Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 59–77 | Cite as

Making Firefighters Deployable



Although sociologists have devoted a considerable amount of research to exploring high-risk organizations, they have not yet developed an adequate explanation as to why individuals working within such organizations place themselves in harm’s way and how organizations ensure they remain there. This article addresses this gap by analyzing how the United States Forest Service motivates wildland firefighters to participate in life-threatening activity. Drawing on ethnographic research and content analyses of official documents, it describes the process by which firefighters come to develop a specific disposition towards risk taking, a disposition through which they view firefighting as an activity void of danger, and how this disposition maintains its shape, and even grows stronger, after confronting its biggest challenge: the death of a firefighter.


Firefighting High-risk organizations Risk Human error Death 



I thank Mustafa Emirbayer, Javier Auyero, and three anonymous reviewers for their useful feedback. Sections of this article have appeared in On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters (University of Chicago Press, 2007) as well as in “Des morts incompétents,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 165 (2006), pp. 8–27, both works by the author.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Society of FellowsHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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