Tree Trauma

By Travis Dotson

“Hit by Tree” events are a difficult topic. We have had a series of tragedies in recent years. We’ve endured eight fatalities in the last four years.

We’ve had one hotshot die in “Hit by Tree” incidents each summer for the past three years.

Each instance is heartbreaking. These events are sometimes difficult to process because there is often a feeling of inevitability around the issue of wildland firefighters being struck by trees.

How do we make these events matter?

8in4

Eight “Hit by Tree” Fatalities in four years.


Not every time a firefighter gets hit by a tree results in death. In 2018 we received reports of 16 non-fatal incidents. Each instance is terrifying.

How do we make these events matter?


TaylorCreekRLS

“The butt end of the tree hit the faller as it jumped backwards off the stump and swung uphill almost 25 feet.”
Taylor Creek RLS


 

SanAntonio2

San Antonio Fire FLA

From the FLA:

The limb struck Joel on the left side of the hard hat at an “angle smearing the hard hat off his head.” The branch also hit Memo hard on the back, knocking him to the ground.

The story here is a description of several hotshot crews engaged in direct attack on a fire in extreme terrain with numerous snags, and steep slopes with rocks rolling down the hill like a bowling alley.

Why were they exposed to such risk? Why were they even there? What happened? Did someone mess up cutting a tree? Did someone walk under a bucket drop? Did they lose situational awareness?

What do we learn when there is no glaring mistake made?
No “Human Error” that caused the accident?

After a thorough review of this incident, the FLA team has come to a potentially confounding conclusion: That in the case of the San Antonio Fire accident, Line Officers, IMT members and on the ground firefighters did just about everything right.

But wait, firefighters got hurt really bad…WHY?


During a chainsaw training session, a Fire Captain who is an Advanced Faller (C-Faller) Cadre Member was struck by a grounded tree limb that was under tension. The Fire Captain remained unconscious with agonal respirations as they completed an assessment of his injuries. The Fire Captain suffered significant injuries to his head, neck and chest that required hospitalization.


Exercise (30 minutes)

Study the events above.

Identify what has the most meaning for you.

Write down a few notes on WHY your selection has meaning.

Compare your answers with others.

Discuss these Questions:

What makes an event have meaning for us individually?

What makes an event NOT have meaning?

Chainsaws and Drip Torches

We are working on the 2018 Annual Incident Review Summary.  As we compile the summary we’ve got some highlights to share with you.  Read this.  Do the Exercise. (Maybe include it in your Refresher Training.)  Give us feedback.  The final version of the 2018 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon!


By Travis Dotson

The list of things we get hurt doing is pretty much just a list of things we do. So, is what we do dangerous? Or is what we do safe and it’s the way some people do it that brings on the danger?

OR is black and white, all or nothing, either/or, no middle ground thinking ridiculous and especially problematic on the fireground?

In 2018 we collected 16 different reports of incidents related to Chainsaw Operations.

Is that:

  • Proof of the numerous poorly trained operators out there?

OR

  • Flat out amazing that the number is so low given the amount of time we spend running saws?

Didn’t we just talk about false dichotomies?

At least we get to choose the perspective we take.

So here are some numbers, lessons, and an exercise.

Make them mean something.


 

SawOps

2018: Out of 16 “Chainsaw Ops” incidents, 10 were “Hit by Tree” and 6 were “Saw Cuts”

 


chaps

“The poison oak vine grabbed the chain and pulled the cut tree down into the chainsaw bar, pushing the bar into the sawyer’s leg about four inches below the left knee. The saw’s teeth grabbed the sawyer’s saw chaps and rolled them from the outside inward.”

Taylor Creek Chainsaw Cut


FiringOps


“During the burnout operations, a sudden wind shift and explosive fire growth happened and at about 1733, personnel were cut off from their escape routes. Most of the firefighters were able to move back to their vehicles to exit the area. However, six individuals farther down the dozer line were forced to run in front of the advancing flame front, through unburned fuels to a nearby dirt road for approximately one mile…”

Mendocino Complex – Ranch Fire Burn Injuries and Vehicle Damage


CrewBurn2

“I hurdled over the fence, the tool in my pack caught the fence, I fell face down.”
Camp Fire Entrapment Burn Injuries


BurnedPack3

While conducting firing operations a hand-throw firing device ignited in a pouch on the firefighter’s web gear.
Edison RX Firing Device Incident


Exercise

Write down your answer to these two questions:

1. What makes chainsaws dangerous?

2. What does “Playing with Fire” mean to you?

Discuss your answers with the next firefighter you see (hopefully you know them).

Two More Chains – The View From Here

TMC1

The View from Here

Our normal ops were interrupted by the recent 35-day “Government Shutdown.” Given the short window to produce the winter issue of Two More Chains, we decided to use it as an opportunity to share and highlight a new publication from the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (LLC): “The View from Here”.

This publication presents a collection of 16 essays from various authors. Most of these essays originally appeared in Two More Chains or were featured on the LLC’s Blog. They all share a common theme: How and why we must alter some of our most ingrained practices and perspectives.



From the Introduction of ‘The View from Here’:

This collection of essays—divided into three key categories: Risk, Culture, and Operations—daylights qualities and practices in the wildland fire service across a broad spectrum, from outdated and unwarranted to honorable and profound. We must acknowledge our current culture and its shortcomings while using its strengths to lead change.

The main intent is to provide awareness for those decision-makers operating at crucial levels who are empowered to influence how we interact with fire across the landscape.

We must align our perspectives related to risk and exposure if we are to advance our collective interest in the well-being of our workforce and our landscape.

To fully appreciate the task at hand, we must also fully acknowledge the culture that supports and shapes the work as it’s currently performed. This collection is intended to illuminate the complexity of interacting with wildland fire while revealing the simplicity of shifting perspective. Common understanding will lead to actions that will ultimately advance our collective well-being.


Use ‘The View from Here’ to Stimulate Group Discussion and Learning

These essays provide ideal material for group dialogue and learning.

Select one essay at a time for everyone on your staff to read. Set a time and discuss it together. What are the key takeaways? Has your perspective changed? Will you change your behavior? How will you take follow-up action related to the topic?