December Workforce Resilience Ignite Talk

YOU are part of Mission Critical Teams: Reflection, Reset, and Residue in Wildland Fire Management

Mission Critical Teams (MCT) are small (4-12 agents) integrated groups of indigenously trained and educated experts that leverage tools and technology to resolve rapidly emergent complex adaptive problems in an immersive, but constrained (300 seconds or less) temporal environments where the consequence of failure can be a catastrophic loss. These teams are able to consistently innovate as fast as the problem sets are adapting by moving their focus from trying to predict what problem set might emerge, to developing to human factors who will ultimately be facing the problem set.

Reflection: MCTs are made up of experts like you who hold the requisite skill and solutions but may lack the language to pass that knowledge on to the rest of the team, such as knowing how to ride a bike, but being unable to explain it to someone else. Leaders in Wildland Fire need to find the language to pass on their experience and navigate between critical and routine environments.

Reset: Wildland fire is about having one experience after another, throughout your career.  The question is how do we make meaning of those experiences in such a way that they fuel us, rather than distract us from the next experience.  Part of this is about taking the time to find purposeful meaning with After Action Reviews which actually influence the story that team members will tell about themselves, and their team, after an event.

Residue: You are not broken. You are not a victim. You are not a survivor. You have chosen the hard path—a path full of extreme experiences, both good and bad, which leave memories. These memories, in turn, leave a residue within you, which if processed can serve as the fuel that moves us to wisdom and joy. If unprocessed, however, it will begin to build up, to harden, until you can no longer move or breathe, until all you know is pain and sorrow.  MCTI rejects the idea that Operators, in Medicine, Fire, Law Enforcement and Military, must sacrifice their lives and souls, in exchange for living a life of service.

MCTI was founded in partnership with teams from U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and the FBI Critical Incident Response Group to provide research, training, and education on the development of the Human Factor so the teams can remain focused on their core mission. Since our founding in 2018, our collaborative inquiry community has grown to include teams in Aerospace (NASA), Military Special Operations (FVEY Community), Tactical Law Enforcement, Urban and Wilderness Fire Fighting, Mission Critical Medicine, and Professional Sports.

Dr. Preston B. Cline
Co-founder and Director of Research and Education at the Mission Critical Team Institute
Senior Fellow, Center for Leadership and Change Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Visiting Scholar in the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative (WiN), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Preston spent 30 years in the field of Adventure Education leading expeditions on all seven continents. These journeys became the catalyst for a lifelong academic investigation on how humans learn to interact with uncertainty. Along the way, Preston has received a B.S. from Rutgers University, focusing on professional youth work, a Masters of Education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education on risk and uncertainty, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education on the training and education of Mission Critical Teams: Small (4-12 agents), integrated groups of indigenously trained and educated experts that leverage tools and technology to resolve complex adaptive problems in an immersive, but constrained (five minutes or less), temporal environments, where the consequence of failure can be catastrophic.  In 2018, after 10 years serving as the Director of the Wharton Leadership Ventures, at the Wharton School, Preston founded the Mission Critical Team Institute, which is an applied research institute focused on the development of an international collaborative inquiry community made up of Instructor Cadres within Military Special Operations, Emergency Medicine, Tactical Law Enforcement, Aerospace, and Urban and Wilderness Fire Fighting Organizations within Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States. When he is not working with Cadre, he resides in Annapolis with his extraordinary spouse Amy.

November Ignite Talk
Containing the blaze: How can we do better? Stories from transgender people in the fire community

To celebrate Transgender Awareness Month, the IAWF is hosting a panel that includes three successful people: Bobbie Scopa, Nicki Powers, and Dr. Mika Tosca.  Our goal is to host a honest discussion that uplifts the voices and experiences of the transgender and gender non-conforming (transgender/GNC) community through conversation. There are no bad respectful questions, and we welcome an honest conversation. You are also welcome to send questions, in advance if you prefer, to Mikel ([email protected]) and/or Amber ([email protected]).

Mika Tosca is a climate scientist and faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2006, Tosca earned a BS in Mathematics-Statistics from the University of Connecticut and in 2008 earned her MS in Earth System Science from the University of California (UCI). She then completed her PhD in Earth System Science at UCI, where she researched how the climate system is interconnected to wildfires, and studied aerosol emissions using Earth system models. Her current research focuses on how artists can help communicate climate science more effectively to address climate change. Mika also contributes to science communication, including through science-art initiatives, and she is an advocate for Trans people in STEM, academia, and the media. Mika is well-published and has been interviewed and quoted often by various sources, including Inman News, AGU TV, Buzzfeed News, The Chicago Tribune, and has written for EOS magazine.

Nicki’s first S-130/190 was in 1996 while serving on a volunteer fire department in northern New Mexico. After a tour of duty in the Army, xi returned to the fire service in central Colorado for several years before moving to the Albuquerque area where xi raised two children and continued along the fire career path. Xi served primarily in a municipal fire department in a high hazard WUI environment. Xi promoted several times, served as a lead instructor in the fire academy, and eventually became the wildland fire coordinator for the county. Xir line qualifications when leaving the fire service were TFLD/ICT4. Nicki was a WTREX participant in 2017, and team member in 2019. Recently, Nicki has become a case worker and program manager for a transitional living program that helps high risk youth stabilize, get appropriate medical care, go to school, get a job, and basically become functional adults by current sociological standards.

Bobbie Scopa is a retired firefighter, author, podcast host, and public speaker. After a 45-year career on the front lines of firefights, she retired from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as the Assistant Fire Director for Operations in 2018. Since her retirement she has focused extensively on sharing her story — both as a firefighter and as a transgender woman. Ms. Scopa spent close to five decades working on nearly everything a firefighter can: From the Dude Fire in 1990, where six firefighters were tragically killed, to being at Ground Zero immediately after 9/11, to mountain rescues, city fires, mega-wildfires, and everything in between. She has experience as an Incident Commander, Division Chief, and Fire Chief, and has worked in Arizona, California, Washington, Idaho, and North Carolina. Ms. Scopa earned a B.S. in Environmental Science from Arizona State University and a Master of Forestry with an emphasis on fire management in the wildland-urban interface from North Carolina State University. She has received numerous professional awards and industry recognition, including Firefighter of the Year (1990), awarded by the Professional Firefighters of Arizona; Governor’s Award, State of Arizona (1990); Certificate of Appreciation from the City of New York for work performed at the World Trade Center in 2001; and the Unit Citation Award for efficacy in the U.S. Forest Service (2014), awarded by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. An accomplished public speaker, she regularly speaks to groups about firefighting operations and training. She is a featured speaker at the U.S. Forest Service’s “Pride Outside” diversity, equity, and inclusion event in June 2021, and other speaking engagements. Her website,, has had more than 400,000 podcast downloads since its inception two years ago. Ms. Scopa divides time between Puget Sound, Wash. and Scottsdale, Ariz.

October Ignite Talk
Giving Voice to Cultural Safety of Indigenous Wildland Firefighters in Canada

For decades, Indigenous firefighters and fire operations staff have been engaged in wildland fire suppression activities, formally and informally. Little is known or understood about the experiences of Indigenous wildland firefighting personnel. To address this deficit, we developed an online survey and virtual circles were conducted specifically for individuals who self-identified as Indigenous and worked in wildland firefighting and/or fire operations for at least one fire season in Canada.


August Ignite Talk
What does it mean to be a good ally? Actions towards allyship.

Presented by Ellen Bledsoe, PhD (she/her), Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Regina
Ellen will introduce some general terminology about inclusivity, privilege, allies, and allyship; explore the importance of coupling diversity initiatives with allyship; and guide you through identifying your own points of privilege and instances in which you can act as allies. She will provide concrete examples of how to be allies—both pre-emptively and in response to specific incidents.


July Ignite Talk
Fitness and Wellness for Performance in Wildland Firefighting

Joe Sol shares their research on sustainment and maintenance throughout the fire season.

June Ignite Talk
Wildland Firefighters Mental Health and Well-being

May 6, 2021
Nomex for Every BODY with Bria Fleming
Learn how Incidental’s various products and services are developed, and what the future might hold. Bria will share information on NFPA1977 (the safety standard that governs our uniforms), and the general state of workwear today, especially for women. We’ll discuss the process for custom-made garments, and finish with a couple quick DIY repair tutorials!

April Ignite Talk
Incident Management and COVID-19. Lessons Learned and Remaining Challenges
A conversation with Bea Day, Incident Commander, USDA Forest Service, Sara Sweeney, Superintendent, Mormon Lake Hotshots, USDA Forest Service and Stuart (Stu) Rodeffer, Logistics Section Chief, Portland NIMO Team, USDA Forest Service

March 18, 2021
Leading towards a more inclusive Wildland Fire Community “Just because it has always been does not mean it has to continue to be”
Presented by Terry Baker, CEO, Society of American Foresters

As our societies grow and change, the wildland fire community has to continue to evolve in its workforce and practices to better meet the expectations place upon it. Although the thought of and having diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations can be challenging, they represent opportunities for each of us to engage and lead from where we are. This session will focus on learning through sharing stories and experiences to provoke introspection problem solving.

February 23, 2021
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: A Practice for Challenging Times and All Times. A way of being happy
Presented by Michelle Reugebrink

Considering the intensity of the past year, from historic wildfires to social and economic tensions to a global pandemic, it is no wonder that many of us are experiencing burnout, stress, and anxiety. This includes first responders who regularly experience critical incidents and ongoing stress. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) program is available to help you cope with a range of stressors and anxiety through a medical and science-based approach. Psychological resilience can be learned through specific practices and has been found to bolster resiliency in the face of, and in recovering from, stress.

November 23, 2020
Nine Insights from Living with PTSD: From Darkness to the Light, a Wildland Firefighter Perspective
Presented by Marc Titus

PTSD is quietly impacting wildland firefighters with its often devastating personal and professional repercussions. While no official numbers exist, suicide has become another statistic now necessary to track within the wildland community as anecdotal data show an alarming trend. While agency’s come to grips with this burgeoning problem, firefighters can educate themselves to better understand the dynamics of stress, trauma and PTSD. This event will provide a unique view of the insidious nature of trauma, its effects on the human being with an eye towards recovery and nine key insights derived from the experiences of a wildland firefighter afflicted by this nervous system injury.

October 6, 2020
Emotional Intelligence for Wildland Fire Professionals
Presented by Kelly Martin

It is crucial for wildland fire professionals today to be technically competent in their jobs. What is less obvious and less understood is the cognitive competency needed for our professional job performance. This event will provide you a better understanding of our own thought processes and how we make decisions on emotional feelings, social inputs, and how developing a high level of Emotional Intelligence can affect risk decision job performance as well as our daily performance.