2021 WOR Day 5: Understanding Group Dynamics

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Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jul 2021

Thirtymile Fire – July 10th, After the Shelter Deployment

Watch Learning from the Thirtymile Fire video from 1:19:00 minutes to the end

Remembering those that lost their lives on the Thirtymile Fire. From left to right; top row, Tom Craven and Karen FitzPatrick.; bottom row, Devin Weaver and Jessica Johnson.

Remembering those that lost their lives on the Thirtymile Fire. From left to right; top row, Tom Craven and Karen FitzPatrick.; bottom row, Devin Weaver and Jessica Johnson.

When it appeared safe, and there was communication with air attack, everyone from the road exited their shelters. After 15 minutes, moving to the sandbar they joined the crew member in the river. One of the squad bosses radioed for help, saying they were not in a condition to self-extricate. The Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) that had already organized for a rescue operation had to make two attempts to access the entrapment site due to heat and fallen snags. Upon arrival, the IHC Superintendent assumed control of the incident until local law enforcement arrived.

The crew member who didn’t have gloves was found in shock with second and third degree burns on his hands. Others had minor burns and smoke inhalation issues.

The four remaining crew members in the rock scree were still unaccounted for. The IHC was unable to access the area where the shelters were deployed due to heat, burning material, and rolling rocks. They attempted to make vocal contact—but received no response.

It was later determined that four firefighters—Tom Craven, Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson, and Devin Weaver—died during the burnover.

To this point we’ve focused on what happened.  Now, take a moment and learn about who it happened to. Each of them were wildland firefighters doing their job, just like you. You have heard the stories of some of the survivors.  Here is a chance to learn about those who were lost.

Organizational Learning

Following these tragic events, the Thirtymile Accident Prevention Action Plan was created. One of its action items addresses the early development of what we now know as the Leadership Curriculum: The curriculum must specifically address how group dynamics influence situation awareness, communications, group judgments, decision-making, and responsibility for individual personal actions.

Have we succeeded in addressing these topics in our training?

A purple ribbon symbolizing remembrance of those who have passed away. Discussion Questions:

Use events described above and your experience to answer:

  • What are the group dynamics on your crew, team, or group?  Consider conducting this Crew Cohesion Assessment.
  • How do group dynamics influence situation awareness?
  • How do group dynamics influence communications?
  • How do group dynamics influence decision-making?


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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