?


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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