Sawyer Down

The following is an excerpt from this report: Felling Injury and Medical Extraction Incident Minerva 5 Fire.

August 4 was the first day the Interagency Hotshot Crew was assigned to Division O. The previous five shifts on the fire had been a combination of direct and indirect fireline construction in steep terrain, heavy fuels, and near record high temperatures. The day’s assignment was to scout a piece of dozer line and conduct a burnout operation. Even though the fire had pushed toward a road system interior to the dozer line being used for the proposed firing operation during the night, fire behavior that morning was minimal.

While scouting the dozer line, a “snag patch” was identified that could be a potential threat to the line. One of the crew’s three squads was assigned to assess and mitigate the snag threat.

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Minerva 5 Fire

The squad (consisting of squad boss, two firefighters and a saw team made up of a FAL2 and FAL2 trainee) worked down the dozer line to the “snag patch” that consisted of five dead red and white fir trees. The trees ranged in diameter from less than 8 inches to over 28 inches. All were in various states of advanced decay with some having broken tops.

As the squad boss went to scout a nearby larger snag patch, the saw team went to work mitigating the snag threat. Working with the fully qualified FAL2 (referred to as Trainer for the remainder of the report), the FAL2 trainee (referred to as Sawyer for the remainder of the report) was operating the chainsaw. This was the Sawyer’s fifth season working as a wildland firefighter and the first with this Interagency Hotshot Crew. The squad boss stated that the Sawyer’s cutting skills had been improving over the season and that he was a careful, methodical sawyer.

The first tree felled was a small, less than 10-inches in diameter, tree which the Sawyer completed with no difficulty. The second tree was an 18-inch diameter red fir with the top broken out. It was located next to a large 40-inch diameter downed log. There were numerous other snags within three to four feet, as well as various sized green trees.

The Trainer noticed the Sawyer had missed connecting the horizontal and sloping cuts while attempting the undercut. It took a few more cuts to complete the undercut. The resulting undercut was half the diameter of the tree, greater than the recommended one-quarter to one-third of the tree diameter. The undercut direction remained as the Sawyer originally desired.

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Minerva 5 Fire

As the Sawyer started the back cut, the tree started to fall. The Trainer saw the top of the falling tree make contact with branches of a tree in the path of the fall. This resulted in the falling tree breaking mid-way up the bole. The break caused the top-half of the tree to fold back toward the Sawyer at the stump. The Sawyer attempted to retreat out of the path of the tree, but was blocked by the 40-inch diameter downed log. The top-half of the tree impacted the Sawyer’s left side, driving him into the downed log.

The Trainer immediately yelled to the Squad Boss, a qualified EMT. The Squad Boss notified the Superintendent by radio and began initial assessment and patient care.

The Superintendent was standing with the Division Supervisor discussing the plan for the day when the medical call came in. The Superintendent immediately notified the Division Supervisor of the medical incident, and then drove additional crew EMTs, medical equipment and rescue gear in the Superintendent’s truck as far down the dozer line as possible. The Division Supervisor jumped into her truck and followed the Crew Superintendent toward the accident site.

The Division Supervisor then assumed the role of Incident Commander for the medical incident and began to implement the incident command team’s incident-within-an-incident plan. The incident-within-an-incident Incident Commander communicated to the Minerva Incident Command Post that there was a medical emergency and began a response, which included ordering the dedicated medevac helicopter (hoist-capable), a life flight helicopter, and a ground ambulance.

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Minerva 5 Fire

Hearing this radio traffic, a nearby Division O engine with paramedics and advanced life support equipment responded to the incident. Two paramedics with advanced life support equipment hiked to the incident and assumed primary patient care. The two medics stabilized the injured firefighter and began patient assessment, starting an intravenous therapy with saline and an EKG.

The injured firefighter was secured to a backboard and carried by the crew up a steep section of dozer line, where he was then loaded onto a UTV for transport up the dozer line. While driving up the dozer line, the UTV became stuck on a dozer berm. The crew unloaded the patient, got the UTV over the dozer berm, carried the patient up a bit further, and then loaded him back onto the UTV headed up to the medivac spot where the incident medevac helicopter was waiting. The injured firefighter was transported by the incident medevac helicopter to the incident helibase and then transferred to a life flight helicopter and flown to Renown Hospital in Reno, Nevada

What does this story mean to you?

(Tell us in the comments section below.)

Also, take a look at this similar incident: Whitewater Hit by Tree Top.


Whitewater Fire Hit by Tree Top


The Impact of a Staff Ride

By George Risko

Staff Ride for Experiential Learning and So Much More
Many in the wildland community are familiar with the use of a staff ride in the learning process. The value of a staff ride goes well beyond training and education; it can be a very therapeutic and healing event as well.
Don’t underestimate the impact a staff ride can have on your agency. I would like to focus on the use of a local staff ride based on an event that took place within the Florida Forest Service and had the most impact on our family.We were very fortunate that the USFS Leadership Development Program and Lessons Learned Center teamed up with OMNA to host a national staff ride workshop. The workshop focused on what right looked like and how to develop a local staff ride. Based around the staff ride for the Battle of Shiloh, teams gathered to develop staff rides pertinent to their local unit.

Our team built the Blue Ribbon Staff Ride. The Blue Ribbon fire took place in 2011; on June 20, we lost two of our own—Brett Fulton and Josh Burch, our family, our Brothers.


George Risko with Ms. Mollie Burch, Josh Burch’s mom.

When we arrived at the workshop, we had a direction and an intent based on our Director’s vision, and we had his total support. We had the report and detailed information and the desire to honor our own. Putting the staff ride together was a task we had never tried before. At the workshop, information was gathered from us. With the help of mentors and subject matter experts, the information and ideas began to take shape into a plan—a plan we could execute through an Alpha delivery of our staff ride.

The Blue Ribbon Staff Ride Alpha delivery took place October 23-26 near Lake City, Florida. Our development team grew as we brought in more subject matter experts and conference group leaders. We were supported every step of the way by our mentors/SMEs from the workshop. We delivered our Beta in January and will be delivering the operational in the future.

 Based on my limited experience, I have found the staff ride development process to be an emotional and healing process. Valuable information can now be passed on to our current and future teammates while honoring the ultimate sacrifice of the Brothers we lost in 2011.

On site at the Blue Ribbon Staff Ride.

As we look forward, we can see the value of creating smaller local staff rides as part of annual fire refresher training, including RT-130. Staff rides can be built for a vast array of situations—a large prescribed fire, hurricane response, etc. The workshop gave us the tools and confidence to develop more staff rides and share our knowledge with others.

Thanks to staff ride workshop team, we now have the tools to move. So, if you have a vision or an idea for a local staff ride, I recommend attending the National Staff Ride Workshop or hosting a session of your own. It is the most rewarding hard work you will ever put in, and you will meet some incredible folks to assist you along the way.

Respectfully Submitted,
G. Risko, Florida Forest Service

George Risko is the Fire Training Officer for the Florida Forest Service and a member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. All expressions are that of the author.

This article is reprinted from the Wildland Fire Leadership Blog.

Duty, Respect, Integrity?

A reader was inspired to write and submit this piece after reflecting on our last post “We Are The Problem.”

This is called leading by example.

Thank you Nicole Oke.

By Nicole Oke

I try, but I can’t. I want to, but it’s just too hard. How can I? How can I look into those eyes knowing what I know? After all I have seen, after all I have heard, after all I have done or allowed to happen, how, how can I? When those eyes stare back at me I know what they will see, the truth, the shame, the guilt.

Duty, respect, integrity. Words to live by. Words to live up to. I thought I lived by these words, but if I look into those eyes I will have to acknowledge that I fell short, that I have failed, that I have let down those who needed me most.

Northern California Fires of 2008

It is my duty to be a leader. It is my duty to make sound and timely decisions. It is my duty to develop others for the future. I claim to be a leader. Others look to me for guidance and support. But if I look into those eyes I know the questions I will have to answer.

What kind of leader allows others to be harassed on their watch? What kind of leader knows harassment is happening and makes a conscious decision to ignore it, or worse yet, makes a conscious decision to allow it to be ok? What kind of a leader develops others for the future in a work environment where those who follow them don’t feel safe?

It is my job to look out for those I work with and for their well-being. It is my job to know others’ capabilities. It is my job to build a team. This is how we define respect, it is my job to respect those I work for, those who work for me, and those I work with. This is my job. But if I look into those eyes I know I will have to address why I choose to respect some and disrespect others.

"Happy Camp Complex, Klamath NF, CA, 2014"How can I look out for someone’s well-being if I refuse to acknowledge the things that are happening around me that are damaging all of our well-being? How can I look at others capabilities when it comes to doing a job, and yet be blind to their capability for hurting others? How can I build a team if harassment is present? How can I expect others to work with team members who have disrespected them, who have mentally, emotionally, or physically violated them in some way? How can I build a team when my team members can’t trust me to protect them and support them when they are going through one of the hardest things imaginable?

I struggle with integrity the most. Know yourself and seek improvement. Seek responsibility and accept responsibility for my actions. Set the example. To know myself requires examining every part of who I am and what I stand for.

Who am I? The more important questions is, do I want to know who I am? I support others, until I don’t. I believe in zero tolerance, until it happens. I speak up for those who can’t, until I won’t. I do what’s right, until doing what’s right is too hard. I talk the talk, until those I am talking to are in a position of authority. I care, until it stops impacting me.

"Happy Camp Complex, Klamath NF, CA, 2014"Being honest, being real, about who I am is hard, and those eyes, they know I need to take responsibility for my actions and for the consequences of my inactions. If I call myself a leader then I am one by name, but if I want to be a leader then I need to lead. I set the example for others. I can choose to allow, disregard, or deny the existence of inappropriate comments, dirty jokes, intimidation, innuendos, threats, and harassment. I can choose to ignore the realities of our gender biased culture and dismiss incidents of sexual abuse and rape as unique cases, not created by the beliefs and values of our firefighting community, or I can choose to lead a direct attack against it.

I can choose to have the integrity to speak up and let it be known I do not tolerate any form of harassment. I can choose to find ways to educate those around me about the experiences of others, and build understanding and empathy among my colleagues. I can choose to have the difficult and uncomfortable conversations that I have been avoiding all of my life. I can choose to talk about topics that are considered taboo. I can choose to create a welcoming and safe work environment where everyone feels able to discuss ideas and issues without fear of disapproval or reprimand. Maybe then I would able to look into those eyes and not feel like such a fake.

2c_IntegrityI look into the eyes of those who have faced sexual harassment and refused to accept it. I can see the pain, the humiliation, the disappointment that goes along with being harassed. I can also see something more, a determination, a drive, and a passion for a job they love. I think to myself how much strength it must take to admit to the world that something this horrific happened to you. How brave it is to talk about such a personal experience and to share that experience in hopes of helping others. I think about how much courage it takes to set aside all the reasons not to speak out. I think about how afraid they must be for themselves, their families, their careers.

I look into the eyes of those I love, the eyes of mothers, sisters, and wives. I hope that they will be one of the lucky ones. I pray that they will never have to endure the kind of harassment that is so prevalent among us. I dream of seeing a shift of our practices and policies so that one day I don’t have to hope and pray anymore.

I look into the eyes of my daughter, so young and innocent. My eyes water, my hands shake, and I get sick at the idea of her ever working in a place where she could be harassed, abused, or even raped while being surrounded by individuals, leaders, whose values are duty, respect, and integrity.

I finally find the ability to look into the eyes I have been avoiding, the eyes in the mirror. How do I look myself in the eye knowing what I know? After all I have seen, after all I have heard, after all I have done or allowed to happen, how, how can I? When those eyes stare back at me I know what they will see, the truth, the shame, the guilt.

The time for change is now, I stand with you and choose to live by the values of duty, respect, and integrity.


We Are The Problem

By Travis Dotson

In light of this:

we decided to re-post this piece from the Summer 2016 issue of Two More Chains.

My Daughter
She’s only two, but everyone can tell she’s “tough.” She constantly climbs and runs and falls down, just like any toddler. It’s a rare occasion for her to be scabless. People often comment on her “physicality.” “She’s so brave!” “She’s so agile.” Eventually, someone says: “A little firefighter in training!” And my heart sinks.


I understand that in relation to profession, children often follow in the footsteps of their parents. I don’t want my daughter anywhere near this profession. My hesitation has nothing to do with the risk of physical injury or death.

It’s because she won’t get a fair shake.

My daughter will face sexism. My daughter will have to deal with gender bias. I will have to watch her struggle with these issues no matter what path she chooses in life. If she chooses to be a construction worker or an engineer, at least I won’t know all the gory details of how she will be judged and mistreated—all the things I know intimately about the fire service.

Ashamed of Our Culture

I don’t want my daughter to become a wildland firefighter because I am ashamed of our culture regarding women in our ranks.

Wildland fire is filled with amazing women and they have to put up with a ridiculous amount of B.S. They are second-guessed, passed over, mistreated, and talked down to on a regular basis. I want my daughter to be evaluated by her peers on the basis of her performance and her contributions alone.

I don’t want her to be denied an opportunity for no other reason than her gender. I also realize that what I want matters little, for the world is a patriarchy and I’m part of it. But I can still take a swing at it.

The things I hear:

“I don’t hire women.”

“They’re just more trouble than they’re worth.”

“If girls can do it, it’s not tough.”

We are the Problem

Who says those things? Men, that’s who. Face it fellas, WE are the problem. I thought about all this stuff before, but the minute I had a daughter it became personal—and that’s pathetic. The very fact that it took a daughter to reveal my veiled view just goes to show how ignorant most of us are to the existence of our unearned advantage, as well as our active role in maintaining it.

Who am I kidding? I’m trying to connect with a bunch of blindly privileged whiners who vie for victim status every time a female is hired.

Even if the “think about your daughter” tactic did work, we can’t wait around for all the males in the fire service to have daughters so they can half-way empathize with the injustice faced by the women in our workforce. It’s a bad strategy and it’s not going to happen.

We need all men, whether they have daughters or not, to feel this.

Be Better

Believe me boys, you aren’t the only ones who are tough; and tough isn’t the only attribute we want anyway. We want anyone who can swing a tool all day long and still make good decisions when it counts the most. Women can do that every bit as good as men can—arguably better.

Think about your perspective on this subject. Take stock of the words you use and how you interact with the people around you. Women aren’t the only ones we isolate, exclude, and minimize.

Test your behavior against our core values of Duty, Respect and Integrity. Chances are you fall short on this subject. If you fail, study up and test again—growth is painful.

Be the change, Tool-Swingers.

Don’t shy away from the topic.

It’s real. We own this.

It’s got to change.

Lug Nuts, Skid Plates, Gas Tanks, and Dozer Brakes

By Travis Dotson

The Winter 2018 issue of Two More Chains is out. You should stop reading this and go read the actual issue.


You are still here so I will keep going.

A quote from the intro:

“We at the LLC have been accused on more than one occasion of shouting at the masses from the comfort of soft chairs in the tallest of ivory towers. Fair enough. Although you really should invest in a climb up to our high point. The view is great from up here—good spot for a lookout.”

This refers to all those times we have tackled topics like culture, identity, risk, learning organizations, and all the other big picture type stuff we like to unpack, daylight, and question in pursuit of growth. This current issue of Two More Chains is an attempt to level out our approach – get some nitty gritty “get better” lessons circulated based on recent incidents. (I spew my spew about the “get better model” in the Ground Truths section. Read it to get context on the highlighted pull quote below.)

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In the main portion of this issue a few nuggets call for action. These are not new if you’ve been paying attention, but it doesn’t hurt to have them float to the top for a polish every now and then. Here they are:

When the Wheels Come Off

Can you guess what these images have to do with lug nuts?

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The Floor is On Fire

Yep – dry grass and twigs collect between the skid plate and floorboard of several UTVs – then we drive around in the giant ignition source we all love to fight.

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Fuel Geysers and Your Brain

22 fuel geyser incidents recorded in 2017 – it’s still happening folks.

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TSA Opens Firefighter’s Fire Shelter Case

TSA doing their job could impact the unexpected emergency moment you carry this thing for.

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Those are all the real Nuts and Bolts type stuff. And then there is this, the best part of the whole issue:

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This is an interview with this dude, veteran dozer operator Bryan Baxter from the San Bernardino National Forest.

While he has plenty of lessons for your plate, you should go read this because it explains the rest of the story around this:

“Gary had to quickly jump over the blade to prevent being consumed by the tracks.”

Bryan took that event and inspired large-scale learning about the placement of controls inside the cab of certain dozers.

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You’re still here.

Go read it, already: Winter 2018 Two More Chains.

What THEY Said

As our work on the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary continues, we’ve got some more analysis to share with you.  Read this.  Do the Exercise and give us some feedback.  The final version of the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon!

By Travis Dotson

In 2017, the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center gathered information on more than 130 incidents. Most of these incidents have some sort of report. Many of these reports contain lessons from the perspective of those involved. Here are a few of those lessons – straight out of the reports. Click on the links to the reports if you want more context.

Fallers?Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 6.24.36 AM

“It’s always nice if fallers have an opportunity to assess and fell hazard trees in an area prior to other firefighters coming in. This is not always available or convenient.

When receiving your assignment, do you always ask if fallers have been through the area?

-What specific scenarios will trigger you to not work in an area until a full hazard tree assessment has been done?”

Tree Strikes Parked Engine

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Plan for Slow

“When establishing trigger points, considerations have to be made for the slow operational speed of heavy equipment (2-3 mph), the slow process for loading and transporting heavy equipment, and the length of the escape route.”

“Effective communications and lookouts ensured that personnel escaped prior to being overrun by the fire. However, there was little margin for error.”

Sheep Gap Heavy Equipment Burnover

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“ ‘Previous FLAs that I found on a quick Google search helped me make my decision to go to the ER. They were a good resource.’ Ricky cites the following document—created for Crew Leaders to carry with them and take to the hospital when presenting someone with a potential case of Rhabdomyolysis—as being especially helpful in his case: Rhabdomyolysis in Wildland Firefighters

IHC PT Rhabdo Case

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Get Gone or Look Up?

“Do you focus on escape and not pause to look back? Or do you take a few steps and pause for a quick glance back to make sure everything is good? You will have to make this decision for yourself. Use this incident as a way to discuss this ‘where to look’ dilemma with fellow sawyers.”

Sawyer Hit by Tree Top

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“When it comes to assessing fatigue, listen to your body and what it is telling you, not your mind. It may be necessary to accept low-quality rest in order to eliminate driving exposure when your body is tired. The lack of sleep adversely affects sound decision making.”

Return from Initial Attack Vehicle Accident

There you have it, just a few lessons from the front.

Remember, these are just words. YOU choose if they become action.

Circle up and do this simple exercise:

Do the exercise.



  • Identify one of these five lessons that is most important to you.
  • Write down two steps you can take to implement/practice your chosen lesson.


  • Share your top-priority lesson and implementation steps.
  • Discuss what you do with lessons that can’t be implemented until you’re out on the fireline…how can you improve the likelihood of remembering the lesson?



Sorting the Lumps

As our work on the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary continues, we’ve got some more analysis to share with you.  Read this.  Do the Exercise and give us some feedback.  The final version of the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon!

By Travis Dotson

Graph showing 2017 wildland fire incidents

There it is – the 2017 season boiled down to a few lines and numbers. These are all of the “outcomes” from reports submitted to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. (You can see incidents sorted by “Activity” in last week’s post: “Smokeless Danger“) I made up the categories and sorted them all. For this particular boring graph I tried to simplify everything as much as I could, lumping categories so I had fewer categories (like combining Hit by Tree, Hit by Straw, and Hit by Vehicle).

I’m a lumper…you may be a splitter. I’m ok and your ok (so I’ve heard), but I’ll go into a bit of detail for all you splitters out there. Let’s just go right down the list starting from the “top.”

Exertion – This was almost exclusively made up of Rhabdo and Heat Illness reports (28 out of 31) mostly because there is a specific reporting mechanism (Rhabdo/HRI) for those types of reports. This does not change the fact that the incidents did indeed occur, I just think it’s fair to acknowledge the reporting does seem to follow what we focus on. Nonetheless, HRI and Rhabdo will put you or your crewmembers in the hospital. Plan for it.

Fuel Geyser – Another specific reporting form (Fuel Geyser) helped us get more data on the danger of fuel in your face. So while it’s still happening, it’s fantastic to note that we are seeing significantly fewer injuries associated with the geysers. Is this the result of awareness and education actually working? We would like to think so. Either way, keep pointing that cap away from your vitals when you go to open the tank. Better yet – cover it with a rag, because the geyser remains a distinct possibility.

Entrapment – Big year for entrapments. Heavy equipment got caught the most. They get stumped and they move slow. Fire does not get stumped and it can go from slow to fast very fast. Firing Ops is the other time we often get entrapped – playing with fire is just that. One interesting note, in 2018, of the 20 reports that met the NWCG definition for “Entrapment”, only four chose to describe the event as an entrapment. Why do we avoid that term? (Get busy in the comments y’all.)

Vehicle Accident – Pretty standard. Driving is double-digit danger. We had a few rollovers and a chase truck vs power pole. But what stood out this year was the wheels coming off, or almost coming off. Three different instances of loose lug nuts. Go check your wheels right now (and get serious with those morning PM checks!)

Hit by Stuff – Mostly trees and branches from trees, but also straw from a helicopter. Most of the hit by tree instances involved chainsaw ops, but not always. Those trees will fall on you or throw their big branches at you randomly sometimes. Don’t hang out under them if you don’t need to.

Equipment Damage – Now there’s a broad category. This is usually vehicles being burned. This year there were three of those fire-damaged vehicles plus a couple big rigs (dozer transport and a skidgine) that rolled into trees – super close calls in both instances. Also, one engine’s light bar fell off on the way back to the barn. Check your brakes and the screws on your light bar.

Burn Injury – This bucket always shows up, but this year it wasn’t as full as in previous years. We had multiple instances of folks falling into hot ash, as we do every year. A fire-whirl rolled over an engine on a prescribed fire, someone grabbed a pump exhaust pipe in the dark, and one of those many fuel geyser’s did end up with a fuel ignition/burn injury. There was also one instance of a blown hose spewing hot water resulting in serious burns. In terms of burn injury lessons, this is the one you should read: Temple Fire Burn Injury

Medical Emergency – Super broad category, but it loses its umph when you take out the “exertion” events. What’s left is exactly what you would suspect – cardiac events, seizures, and other unpredictable, high stakes scariness. It might even happen while you are in travel status. Get ready.

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Uno Peak Boulder Near Miss

Close Call – I didn’t have enough room to call this the “No s#!t there I was” category – but that’s what it is. When you end up cartwheeling over a dozer blade. When you’re driving down the road and your brakes fail. When a boulder rolls between two trucks. That kind of stuff.  Random exists whether we want it to or not.

Chainsaw Cut – This is a super sneaky category. There were only three chainsaw cuts this year, but the significance cannot be overstated. Someone died from a chainsaw cut.

All the cuts were to swampers. And it’s going to happen again. Go slow. Be careful. Respect the spinning chain.

Other – There is always “Other.” This year it was a fall off a ladder during structure prep, hazmat exposure during mop up, and a PT session turned search and rescue. Don’t hate…you could be next.

Ok, there’s all the dirty details you pesky splitters. Please do something with all of this information, at least do this exercise:

Do the exercise.


  • Get with two other firefighters and write down which category above means the most to you.
  • Talk with each other about why the category matters to you.
  • Take turns describing what kind of incident you are most likely to experience based on the numbers and your brand of exposure.
  • Write down three ways to prepare for your bad day.



Smokeless Danger

At the beginning of each year we summarize and analyze incident reports from the previous year.  Check out these previous summaries.  This year we will post individual topics here as we complete portions of the analysis.  Take a look, engage with the exercises, and give us some feedback.  The complete 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon. 

By Travis Dotson

This is a graph of incidents reported to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. This particular graph separates the incidents by Activity (what were they doing when the incident occurred).

There are lots of interesting things to talk about in this graph, please show it to someone who cares and have a nice little talk about what it means to you both. Maybe even circle up with a few others and do the exercise at the end.


2017 Incidents by Activity Graph

I’m sure we all have plenty to say about the “top 3.” They consist of:

  • Chainsaw Ops
  • Driving
  • Physical Training

These are all things we do on a regular basis. Just these three activity types account for 58% of the total. That means in 2017, whenever a report was created and sent to us, more than half the time it was related to someone running a saw, driving, or doing PT.

Take note that none of these activities require a fire. For many of us these are activities we do every day. That’s telling. It means things we do a lot are things that bite us in the ass.

What am I getting at? It’s pretty simple. The “danger” isn’t necessarily hiding on the fireline, it’s stitched right into your daily activities.

Are the briefings before PT different than the ones before the big burn show on Division Delta? Of course they are. They are different activities. Plus, none of us could tolerate a big deal briefing every day before PT.

Maybe I should reframe it: which operation is more likely to go bad? That, of course, is a loaded question. You can slice and dice the exposure, frequency, risk, danger, possibility, hazard pie all kinds of crazy. You could make this a spicy dish with whatever flavor your over analysis happens to be. You could also use math, but I think you might need other numbers to do that. I don’t have the numbers or the math mojo to tackle it.

But I do know that I don’t think of PT as dangerous. Turns out I’m wrong. Imagine that.

Get together with the people you PT with and do this simple exercise:


Exercise (15 minutes) In small groups discuss the following questions:

Is PT really more dangerous than Firing Ops?

What is the danger of NOT doing PT?

Is your medical plan equally good for both operations (PT and Firing Ops)? – Should it be?

That’s all.

Now go PT.


Fatal Attraction

As our work on the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary continues, we’ve got some more analysis to share with you.  Read this.  Do the Exercise, and give us some feedback.  The final version of the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon!

By Travis Dotson

We love to know how many firefighters died. It’s the only number anyone has ever frantically demanded of the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center – all other numbers inspire no urgency.

Why do we want to know? What is this morbid fascination? Is it morbid?

The highly esteemed Urban Dictionary has a definition for the term “Fatal Attraction” –

“An attraction between an individual and someone/something that is so strong, the individual lacks reason and logic in their thinking when dealing with their attraction.”


Does our fascination with firefighter fatalities fit this description? Do we lack reason and logic when dealing with our attraction? The most basic line of thinking goes something like this – if we pay attention to dead firefighters there will be fewer dead firefighters in the future. That feels reasonable, but is it?

Here are the basics from 2017.

2017 Wildland Firefighter Fatalities

Vehicle Accident: 4

Medical Emergency: 3

Hit by Tree: 3

Entrapment: 2

Hit by Straw: 1

Chainsaw Cut: 1

Total: 14

Now what?

How will you use logic and reason when thinking about this topic?

Is this year any different? Here are the numbers from the past ten years:




We can go past ten years as well. The average number of fatalities over the past 30 years is just under 17. In case you are wondering, that’s 500 deaths since 1988.

Now what?

I don’t know – and I’m the analyst at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.

What if we just thought about how we talk about Line of Duty Death?

Gather up with your fellow risk-takers and do this:

Exercise (30 minutes)Wheel

Part 1 (5 mins)

  • Individually list as many “sayings” as you can about Line of Duty Deaths – for example, “we haven’t found any new ways to kill firefighters” or “all our lessons are written in blood.”

Part 2 (25 mins)

  • Take turns saying one to the larger group. Discuss what these sayings really communicate.
    • Are they true?
    • Are they useful?


I have no idea if that exercise includes any logic or reason, but it does get us to examine the words we use and why.

Maybe we should try changing our words – or at least know exactly why we say them.

Mic Drop

As our work on the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary continues, we’ve got some more analysis to share with you.  Read this.  Do the Exercise, and give us some feedback.  The final version of the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon!

By Travis Dotson

You got a mic? Are you a wrapper?

Ha Ha – lots of people didn’t get that.


  • Do you have an external microphone for your radio? (“mic”)
  • Do you wrap the cord through the webbing on your line pack? (“wrapper”)

See how it’s not funny when I explain it?

What the hell am I even talking about?

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 10.54.02 AM

An External Radio Mic

I’m talking about needing to ditch your gear, grab your radio, and run for your life. See, that’s where the mic cord becomes a problem. The problem is when you are trying to escape from a wall of flame bearing down on you it can get hard to do things – especially things that need to be done fast. Fiddling with intricate little parts is a giant pain in the ass – especially with gloves on, and when it’s hot and you know with more intensity than you ever have that the smallest delay is deadly. Literally deadly.

You know where I’m going. It turns out it’s rather difficult to ditch your gear, grab your shelter, radio, and water when your radio mic is woven through the gear you are trying to ditch.

For those of you who are thinking “just don’t weave the cord, let it hang loose” – you might never have tried to actually work, especially in brush, with a loose cord dangling here and there. The environment we operate in is mean. It turns out trees, brush, tools…even rocks, all have deceptively intense grip, strength, reach, and are plain old sneaky as shit. That cord will be grabbed and held when and where you least expect it. This is why we invest so much attention in a tightly woven cord. We are trying to outwit the wrathful reach of that vengeful vegetation.

Yes, the mic cord is intentionally woven tight for good reason. But that good reason gets tangled up with survival in certain situations.

Check it out:

From the 2012 Holloway Entrapment report: “Firefighter A moves into the only opening she can see, removes her pack, gloves, then removes the fire shelter, discards her fuel bottle, and attempts to remove the radio and water from pack. She has difficulty retrieving the radio due to the remote microphone cord being intertwined in the line pack webbing.”

From the 2017 Preacher Fire Entrapment report: “Iron Mountain lookout was trained to drop line gear to lighten his load. He knew he needed to take his radio, fire shelter and hand tool. He threw his line gear on the upper cut bank of the road to remove his equipment. The cord to his external speaker mic was woven into the webbing of his line gear, which is something that many firefighters do to keep the cord out of the way. The urgency of the situation made it even more difficult to disconnect his radio mic. He felt it took an extraordinary amount of time and was extremely frustrated when he finally removed the radio from his line gear.”


See the problem? Pretty straightforward. When you are running for your life and go to ditch your gear but want to keep your radio (as you were trained) that external mic can be a real time sink, and you got no time to sink.

So what to do? Figure it out yourself. I’m not trying to be an ass. I just know we are a bunch of inventive bunnies and we put a lot of stock in things we come up with ourselves which means you are likely much better served if you customize a solution that works for you. So go do it.

You just got served (a lesson that is).


Exercise (30 minutes)

  • Gather up with a few other folks who carry radios. Discuss the practice of “weaving your mic cord” through pack webbing.
    • What are the pros and cons? (10 mins)
  • Identify 3 ways to avoid the cord problem from the entrapment fires listed above. (10 mins)
  • Decide as a group if there is a reason to make a rule about this type of cord set-up? (Take a vote if you need to.) (10 mins)

Go get your gear if you need to make changes.