Ivan Pupulidy, PhD

Director of the Office of Innovation and Organizational Learning at US Forest Service, Ret.



There are a number of interesting questions that wildland firefighting organizations like the US Forest Service are being forced to explore – for example, was Smokey off target when he said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Should his message have been more like, “Only you can prevent your house from burning up in a wildland fire.” Fire Ecologists argue that success in keeping fires small has contributed the increased fuel load and coupled with warmer, longer summers, many of the fires are now unstoppable. How do our firefighting strategies and tactics need to adjust to this new normal?

The struggle with what is appropriate risk for a firefighter and what is unreasonable cannot be argued when firefighters are on the front line and must, instead, be part of a larger enterprise wide risk management approach. Our current methods of firefighting are born of a bias against fire and may well be fiscally unsustainable. They have been proven to be lethal with over 400 fatalities in wildland fire operations since 1994. How do our strategies of fighting fire have to change to match this new normal and when there is a fatality do we have to ask questions differently?


Ivan Pupulidy, PhD. applies dynamic perspectives to complex systems and high-risk environments, such as wildland firefighting, aviation, military and medicine. His approach to human factors includes the social aspects of human interaction and sensemaking, which are essential components of a learning organization. As a U.S. Forest Service Director, Ivan replaced the traditional accident investigation model with the Learning Review, which embraces complex events by looking at conditions and networks of influence; this approach helps organizations develop learning and cultural change.

Ivan’s ability to integrate academic research with real world application comes from his varied life experiences, which have included work as a mine geologist, exploration geophysicist, and a U.S. Coast Guard pilot for rescue and law enforcement missions. Ivan served in the U.S. Air Guard and Air Force Reserves, where he flew the C-130 Hercules, including missions as a MAFFS tanker pilot on wildland fires. He also served on active military operations for combat and humanitarian support in Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Africa.

Meeting Recording (link coming soon)

Meeting Presentation (link coming soon)

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