The Wildland Firefighter’s Ethos: Part 2


A Three-Part Blog Series supported by:

The American Wildfire Experience 2019 Micro-Grant Award

Part Two- Respect.

On paper, everyone must give respect to their fellow co-workers. That sounds swell, but “on paper” is not where we fight fire.

There is an unspoken rule amongst the ranks of the Wildland Firefighting community; everyone must earn their spot. They need to prove that they want and deserve to be there. Respect is not given just by walking through the door.

Blatantly stating this reality might be jarring and it could even make some people angry, but it shouldn’t. Not when we stop to make the very important distinction between respect and dignity.


dig·​ni·​ty | \ ˈdig-nə-tē \

Is the right of a person to be valued for their own sake, and to be treated ethically.


re·​spect | \ ri-ˈspekt \

A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Each person’s dignity is to be honored without exception, but as we can plainly see from the definitions above, respect is given to someone once they’ve done something to deserve it and in fire that takes effort.

Earning your spot is a right of passage. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone who is brand new in fire or if it’s a Hotshot Superintendent switching crews; every person needs to prove themselves to their fellow crewmembers and I, for one, don’t think that this is a bad system. In fact, I’d give it my golden seal of approval.

Respect 2

Anybody who has spent at least one season in fire understands the demands of this job and has realized the potential for bad outcomes on the fireline.

In the wildfire community, you’ll hear the phrase, “you can only move as fast as your slowest person,” and we use that phrase for a reason. We will not leave the slowest person behind if something goes south, which means that if someone is lacking in any of the necessary skill sets or physical requirements that the job demands they are legitimately putting their fellow crewmembers in harm’s way. So yes, respect is earned, and rightly so, but how?

By moving with a purpose, volunteering for everything, showing up early, taking more in a line dig, learning from those around you, packing something extra that benefits fellow crewmembers, and by being reliable.Respect

It’s about being the type of person that you would want to have on either side of you if things went sideways. It’s about respecting your fellow crewmembers enough to show up ready to do the work, and if you’re struggling be humble enough to ask for help. It’s about being an asset to the crew rather than a liability. Then, and only then, should any of us expect to have respect bestowed upon us or reciprocated.


Duty. Respect.




*Look for the release of Part 3 next week*

To read more wildland fire related posts click here.