Issue 25 • 2009 A Lessons Learned Newsletter Published Quarterly
A lesson is truly learned when we modify our behavior to reflect what we now know.
The LLC staff recently interviewed seven Liaison Officers and Liaison Officer Trainees from around the United
States regarding their notable successes, difficult challenges, effective safety practices, and training recommen-
dations for Liaison Officers. Special thanks are extended to these Liaison Officers and trainees for sharing their
significant lessons and practices with the wildland fire community.
In This Issue Notable Successes
Learning in Action
Notable Successes ...............................1
Difficult Challenges ............................. 4 One of the most notable successes for one Liaison Officer (LOFR) and his Inci-
dent Management Team (IMT) occurred during the 2006 Brins Fire in Sedona,
Effective Practices ............................... 5
Arizona. The Sedona area experiences extremely low fire frequency. Conse-
Training Recommendations................ 6
quently, local government officials, stakeholders and the public were not thinking
Liaison Officer Role ............................. 8 about fire, nor did they have much fire knowledge. During the incident, fire of-
ficials evacuated both the Mayor and the Town Manager from their homes. Both
How to Contact Us: attended morning briefings every day and the LOFR as well as other members
firstname.lastname@example.org of the IMT assumed that they understood fire terminology, overall tactics and
email@example.com operational objectives. However, a few days into the fire, the LOFR sat next to
firstname.lastname@example.org the Mayor, Town Manager, Fire Chief and members of the Town Council, and as
(520) 799-8760 or 8761 the briefing came to an end, he realized that they appeared confused and that
fax: (520) 799-8785 they had questions.
Continued on page 2
w w w. w i l d f i r e l e s s o n s . n e t
The LOFR explained the Incident Action Plan to them, de- isted throughout the incident because Sonora, Mexico incident
scribed what it entailed, and how the IMT used it and why. He command personnel and the Type 2 IMT established personal
also familiarized these local officials with the Incident Response contact. This included briefing of Sonoran incident command
Pocket Guide and its use in wildland fire operations. For three personnel in the Type 2 IMT fire camp and providing a recon
to four mornings in a row, the LOFR met with these officials, flight of the fire. Toward the end of the fire, the IMT invited the
helping build a communication bridge to the local community Mexican firefighters into the U.S. for an awards ceremony. The
and helping the Mayor and her staff to understand what the Mexican firefighters received plaques and gifts for their efforts
IMT was doing to assist the community of Sedona. At the end at working in close cooperation with their US counterparts.
of the incident, the Mayor presented the Incident Commander These positive interactions pay dividends in other emergency
and the IMT with a key to the city. This was only the second responses outside of wildland fire. Following the Alamo Fire, a
time a key had ever been presented in the history of the city. flood occurred in the Nogales Wash during July 2008, causing
significant damage on both sides of the border. Members of
Liaison Officers on All Hazard Assignments the same Type 2 team played central roles in this incident, and
the relationships they had previously developed during the Ala-
In 2004 one Liaison Officer for a National Park Service IMT re-
mo Fire contributed to the success of this flood response effort.
sponded to assist the Gulf Islands National Seashore after Hur-
The resulting cross border relationships continue to develop.
ricane Ivan hit the Pensacola, Florida area. The NPS mission
involved helping to stabilize and restore the Seashore’s opera-
tions and the lives of its employees. The Liaison Officer worked
Being Well Respected is Key
closely with surrounding Type 1 and Type 2 IMTs conducting During the Columbia Shuttle Recovery in February 2003, the
FEMA support operations. Because the NPS team was operat- host agency requested from the Texas Forest Service the
ing under different authorities and funding than the neighboring “right” person to act as Liaison Officer to the IMT. The implied
IMTs, the relationship was one of cooperating agencies, rather meaning of this request meant a well respected and well known
than adjacent resources. However, by coordinating with them, person in the community that could get things done, especially
the LOFR capitalized on expediting reassignments for soon-to- with the ability to obtain permission for search crews to access
be-released resources, enabling the NPS IMT to efficiently fill private land when sensitive issues were involved. These issues
critical resource needs and reduce costs. included searching through large cemeteries, poultry opera-
tions, and areas where personnel needed to open gates and
Positive Relationship Dividends cross fences. In every case, the Liaison Officer, who involved
The Alamo Fire of April 2008 ignited on the US/Mexico border landowners he knew and trusted, paved the way for the search
west of Nogales, Arizona. Wildland firefighters from Sonora, teams to act safely and gain acceptance. “A LOFR must not be
Mexico successfully interfaced with the Type 2 IMT and worked a loafer” means the right person in the position is the key for
as a division of the incident. Strong cross border rapport ex- success.
Sedona Residents Observing Brins Fire
Courtesy of David Sunfellow, Sunfellow Photography
Overcoming Hurdles Through Communication
Following Hurricane Katrina, one IMT reported to Camp Shelby in Mississippi to establish a support base approximately 50 miles north
of Gulfport. Upon arrival, the team learned that the Base Commander could provide only minimal assistance, as he had to prepare
troops to go to the Iraq war. The Base Commander could assist in locating land near or on the base to use for special rescue relief
camps, and make motor pool parking lots available for staging trucks and supplies.
The IC advised the Base Commander that the IMT would work to prevent any interference to his primary mission. IMT members housed
on the base until the team established an ICP at Baron Point south of the base. FEMA requested assistance from the IMT to deploy
truckloads of water and ice throughout the region, meaning the team needed to manage the activity of the truck drivers and support
them with fuel and food. The Liaison Officers met with a Major assigned from Camp Shelby each day and attended meetings with
personnel from the local city and county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the purpose of updating and sharing information with
city, district and volunteer fire departments.
Two major problems arose during the assignment. First, the IMT had trouble locating a place to take black and gray water from the
camps. Fortunately, the LOFRs had established good lines of communication with the surrounding communities, and the issue was
resolved. The team contacted one of the local volunteer fire chiefs and he assisted in finding a location to dump the water.
The IMT also faced radio communication issues. First the IMT was advised that they were required to hold a license to use a portable
radio cache in the state of Mississippi. Again, the daily communication with the local and state officials through the EOC paid off, and
the team obtained the required license. When the IMT needed a radio repeater location, the LOFRs went back to the volunteer fire
chief, who also managed the water district. Though the team had been advised earlier that they could place nothing on the town’s water
tower, the IMT felt this tall tower would fill the need well. The LOFRs asked and, thanks to good rapport with the fire chief, within four
hours had the radio repeater placed on the tower. According to the LOFRs, when the IMT completed its tour and was relieved, they
were asked how they did it, and the IC stated “good Liaison Officers.”
Photo courtesy of David Sunfellow
Bringing Cooperators and the Public Together
For one Liaison Officer, one memorable success occurred during the 2008 lightning fires in Butte County, California. Lightning ignited
more than 1000 fires and the complex of fires had been burning for well over five weeks. The firefighters, cooperators and the public
were exhausted. Fire officials had completed emergency logging to remove hazardous fuels in several areas, and the public was frus-
trated by problems with the fuel loads left on the ground around repaired power lines. The Liaison Officer brought cooperators and the
public together in daily cooperators meetings, as well as in town meetings within the community. Bringing the utility company together
with the public, and the company doing the fuel reduction, was a huge success and a benefit to the community.
Behind the Power Curve
One Liaison Officer feels that transition with another IMT, when the outgoing Liaison Officer has only been doing part of the job, leaves
the incoming LOFR behind the power curve. Because the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) standards require no training
or other requirements for qualification as a LOFR, some individuals filling the position lack sufficient preparation to do the entire job. For
example, because some of the current LOFRs come from law enforcement backgrounds, they think that the Liaison Officer only needs
to interact with law enforcement agencies and personnel. The position actually encompasses much more, including interaction with
elected officials, the American Red Cross, and all local government emergency agencies and organizations. The LOFR will struggle
to catch up when they must make key contacts if another IMT has been on-scene without establishing these contacts. When this hap-
pens, if much time has passed, the representatives from the organizations who have not yet been contacted will wonder why they are
being contacted at this point.
Distributing Accurate Information
One Liaison Officer was assigned to an incident on the Los Padres National Forest in California, after working on another nearby wild-
fire. Due to the proximity of the two fires, the IMT co-located the Incident Command Post (ICP) and base camp. A LOFR attached to the
ICP dealt with issues as they arose, and met with military and fire officials from the Army’s Fort Hunter Liggett. Another Liaison Officer
met with local landowners on the inland side of the fire, while additional LOFRs and public information officers assigned to the Big Sur
Coast, made contact with all businesses, residents, landowners, the California Highway Patrol, county sheriff’s, county and state park
rangers, CalTrans and the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Department.
The Big Sur Coast area, which had been previously impacted by wildfires, did not have good relationships between fire agencies and
the residents, landowners and business owners. The IC assigned two Liaison Officers and two Public Information Officers to the coast
24 hours per day, 7 days per week to make local contact and establish community meetings. Issues requiring attention included; closing
Highway 1, for any reason other than firefighter or public safety, to avoid impacts on local businesses; keeping local business owners
and homeowners informed; and making contact with the local Congressional office and special interest groups such as the Hermitage
Center, the Jade Fair and other special events.
The LOFRs found routine communication avenues, such as radio and television, ineffective for getting their message out. After locating
a person with great citizen band radio (CB) communication throughout the communities along the coast, the IMT developed a posi-
tive relationship with this individual and she delivered the fire information update each morning, or during the day if necessary. Local
citizens listened to her and this practice proved effective. The LOFRs also maintained a steady working relationship with the California
Highway Patrol, CalTrans, California State Parks and local county park officials. A LOFR met with them every morning after the IMT
briefing and continued making contact with the locals.
High Level Communication Processes
Evacuations present a high risk to emergency responders. When responders are making their way into a fire as citizens evacuate, the
resulting confusion can lead to collisions, traffic jams and fire entrapments if all responding agencies and utility companies fail to work
together. One Liaison Officer feels that one can succeed only if they pull the responding resources together, and this LOFR has placed
firefighter supervisors together with law enforcement supervisors to enable them to oversee operations involving evacuation or rescue.
He stresses the need for a high level communication process.
Liaison Officers succeed best when able to communicate face-to-face, allowing the LOFR to employ body language, tone of voice and
language in their communications. This communication needs to be supported by legal authority from the agency and the IC. To suc-
ceed, the LOFR must know the Incident Commander’s objectives and goals, and must gain that understanding through open discus-
sion with the IC whenever they meet and via phone throughout the day.
The need for this high level communication process is important, where people have opportunity to assess the unspoken body lan-
guage of agency representatives. By anticipating potential issues and dealing with them quickly the LOFR can prove instrumental in
creating a lasting impression and success. The LOFR should assure that they are communicating with agency representatives who
have decision-making authority for their agency and can commit to pay for operations. A Liaison Officer makes or breaks their effec-
tiveness by how well they show respect for the different workforce disciplines. Rarely do emergency operations succeed without this
respect. This success lies in protecting the responders and the public, while bringing a calming effect to the incident.
Making Commitments and Keeping Promises
Making sure all communication loops are closed remains a continuing challenge on some incidents. While Liaison Officers are in the
business of making commitments and promises, they also must make sure they follow through. Do not leave the incident without closing
partnership and cooperator issues. Maintain a close communication link with the IC particularly when the LOFR is speaking for them. If
issues remain unresolved DO NOT leave an incident without letting the assisting and cooperating agencies know that these issues exist
or that commitments may not have been met. Be honest, be punctual, and know your business, as well as your IMT’s business.
Political and Bureaucratic Issues
One Liaison Officer notes that some of the challenges a LOFR faces include political and bureaucratic processes. Given the frustrations
of politics and bureaucracy, it is important to remain positive and focused on the task at hand. There are many ways to accomplish the
needs of the incident. Taking the high road is a must. The roadblocks will come, so back up and take a breath and communicate with
the command staff of the IMT about alternate solutions.
Effective Practices between the team and the rancher. Understanding the priori-
ties of landowners requires that someone take the time to get
to know people. In doing this, the LOFR must develop trust with
Collecting Intelligence Prior to an Assignment people, and that may include talking to them about uncomfort-
able subjects, such as a difficult decision the IMT must make
One Liaison Officer immediately accesses the Internet and regarding evacuations, or even the fact that you might not be
learns as much background information he can about the com- able to save their pasture.
munity once he knows the name and the location of the inci-
It helps for the Liaison Officer to have some knowledge of
dent to which they are being dispatched. He finds out who the
fire behavior. The LOFR should keep tight with operations
elected officials are, their background, what they look like, and
personnel so that they know what they are doing and can ex-
the political persuasions of the county and the state. Many
plain it to others. A LOFR must have the ability to talk to every-
websites include detailed biographies on elected officials that
one from the rancher to the politician because more and more
sometimes contain where they are originally from and their per-
of the wildland fires are crossing multi-jurisdictional authorities.
sonal interests. The LOFR prints out the information they find
Stay ahead of the issues to keep ranchers and community
and studies it while enroute to the incident. He also reviews the
members comfortable. Let them know about damages and the
information with the IC and Deputy IC, so they also understand
plans to fix them before they have a chance to come to you
the background of the community. This Internet research even
helps when the IMT first meets with local officials, because they with problems.
often can spot individuals from their photographs on the Inter- The LOFR position requires an extroverted person. The LOFR
net. Furthermore, he often finds county and local community must be willing and able to approach people they do not know,
emergency operations plans, or Community Wildfire Protection introduce themselves, learn where they fit into the community,
Plans, on the Internet prior to leaving for the incident. and talk about their concerns. In short, Liaison Officers must
put themselves out there. They can take lessons learned from
their fire experiences back to their home unit to further develop
habits and their LOFR skill set.
Using a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
A Liaison Officer needs a global, multi-disciplinary perspective
of the emergency response world. Expertise in the type of inci-
dent whether fire, flood, or hurricane proves important, as does
an understanding of the big picture. The consequences of the
incident and the various disciplines needed to interface with the
IMT are also an integral component.
Every emergency responder tends to look at an incident through
a set of binoculars unique to their particular discipline. Police,
fire, emergency medical services, health, environmental, ag-
ricultural, mass care; all bring their unique view of the world.
One Liaison Officer has marveled at the multidisciplinary re-
Photo Courtesy of Pruett Small’s Type 2 IMT sponse to a large scale emergency as he observed how the
different disciplines brought a narrow view of the incident and
Building Relationships Quickly failed to recognize the importance of cooperation and interac-
Inter-personal skills represent one of the most important skills tion to achieve the highest quality outcome. Consequently, a
a Liaison Officer can have. When an effective LOFR arrives big picture perspective proves critically important for the Liai-
in a place where they do not know anyone, they must work to son Officer.
quickly build relationships. A LOFR should think about whether The emergency management discipline requires big picture
they know people in the area if they have been there before, thinking. If the community benefits from a proactive local emer-
or talk to others who may have created local contacts. Exist- gency manager who does their job, they will represent a cen-
ing contacts can create an open door into the community for tral participant in any emergency response. One experienced
the LOFR. The LOFR should always look people directly in the LOFR observed that some Arizona counties respond to emer-
eye when talking to them, and try to remember names. These gencies extremely well. Others stay at arms length from the
communication practices give the person the LOFR is talking incident and fail to achieve the emergency manager’s mission.
to a level of respect and they will note that small fact. In the This arm’s length approach may reflect a lack of emergency re-
business world, executives might go out and play a game of sponse background. While the emergency manager may pos-
golf to build the relationship. LOFRs have no time for a round sess strong administrative skills, they may be less comfortable
of golf but try to build the relationship by making contact and in the emergency response environment and consequently fail
listening. to become a player.
People relate to another person and will talk to them when they The effective emergency manager serves as an invaluable ally
know the other person takes a personal interest in them their to the Liaison Officer. If the LOFR is fortunate to be in a juris-
priorities and their values. A rancher may or may not care how diction with a proactive emergency manager, they must make
many trees are burning, but the pasture land may be the most the emergency manager one of their first contacts. They will
important thing to him. If the IMT misses or misunderstands become a central point of contact for any emergency response
this thinking, the IMT’s priorities may damage the relationship asset within a community.
Border Assignment Preparation
Bob Orrill, Liaison Officer with the Southeast Arizona Type 2 IMT, presented this slideshow at the 2009 Southwest IMT
Meeting. If teams or individuals are sent to work on incidents along the US/Mexican border, the safety information in this
slideshow is invaluable. http://wildfirelessons.net/documents/Border_Fires.htm
Blending Background and Training
A Liaison Officer with a background in law enforcement, wildland fire, or structural fire is very beneficial. Although no training is re-
quired, one experienced LOFR recommends, at a minimum, a person filling the LOFR position should take S-130/190 Basic Wildland
Firefighter, ICS 100/200 Introduction to the Incident Command System, L-180 Human Factors on the Fireline, and the Annual Fireline
Safety Refresher. Also important is S-420 Command & General Staff, L-480 Incident Management Team Leadership, and hopefully
someday the position will be included in S-520 Advanced Incident Management course. In addition to training, a Liaison Officer needs
the right personality for the job. An individual can have all the qualifications, training, and fire background, but if they lack the personality
for the job and anger a high powered official, they will struggle and undermine all the IMT’s efforts.
Qualification Standards for LOFR
One experienced Liaison Officer believes that NWCG must establish a qualification standard for the LOFR position. Currently, the
NWCG requires no training or prerequisites for this position; anyone can step into it without some working knowledge of wildland fire,
and this needs to change.
The individual must have strong communication skills, since the job is all about building and maintaining relationships. Every IMT and
LOFR must want to leave the unit or community as good, or better, than when they arrived. This is all about contact and service.
One Liaison Officer was once a line officer in his regular job, and believes that this background helps him serve as an effective LOFR.
Because he has walked in the line officer’s shoes, he knows how a line officer would like things to look when an IMT leaves an incident.
He recommends taking the time to train and mentor new LOFRs. On his last IMT assignment, the LOFR trainee worked with local
emergency officials at the emergency operations center to build a community protection plan. The LOFR counseled the trainee to avoid
doing the local emergency officials’ work for them, but to assist them in building the plan.
Teaching the Liaison Officer Course
CalFire teaches S-402 Liason Officer to Division and Battalion Chiefs attending their Agency Representatives Course. They commit 40
hours of instruction, combined with scenarios on department administration and finance, agreements and contracts, laws and policies,
operations abilities and expectations, ICS standards, and demobilization. The S-402 training course includes scenario based questions
for small group discussion and problem solving, and actual incident issues provide the best scenarios.
Educating About the Liaison Role
In retirement, one Liaison Officer teaches a variety of incident command courses, primarily for state and municipal employees involved
in all hazard response. Most of his students have limited exposure working with organized Type 1 or 2 Incident
Management Teams, and many seem to think that the Liaison Officer maintains some tactical role on an
incident. This raises the concern that these students may confuse the LOFR role with the Opera-
tions Section Chief, thinking that the LOFR somehow maintains control of the agency-provided
resources they represent. Others tend to confuse the roles of Agency Representative
with that of LOFR, saying they often work on incidents as the “Liaison Officer” for
This Liaison Officer believes it is important for in-
dividuals being trained to understand
important distinctions between roles.
As more local Type 3 and state level
Type 2 IMTs are formed nationwide,
people will need to fully understand
the distinctions between posi-
tions. All emergency responders
should establish a firm grasp
of the fundamentals of the In-
cident Command System as
an anchor point. More emer-
gency responders, who tradi-
tionally do not get to work with
established IMTs, should be
given opportunities to shadow
IMTs during actual emergen-
cies and other events. New
Liaison Officers will learn more
in a single shadow assignment
than they will in a classroom
IC Briefing the Media setting.
Photo courtesy of Great Basin Type 1 IMT
Integrated Emergency Management Course
According to one Liaison Officer, FEMA’s Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC) represents one of the best “big picture”
training courses available for a Liaison Officer. The IEMC course typically consists of three days of classroom training and two
days of exercise. The curriculum uses a global view of all disciplines in an emergency or disaster response, including the roles of
everyone from front line responders, through traditional emergency managers at the local level, up to the federal level. Attendees
at an IEMC course come from a specific community, and this represents an important feature of the training. Participants include
political leaders such as the mayor, public works, health department, police chief, fire chief and other department heads, as well as
Given the challenges of joint US/Mexico emergency response, personnel from the states of Arizona and Sonora attended a unique
opportunity in February 2009, when the first bi-national IEMC was held at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg,
Maryland. Approximately 70 people attended the course, many from Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora.
IEMC provides the opportunity to work through exercises as a community, but away from the distractions of home. Ultimately, the
participants interact with, and become immersed in, the training environment for five days. Since Emmitsburg is somewhat isolated
and people reside in a dormitory setting, they have abundant opportunity to socialize, talk shop, and bond as a community-wide team
during off hours. Given the success of the first bi-national IEMC, the EMI plans to conduct more of these courses for other communities
along the US/Mexico border.
To view information about the IEMC course go to http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IEMC
Courtesy of Eric Steele
IC and LOFR Photo Courtesy of
Strategizing with IMT Dugger Hughes Type 1 IMT
Liaison Officer Role
From the Great Basin IMT Handbook
IMTs have been filling this position due to the complex interagency nature of wildland fire suppression, the threats of wildland
fire to the wildland urban interface, and the complex nature of all hazard assignments which are a complicated mixture of in-
teragency relations including all federal, state, local, and volunteer agencies and groups. Wildland fires involving the wildland
urban interface place the IMT and the IC in the position of needing to develop and maintain early communications with the
extended public and cooperators being affected by the wildland fire. All hazard assignments can include FEMA, military, fed-
eral and state EMS, local governments, contractors and other non-governmental organizations (NGO), who all need internal
communications with the IMT. The LOFR can be critical in aiding the IMT in cost reduction efforts by making early contact with
cooperators who can aid in the management of the incident either tactically or financially. The LOFR will report directly to the
IC or the DPIC.
The role of the team LOFR is to:
a. Proactively seek out involved and/or interested entities, organizations, various agency representatives and liaisons,
military contacts, NGO’s and other groups who are immediately affected by the incident being managed or that may be
affected by the incident at a future date.
b. Ensure that assisting and cooperating agency and NGO needs are met, and these agencies and NGO’s are used in an
c. Foster good working relationships and communications with local agency administrators, NGO’s and their designated
d. Maintain a list of assisting and cooperating agencies, NGO’s and their representatives. Provides that list to the IMT.
e. Assist in setting up and coordinating interagency and other NGO contacts and meetings.
f. Monitor incident operations to identify current or potential inter-organizational problems.
g. Participate in planning meetings, providing current resource status, including limitations and capabilities of cooperating
agency, and NGO resources.
h. Provide agencies and NGO specific demobilization information and requirements.
i. Seek out any potential agency or NGO cooperators that may be able to offset the costs of the suppression activities
through coop agreements. Ensure that these entities are introduced to the FSC for the development of these agreements.
j. As a part of the National Response Plan (NRP) the Liaison Officer will act as the communication link between the IMT and
any Joint Field Office (JFO) that may be established. The Liaison Officer will also be the main communication link
between the IMT and any State, County or Local Operations Centers that are established.