Season 8 | Wildland Firefighting Professionals | Episode 4

#125 | Your weakest link is your strongest point

September 11, 2019 | Kristel Johnson

Kristel Johnson is the Support Services Program Leader for the USDA Forest Service. Kristel started her career in 1990 as a temporary firefighter and later attended the Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Academy and more. In 2006, Kristel served as the Family Liaison for fallen colleague, Jess McLean, which introduced her to how the agency managed tragedy at the time and motivated her to get, develop and deliver new training and policies to improve how the Forest Service copes with and supports those who suffer from tragic loss. Over her career, Kristel has worked in wildland firefighting, fire training, district management, employee relations, human resources, critical incident stress management, national support services, and technical transfer. Find out more about Kristel’s journey, lessons learned and advice for others in this week’s episode.

Key Takeaways:

[1:15] A message from Leadership Nature.

[2:00] A quick intro about Kristel’s background.

[3:25] How did Kristel first get interested in firefighting?

[5:15] What does Kristel currently do for the Forest Service?

[7:30] The agency never had a formal and systematic program for supporting colleagues and families of fallen firefighters.

[9:50] Kristel shares how the loss of close colleagues and other tragedies have affected her over the years.

[12:10] Kristel realized that the agency had a lot more to do in terms of training, educating and preparing for tragic incidents.

[17:25] Kristel developed the course, ‘You Will Not Stand Alone’ to help agency members feel more connected to one another and appropriately supportive during tragic events that have happened in their community.

[19:55] What’s it like being a wildland firefighter?

[21:25] How can someone get into wildland fire?

[24:00] How can someone specialize or find a specialty in this field?

[24:55] Kristel shares some of the mentors she’s had over the years.

[33:05] What advice does Kristel have for people who are just getting started in their career?

[35:15] What is Kristel most proud of?

Mentioned in This Episode:

Read Kristel’s article titled, “Coping With Tragedy: You Will Not Stand Alone,” in Fire Management Today here

Learn about all types of government firefighting jobs here

Read “Dealing with loss in the Forest Service” by Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Tahoe National Forest, Liz Bergerin, in the Leadership Corner on the US Forest Service website here

Kristel Johnson (r) and Forest Service Battalion Chief (ret.) Betty Ashe (l) who was the Family Liaison to the Jason Mckay Family.

Kristel Johnson (l) with Ceil McLean, fallen firefighter Jess McLean’s mother (c) and Chris Fogle (r), one of the Engine Captains at the Esperanza Fire at a memorial service for the tragedy. Kristel was the Family Liaison for the The Mclean Family when Jess was lost.




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