When You Ask “See Any Good Deployment Sites?”

The following is an excerpt from the “Packer’s Cabin Serious Near Miss” FLA.

On August 18 the task force consisted of TFLD(t) Ted, a fully qualified TFLD (Neal), the DNR engine, two other Type 3 engines, and a Wildland Fire Module. The plan for the day as discussed at the morning briefing was to complete the prep work at Packer’s Cabin and then burn out near the cabin in order to create a burned buffer so when the main fire hit the area it would not burn the cabin. After the cabin preparation was complete there was another briefing to review the plan. The plan was for the Wildland Fire Module to burn the south side of the 1917 road, starting from the main fire edge a little over one mile east of the cabin (burning from East to West), and then burn around the cabin (see FLA Navigation Map).

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There was also a dozer line from the Biscuit Fire that ran to the north off of the 1917 road. The plan was to keep the fire east of the dozer line. Fuel models in the vicinity included mature timber (at the start of the burn operation), tall shrubs (wax leaf ceanothus) near the dozer line in the middle, and grass in the meadow around the cabin. Due to the narrow road, Ted and Neal decided that only the DNR engine would follow the burners and catch spots if they started. The other two engines would wait at the cabin in case they were needed. Two of the DNR engine’s five crew members were used as drivers ahead of the burners. In this very steep country with dense foliage and tall trees, there was no good place for a lookout that could see the whole operation. The escape route was to drive down the 1917 road to the southwest and away from the fire. All resources were in favor of the plan and felt that it would succeed.

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Firing operations.

After a test fire, ignitions began around 10:30 am. Winds were favorable with gusts up to 10 mph blowing downhill and away from the 1917 road. Neal, a highly experienced and highly regarded Type 1 Burn Boss, was in charge of firing operations and Ted was in charge of the holding forces. Around 11:40, as the inversion lifted, the winds shifted to uphill. Larry notified everyone over the radio that the wind had shifted and then he reported the first spot fire across the 1917 road and on the west side of the dozer line. Ted assigned a heavy helicopter to Larry to work the spot and cautioned him to “not get too committed” to the spot fire. Ted wanted them to be mobile so they could easily disengage if fire behavior threatened their safety.

Larry had the helicopter drop several times on the spot. Ted reiterated to Larry to not “over commit to the spot fire.” To keep the engine mobile, Larry didn’t deploy hose, he kept the crew close, and focused on using the helicopter to work the spot fire. Larry said he felt good and they were in a good spot. Then Larry and everyone at the cabin could hear a distinct roar coming up the hill from south of the 1917 road. It was then evident to Larry that their egress to the cabin was cut off by the fire streaming across the 1917 road west of them. The helicopter came in for another drop on the spot fire but could not drop because they could not see it through all the smoke. They dropped on the road ahead of them instead hoping that it would cool the road for the DNR engine to drive out. At 12:30 Larry calmly asked the helicopter if they could see any good deployment sites and the pilot said that “Nothing is adequate for a deployment site. You need to get out.”

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The burnout increases in intensity.

At 12:37 Neal radioed Larry and instructed him to drive east down the 1917 road to where the burning operation started because there was a previously burned area that would be safe from the fire. Larry had been on the Twisp River Fire that took the lives of three engine crew members as they tried to drive out of an area when the wind shifted and the fire ran at them. The two year anniversary for the Twisp fatalities was on 8/19, the next day. Larry wanted to make sure that the same result did not happen to the DNR engine. Twisp kept running through his mind, but he did not mention it to his crew members because he did not want them to worry.


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The fire is established on both sides of the road to the east of the DNR engine.

Larry acted quickly with the knowledge of where he could safely take his crew. He loaded up his two crew members just as the smoke lifted enough for them to see the road, and they drove through “a tunnel of fire” to make it safely to the area of black to the east. At 12:40 as they drove into the black, Larry radioed that they were safe in the previously burned area, there was no engine damage and no one was injured. Everyone cheered and breathed a sigh of relief that they were safe. Ted said that those “ten minutes felt like two hours.” Larry decided they would stay there for a while and let things cool down.


What does this story mean to YOU?

(Tell us in the comments)

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.