With the ongoing battle against the Yosemite Wildfire, we thought we’d check in with a Maven who has made a career out of fire – or, rather, fighting fires. Jim Spell is a fire safety consultant and former professional firefighter. He spent 20 years as Captain of Vail Fire and Emergency Services before retiring in 2011. Today he writes for Fire Chief Magazine and teaches fire science for the first fire science program west of the Continental Divide.

What do you do as a fire and life safety consultant?
In addition to consulting in the areas of fire and life safety, I am a project coordinator for a regional security and safety company, a contributing writer for Fire Chief Magazine, as well as a contributor to the Huffington Post video programming segments. I just got back from the Women in Fire and Emergency Services Conference in Chicago where I spoke on “The Oral Interview Process”.


How did you get into this line of work?
I began as a volunteer firefighter in 1976 simply wanting to give back to my community and became a paid professional in 1978.  After a rewarding 30 year career in the fire service, I retired to follow my second passion of writing.  Today, I am able to combine my past experience with my current skill-set becoming a viable consultant in the world of fire and life safety.


What aspect of training is MOST likely to keep fire fighters safe as they work to get a fire under control?
Talking to firefighters equipped with the finest in education, training and experience, my only advice for them as they work in any hazardous atmosphere and especially in a fire – is to always have an exit, a way out of any situation or environment and to do so by not allowing your focus to become tunnel vision.  By looking out for your partner, you look out for yourself… and together, a way out.  Combine this with a good risk/benefit analysis of every situation and you have a safe firefighter.


With a spotlight on the Rim fire in Yosemite National Park, are wildfires more prevalent today or is the news more interested in wildfires today?
You can burn 1000 acres of wilderness and it makes page 6 of the newspaper.  You lose one structure in the process and it is page one!

Additionally, we have been actively suppressing the natural progression of forest and wildland fires for years, preventing them at every opportunity thus allowing for the growth of fuels upon fuels; while at the same time building more and more homes in these dense wilderness areas.  These homes not only add to the fuel load and heighten public awareness when they burn, but they increase the opportunities for ignition.  Add to this the spread of beetle kill and the effects of climate change, and you have a formula for increasing “wildfires” throughout our world. More fuel load, more structures in the fuel load, more awareness… and more news outlets – The math is self-evident.