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5 minutes reading time (977 words)

National Fire Chief Tom Harbour

National Fire Chief Tom Harbour
Join host Chris Baker and guest National Fire Chief (Ret.) Tom Harbour, former Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service, as we discuss starting a career as a wildland firefighter and the philosophy of being a student of fire. During this episode, we also discuss the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Everyone Goes Home in the wildland and the importance of the firefighter life safety initiatives for the structural and wildland firefighter in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) environment.
National Fire Chief (Ret.) Tom Harbour


Tom is a recognized expert in wildland fire and aviation management policy and operations. His over fifty year career spans public service and private industry experience. He served the longest term to date as the National Fire and Aviation Management Director (National Fire Chief) in the more than hundred-year history of the US Forest Service. During this time, Tom brought additional professionalism and enhanced performance to the organization. The US Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management program employs over 10,000 firefighters, responds to a variety of domestic emergencies (generally fire) and in the last year of his active duty with the agency the program had a budget of nearly $4 billion (US). The US Forest Service program provided both the world's largest organization of firefighters as well as the world's largest federal civilian (non-defense) aviation program. Through international relationships, there was assistance to every region of the world. He effectively dealt with the most senior elected and governmental leaders in local, state, and federal governments as well as international and American scientists and career professionals.

Leaving the US Forest Service, Tom formed HarbourFire, a consulting firm offering expertise and advice on wildland fire issues as well as policy and organizational issues. In June 2019, he joined Cornea as Chief Fire Officer. In the years of his work as a noted wildland fire and aviation management consultant, Tom has assisted government agencies and private entities. He has had the opportunity to work with companies across the world. He has testified to Congress and frequently been quoted in major media. He has the opportunity to assist the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in work to reduce line of duty death, accident, and injury to firefighters. He is a member of the Advisory Committee to the Board of Directors of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He is also a member of the Board of Directors and Stewardship Committee for the International Association of Wildland Fire.

Tom's first experience with wildfire was firefighting in central California in 1970. Since then, Tom has been energetically and continuously involved in wildland fire and aviation management. Tom has had opportunities to fight, prescribe, prevent, and manage wildland fires across the United States and internationally. He has been a Burn Boss (for prescribed/managed wildland fire), an Incident Commander, and an Area Commander (both for wildfires) at the highest levels of complexity. His emergency management experiences have included fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, riots, floods, and other types of disasters (for example, cryptosporidium outbreaks) both domestically and internationally. He was the first National Fire Chief with such an extensive operational background. Tom was honored by the National Association of State Foresters for his service in wildland fire management, the only federal wildland fire civil servant to be honored by the State Foresters.

Tom has a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of California at Davis (1973) and in Forest Management from Washington State University (1975). He graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Davis and with Presidential Honors for a 4.0 GPA from Washington State University. His post-graduate work included studies at the JFK School of Government, Harvard University and the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina. Tom served with faculty and leaders at the Marine Corps University, Quantico, Virginia. He has written numerous articles in fire management professional journals. He is a skilled speaker and instructor.


Everyone Goes Home in the Wildland

Everyone Goes Home in the Wildland Report

Paul Gleason - Student of Fire Philosophy

Exit Interview:

Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives in the Wildland


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