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Leadership in a Disaster

Not everyone is cut out for it.

by Eric Holdeman / September 13, 2020

I read this quote in a Washington Post article and began wondering what was the cause. "In an abrupt shift announced Saturday, one official involved in the response — Jim Walker, the state’s fire marshal — was put on administrative leave and then resigned. His leave was announced by the Oregon State Police with little explanation."

If he had just resigned, it could have been for physical and mental health reasons. Just like many public health officials who have quit their posts in the middle of a pandemic, they could not take the heat. In their case, it was the workload and being the object of constant attack from a segment of our population who don't value science and want liberty over what is good for all.

As for Jim Walker, likely we won't know more. He will be an asterisk of an unprecedented fire season in the West and in Oregon. If he had just resigned, it might have been from burnout (an unfortunate pun). If he was just doing a poor job, he might have been replaced [addendum added below] with someone else. What makes the short annotation in a much longer story of interest is the "he was placed on administrative leave." 

The reason for that is a point of interest. Normally "administrative leave" is a place people are parked when they were accused of doing something that is against policy or for a moral lapse. Who knows! I can't recall this happening in other disasters. Maybe he was placed on administrative leave because he had become totally unable to function and they needed to replace him in his position. After that, he just figured he'd resign.

Clearly, something was amiss in the biggest fire disaster in Oregon's history. I remember a few people who saw themselves as great leaders in crisis situations. But then when the pressure was administered, they popped like a pimple. We are not all cut out of the same piece of cloth, good or bad. Each has our strengths and limitations.

Not all were meant to "save the day" and go into the history books. 

A quick addendum to this blog post (originally written on Sunday, Sept. 13 and now updated on Monday, Sept. 14. The rest of the story is here.

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