What happened in the Fire Department?
I had the opportunity to work within the Los Angeles County Fire Department and other departments and agencies with many good people who put integrity and service above fire politics. Fighting for the professional soul of the County Fire Department for us meant performing the job for which we were hired and what the public paid for dearly and expected of us, namely being public servants. It did not mean following orders right or wrong or protecting the image of the department by often spinning our wheels in place while cashing in on all the benefits.
Yes, there was vision and it did not just start with the “fire booklet” I wrote, but with so many other ideas we had in mind for years that could have really altered the very frustrating and continuing wildland fire losses not only in terms of homes that often just became statistics and were forgotten, but also in terms of protecting both professional and homeowner firefighters from injuries. Some of these practical ideas were stated in the January 1979 audit of the Fire Department, others were talked about “in the hallways” with little chance of implementation as the vision was not there yet from the front office.
In summary, we cannot wait for wildfires to start and play heroes attempting to protect homes and then support putting up banners afterwards “thanking the fire services” even though hundreds of homes were lost again, many of which did not have to be. The subsequent comments in official fire incident reports such as “We did not give up anything to the fire. What it got, it had to take from us.” are generally misguided. Wildland firefighting business should have nothing to do with “heroes” but with professional people performing a professional job on a public stage.
The real professional is pro-active and works on a continuing basis largely “behind the scenes” to make sure that the community is well informed and as safe and as protected as it could possibly be. It may be a thankless job at times but the rewards will be there when the predictable fire winds blow, the smoke and ashes are coming our way, and the firebrands are raining down ahead of the flames. No design-for-disaster is waiting to happen, we can direct our teams with confidence, and we can then later look ourselves in the mirror when the sun shines again through the dissipating smoke.
The new booklet ''A Homeowner's Guide to Fire and Watershed Management at the Chaparral/Urban Interface (HOGFW), written by Klaus W.H. Radtke, deals in everyday language with preparing for, and fighting, wildfires and floods and is recommended as required reading for every Malibuite."
While some of the information disclosed here had already been floating around in the community in the 1980s, I did not want to mention it as it could have affected the careers of dedicated public servants at that time, and also the future of their relatives if they followed in the footsteps within the local fire department. However, little seems to have changed in the last forty years in suppressing scientific information and harassing and shutting down its scientists who are trying to produce and disseminate such information for the public good, if it does not fit into the political agenda of people in power such as mirrored in the present life-threatening saga of all-too-predictable Global Warming.
A 32-page document is forwarded to the County Board of Supervisors by the president of the Santa Monica Mountains Resident Association, charging the County Fire Chief with dereliction of his duties inclusive of “neglecting to prepare the public and his department for predictable wildland fires, refusing to educate the public adequately and timely on wildland fire safety at a time when fire hazard was extreme, refusing to obey mandates for public safety ordered by the Board of Supervisors, etc., and asking for his dismissal” (this had been considered by the Board for some time).
Prepare the completed management audit of the Forester and Fire Warden in cooperation with my office within the next six weeks for submission to the Board of Supervisors. It should have been submitted to the Board of Supervisors by now.
The draft management audit report of the Forester and Fire Warden was begun in mid-l979 in accordance with our Ten-Year Management Audit Plan, approved by the Board in January, 1978. I am concerned that the audit has gone unresolved for so long (on your part).
123 positions that do not require firefighting experience and are currently occupied by personnel in classes ranging from Firefighter Specialist to Deputy Chief should be civilianized for an estimated annual salary savings alone of approximately $800,000. (Some of) these savings could be used to fund other programs such as fire camps and Forester nurseries which are currently undermanned….
The Fire Department’s “bid” system policy contributes to personnel resource management problems and organizational and functional instability. Departmental policy permits uniformed personnel up through captain to bid out of most positions after a one-year assignment which makes quality training and the development of expertise almost impossible to achieve….
Dr. Radtke’s work as principal scientist (cooperator) under research contract with the U.S. Forest Service is described as follows:
Recommendation: Establish the completion of the Forestry Bureau’s scientific management/fire suppression projects as a departmental priority.
“Research makes it possible to develop confident limits on the probability of fires starting in a given area and the path a fire will follow. It will enhance the scientific management of wildland fires because their start, spread, arid intensity can be predicted. A further project will enable the department to plot—on a microfiche viewer—the topography of a fire area, the deployment of personnel and equipment, and the movement of a fire. This project will provide firefighters with an immediate history of fires in the area, the age of chaparral regrowth, and a description of the surrounding topography. The Forestry Bureau also pioneered work on developing “fire retardant plants” with low volume fuel. These plants, although not fireproof, introduce low-growing vegetation that puts out less fuel for fire”.
USFS Research Deputy Director Guilkey forwards amendment #3 to Master agreement No-21-436 to Head Deputy Arndt of the Forestry Bureau, which provides for a 5-year USFS-funded extension from June 30, 1981-June 30, 1986 for continuing cooperative chaparral ecology and related ecosystem studies (carried out by K.R. as principal investigator/lead scientist). Instead, the Fire Chief, fearing the implementation of the Department’s audit, refuses to forward the contract to the Board of Supervisors, thus effectively shutting down all fire-related research and fire safety cooperation with the public and outside agencies.
By 3-16-1982 Dr. Radtke had confidently produced a draft copy of HOGFW, also reviewed “confidentially” by L.A. County Fire Department Public Information Officer Dick Friend who states, “Thank you for giving me the chance. It is a much-needed guide” (At the Dec. 23, 1981 meeting at Fire Dept. H.Q., the representative of the Malibu County Supervisor had requested that the Fire Department produce a Homeowner’s Guide on fire safety by the beginning of the fire season, with the Chief responding that it cannot be done due to labor shortage and printing costs, and Dr. Radtke correcting him, stating that he could produce and have it in print at no cost to the County by then).
After the Fire Chief refused to forward the 5-year extension to the master agreement on cooperative research as he had shut down the Forestry Bureau, the Deputy Director of the Pacific SW Forest and Range Exp. Sta. in Berkeley sends the contract directly to the Board of Supervisors at their request, along with Supplement 1 stating that research had been postponed “due to administrative delays encountered within the Fire Department.” The Fire Chief, fearing the implementation of the Department’s audit and the production of the Homeowner’s Guide by Radtke, initiates the demotion of the Forestry Bureau to a Division under Fire Prevention so that it cannot have any direct outside communication except by approval of the Deputy Fire Prevention Chief now controlling the Forestry Division.
The Fire Chief, exposed as disobeying Board of Supervisors’ directives pertaining to implementing public safety information, immediately (and with apparent “instant” approval by County Counsel) forwards the Forest Service contract to the County Board of Supervisors. However, he untruthfully states under
#2 “… as presented in the Department of Forester and Fire Warden publication Living More Safely at the Chaparral/Urban Interface,” despite the fact that he knew that it was produced by K. Radtke for publication by the Forest Service; and under
#3 “To develop a study plan for evaluating the ecological effects of prescribed burning” as the Department had just attempted to use Dr. Radtke’s name as being on the prescribed burn team to be eligible for grants and publicity while Dr. Radtke had been shut down in his attempt to carry out such work.
The Assistant Director of the USFS Riverside Fire Laboratory writes to K. Radtke that the manuscript A Homeowner’s Guide… has been reviewed and “this extremely important subject is ready for publication and distribution to the public…” While totally shut down by the Fire Chief to produce this publication, K. Radtke had confidentially traveled on his own coin and time to meet Forest Service research scientists at their Berkeley H.Q. to finalize it with their support.
The Deputy Director of the USFS SW Forest & Research Exp. Sta. in Berkeley informs the Head Deputy Forester that K. Radtke’s request for modifying the budget to carry out Supplement #1 to Agreement No. 21-436 had been approved with the enclosed agreement. This paid for the production and printing of A Homeowner’s Guide… with both USFS and the County Supervisor offices being aware that the booklet had been forwarded the same day to a printer recommended to K. Radtke and that the Fire Chief had not been informed, as he would immediately shut down its printing as the booklet was being produced by “Forestry.”
With the Forestry Bureau now being eliminated and moved as a Division under Fire Prevention, its Deputy Fire Chief now controls all movements and communication by foresters for the Fire Chief. Radtke, knowing that HOGFW has gone to the printer as of today, documents the red tape he has encountered in attempting to carry out his duties and offers to resign as principal research cooperator, as it would be impossible to carry out his duties under these conditions. Head Deputy Forester holds his letter until HOGFW is delivered to the Board of Supervisors out of concern that the Chief could still stop its printing or confiscate the books, if receiving the letter.
Having received and reviewed HOGFW, Malibu’s County Supervisor immediately forwards a press release which states “A Homeowner’s Guide to Fire and Watershed Management at the Chaparral/Urban Interface was written by Klaus Radtke, Senior Deputy Forester, under a joint contract between the County Forester and Fire Warden and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service. We have received widespread support for preparation of this booklet from residents in the county and even fire departments in other Southern California Counties. This booklet provides another tool in people helping themselves… It can help save homes and lives … and with it, millions of dollars and the heartaches that arise from the tragedy of fire and flood.”
When receiving a phone call from the County Supervisor “congratulating him on producing the excellent fire booklet,” the fire chief flies into a rage, attempts to stop the distribution of the booklet, and harassment against Radtke and his forestry chief boss is intensified. Even all incoming and outgoing telephone communication is questioned and controlled.
When Radtke documents in a memo the previous day that the Fire Chief still does not permit distribution of HOGFW more than two weeks after its release by the Board of Supervisors, his boss confirms that the order still stands.
Radtke again documents that Fire Department employees are still forbidden to distribute HOGFW, also stating, “I am disheartened by the apparent lack of appreciation by our own Fire Department about the effort of its own foresters to protect the life and property in wildland areas.”
Questioned by the Supervisor offices about what is going on within the Fire Department, Deputy Fire Chiefs produce a memo to cover the department, claiming full distribution and utilization of HOGW while trying to find a reason to hold up any further printing efforts by either the USFS, The County Board of Supervisors and outside agencies, claiming it as their own.
This memo by a fire chief to his personnel at Fire Sta. 72 (Battalion H.Q. for Malibu), starting with “This is all you are going to get for a long time” reflects what has come down the pipeline within the department, namely that the Fire Chief will prevent the booklet’s further reprinting (until he can eliminate Forestry from its credits and can control the outcome of the departmental audit).
Radtke documents that the County Fire Chief forbids distribution of all fire history and fire research information (produced by K. Radtke under research contracts funded by the Forest Service) to the National Parks Service (or actually to any other agency). This had been ongoing.
While the County Fire Chief, behind the scenes, still tries to find every reason to slow down or prevent the distribution of HOGFW (“we ran out of books”), County supervisors even mail it to mountain homeowners upon their request.
The Fire Chief was forced to provide the fire booklet (HOGFW) to the Watershed Fire Council for review as they had already received it confidentially. Their Board members consist of former Forest Service Supervisors, a retired County Fire Chief, and other professionals in the field of fire and watershed management with whom Dr. Radtke had worked with or for them (Chief Houts). The Council sends a letter to the Fire Chief praising the book.
Item 15: County Fire Chief “expresses appreciation of the favorable comments received (pertaining to HOGFW) but explains that “requests for additional copies of the brochure may not be filled immediately as the supply is about exhausted and budget limitations may prevent a second printing. Chairman Houts (the honorably retired County Fire Chief) appointed an ad hoc committee consisting of Don Bauer and Roland Percey to investigate possible means of providing additional copies of the brochure.”
Dr. Radtke points out the reprinting order by the Board of Supervisors and wants to know where the department stands now. The Supervisors had received many request for reprinting HOGFW and had apparently also become aware of the comments the Fire Chief had made at the So. Cal. Watershed Fire Council meeting that was held at Fire Camp 2. To the embarrassment of the Fire Chief, they had ordered the reprinting of 25,000 copies of HOGFW by unanimous vote despite the behind-the-scene attempts of the Fire Chief to shut it down.
Deputy Fire Chief defends controversial decision/claim to have directed parts of the fire into less inhabited fireprone areas and away from “the Colony.” While not acknowledging that such areas require greater preplanning and a pro-active rather than a reactive department, he concludes “If you live in (Malibu), you pay the price.”
The Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District, of which Dr. Radtke used to be a member as representative of the Fire Department, had also attempted to distribute the booklets throughout the summer despite the County Fire Chief’s displeasure, having received additional copies from the president of the Santa Monica Mountains Residents Association.
The president of the Santa Monica Mountains Resident Association had independently paid for the reprinting of 10,000 (?) copies of HOGFW aand was advertising and distributing it throughout the western US at cost (about 50¢/copy). When the fire chief finds about it, he has Dr. Radtke reassigned to Fire Department H.Q. (“office arrest” in a room w/o telephone, etc.) to prevent him from having any more field contacts with mountain homeowners and homeowner associations while subjecting him to continuous harassment and intense oral interrogations.
As this demand letter by the Dep. Fire Chief indicates, written and oral attacks became relentless while under “office confinement.” The Head Deputy Forester and Dr. Radtke were waiting for an order/phone call from the Board of Supervisors after the election to stop the Fire Chief but it never came. Why?
Provide proof of your allegations. I am proud of the fire booklet (Food for thought: why does the Fire Chief act as if it is a crime to have written about and supported the dissemination of public safety information?).
Not being able to get any more information out of Dr. Radtke during his “office arrest, the Fire Chief turns to the County Purchasing Agent to intimidate, threaten and harass Mr. Hill.
With the gubernatorial election of November 2, 1982 favoring Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, it was rumored that the County Fire Chief would be appointed the new director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (now Cal Fire). However, with the mayor unexpectedly losing by a “razor thin margin,” this then became unlikely by the next day. With the Board of Supervisors apparently not being prepared for this and not having the 3:2 majority to fire the Fire Chief (as the Chief would not leave without being assured of a new job of his status), he apparently became more openly emboldened to go after Arndt and Radtke.
The president stands up to the attempted intimidation and harassment with a strong response, also forwarded by him to the Board of Supervisors.
The Fire Chief, after having just pushed Dr. Radtke and Head Deputy Forester out of the Fire Dept., now justifies his delay of the reprinting of HOGFW ordered by the Board of Supervisors at the height of the fire season by claiming shamelessly that Dr. Radtke did not write it, stating “it represents a compendium of resource information submitted by over 100 various contributors, and edited by our Departmental employees.” The 1982 County Board of Supervisors would not buy this claim by the Fire Chief and reprinting of HOGFW was done with Radtke still as the author. However, on future reprinting his name was removed as the old saying goes “When lies are repeated many times, they become believable).”However, local newspapers, being aware of the circumstances, list Dr. Radtke as the author of HOGFW for more than 10 years.
(Oral pressure “from the top” had soon started for Radtke after the June 29, 1982 publication of HOGFW to deny his authorship. As explained to him by Union 1014 representatives later, all internal charges against him inclusive of insubordination, making contact with the Board of Supervisors, USFS scientists, not fingering others that could be punished, etc., could readily be dropped if he would divulge such information, follow all orders from now on, and deny his authorship. However, he did not.
The County Purchasing agent further threatens the president of the Santa Monica Mountains Residents Association with an injunction, further legal actions, and investigation by the Board of Equalization about collecting sales taxes (Mr. Hill had a license and was collecting sales tax).
The printer had received similar oral and written threats and threats from County fire chiefs that arrived at his place of business in their red cars unannounced. The printer, being a Vietnam Veteran, would not be intimidated by such actions and told them to get off his property and “go fly a kite.” Mr. Hill did the same but, out of caution, distributed the many boxes of HOGFW located at his home to homeowners throughout the Santa Monica Mountains so that the fire chief could not have them confiscated.
The District was distributing HOGFW and had only had a few copies left when receiving inquiries from Sunset Magazine about being a distribution source as the magazine was listing such sources. The District decided to continue distribution as the booklet was being made available by the Santa Monica Mountains Resident Association at a cost of 50¢/copy. Being concerned about the (false) new claims by the Fire Department that HOGFW is their copyright, its president Mr. Hill, who was also in attendance, clarified that his group was republishing it after the County’s supply had run out.
Fundraising parties were held for Dr. Radtke by homeowner associations to document, fight back and expose the Fire Chief, as Dr. Radtke did not want to sue the County for the harassment he and his boss encountered before they were pushed out of the Fire Department in November and December respectively.
Homeowner meetings in support of Dr. Radtke clearly and concisely point out that Dr. Radtke was acting within authority in writing and publishing HOGFW, and that attempts by the Fire Chief to disregard the orders of the County Supervisors (for quick reprinting of the fire booklet during the fire season) were ignored by the Chief. He should drop the “inquisition” of Dr. Radtke or be fired.
National Foundation for Environmental Safety
The history and background information of the National Foundation for Environmental Safety (NFES).