The Wildland Firefighter’s Ethos: Part 3


A Three-Part Blog Series supported by:

The American Wildfire Experience 2019 Micro-Grant Award

Part Three- Integrity.

It is the third and final segment to our fire ethos triangle and it’s also the most crucial. Integrity is the foundation upon which we build our camaraderie and without camaraderie the “fire family” of which we are all a part, would cease to exist.


in·​teg·​ri·​ty | \ in-ˈte-grə-tē \

Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values. 

What does integrity look like in motion?

It’s pointing the finger inward before pointing the finger outward. Integrity involves consistently examining your own shortcomings and striving for improvement simply because you aim to be the best version of yourself. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions rather than throwing someone else under the bus and above all else; it’s what you do (or don’t do) when no one else is looking.

Integrity is a building block of trust. Being capable, competent, and proficient in your position simply isn’t enough. The fire community requires more from each of us and we have a moral obligation to rise to the occasion.


An IHC on a dusty uphill hike.

Each fire season crews rebuild their camaraderie, folding new folks into the mix every spring. People size each other up and figure out where, and how each crewmember fits and what they can contribute to the crew.

Rookies have an incredible amount to learn, know, and understand, which may come in the form of hose drills, crew hikes, sand-table exercises, 10 and 18 quizzes, etc. These are learning opportunities, not punishments. It’s entirely possible that new crewmembers could feel as if they are being held at arms length until they’ve proven themselves through effort or out on the fireline; which, oddly enough, has no relation to being liked or disliked.

That last paragraph holds a certain value that experienced firefighters tend to take for granted. If you aren’t a rookie and you read the above paragraph it all seems very obvious; this is the crux.  It is our collective duty to explain these things to new firefighters at the outset rather than assume that they understand our cultural norms.

Earning your spot and bullying may look the same to a person who was never provided the why. Why are you making me run hose lay drills? Why do you keep quizzing me on the Standard Fire Orders? Why don’t I feel like I’m “in” when I’ve been working here for 3 weeks already? Earning your spot and being bullied are not the same thing and it’s pretty crucial for experienced firefighters to clarify the difference to those coming up under their guidance.

Expectations in this profession are high, so set expectations of yourself even higher. High expectations placed upon any of us should not be a deterrent, but rather a goal to reach and surpass.

When we clearly define our expectations and what success looks like it’s akin to handing someone a map with a marked drop point rather than having them guess where you want them to end up. This is how we can set people up for success rather than setting them up for failure.


Being able to rely on the person to your left and right to pull their own weight in the most challenging of circumstances is not a small ask for any of us, trust is everything.

Integrity driven actions are a point of pride in wildland fire, which is imperative because we don’t always have someone looming over our shoulder to ensure that we are doing “the right thing.”


Thank you cards posted at a fire camp.

The public has bestowed upon the fire community the great gift of honor. Each of us carries the awesome responsibility and privilege of representing that through our actions.

Duty. Respect. Integrity.



*Check back for The Wildland Firefighter’s Ethos full combination post*

To read more Wildland Fire related posts click here.