Quick Tree Lessons From AK

Going to a Fire in Alaska?

Check out these lessons from two tree strike incidents that occurred in the Fairbanks area.

Pat Creek Fire Tree Strike (2010)

August 8, 2010. Bucking and swamping was in progress when a gust of wind blew over a black spruce a couple tree lengths away, which then struck a second tree while on the way down, which struck a third tree causing it also to fall. Tree #3 which was approximately 8” dbh, struck the firefighter with its top section. The sawyer was bucking with the saw and the swampers busy moving fuel to the bone-pile, so the falling domino trees were seen only by the CRWB(t) observing the operation some distance away.


Hardhat of Firefighter struck by tree

  • Key Factor: Trees in permafrost conditions develop shallow root systems. Fires burning deeply into the organic layer containing those root systems frequently result in consumed roots and unstable trees.
  • Mitigation: Hazard trees need to be evaluated and felled prior to mop-up activities. Mop-up crews cannot assume that prior snagging operations mitigated all hazard trees. Increasing winds in burned-over timber, as well as recently observed wind-throw, should act as watchout triggers to have one eye looking up, or designating a snag look-out for each working group. Good spacing between swampers or other crewmembers involved in mop-up is also key. The working area of this allotment was snagged again after this incident.

Hastings Fire Tree Incident (2011)

At approximately 1820 hours (ADST) on June 16, 2011 while conducting mop-up
operations on the Hastings Fire, near Fairbanks, Alaska, a member of the ZigZag
IHC was struck by a tree. A medium helicopter already working the fire was
quickly staffed with medical personnel and used to extract the injured crew
member from a rapidly improved sling spot near the injury location. The injured
crew member was then flown directly to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.


Portion of the tree that struck firefighter

  • This tree strike occurred in a mixed timber stand comprised of 8-10 inch aspen and 12-24 inch white spruce.
  • A predominate shallow duff layer allowed the fire to penetrate down to mineral soil.
  • The tree that impacted the IHC member had a very shallow root system that had not been impacted by any other activities other than the fire.



They aren’t lessons if you don’t use ’em!

Formidable Opponent

By Bre Orcasitas – Field Operations Specialist. Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

When thinking about Nomex pants there are essentially two camps of folks. Those who simply think “PPE” and others who think, “formidable opponent”. If you are in the second camp you’ll definitely want to keep reading.


If you happen to be in the first camp there may be some confusion. “Formidable opponent? They’re just pants.” True. They are just pants, but for those who are vertically challenged the standard Nomex pants can leave one struggling to keep up with the crew hiking pace as they’ve got their pulaski in one hand and the crotch of their pants in the other. Yes, you read that right. If the crotch of your pants is nearly down to your knees it doesn’t necessarily support functional fireline movement without a little assist.

So, what’s the point of diving into all this? Wait for it…

PantsOver the years there have been countless efforts to get some diversity in sizing for Nomex pants because as it turns out, firefighters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. At the core of these numerous campaigns one person has been methodically toiling away in the background. Tony Petrilli, the Equipment Specialist with NTDP (National Technology and Development Program), has taken a constant stream of comments and suggestions and has then gradually incorporated those field recommendations into sample versions of Nomex pants as well as permanent variations of the original.

Right at this moment Tony has a Nomex pant survey out on the street asking fire folks far and wide for their input so that he can make the corrections field personnel want to see. So let’s all help the cause by filling out the survey. Whether you like the pants just the way they are, or you want to stop holding-up the crotch of your pants while you hike, give him the feedback and then share the survey link with your pals; the more feedback that is received the better.

Make sure to have a tape measure handy prior to starting the survey, you’re going to need it. The deadline is July 31st so don’t miss your chance to offer up your two cents.

Wildland Fire Flame Resistant Pants Questionnaire



Medevac: How We Got Here

[Over the last several weeks we have been featuring content on this Blog related to “Growth in the Wildland Fire Service.” This content will also be featured in the forthcoming Spring 2019 Issue of Two More Chains. This Blog post “Medevac: How We Got Here” is the central cover story in this issue of Two More Chains.]

By Alex Viktora

Here’s a fireline conversation I can’t imagine happening back in the 1990s (the red highlights indicate our more recent achievements and successes):

DIVS D: “Make sure to tie-in with your FEMPs down at DP 20. They’re from a big department in California. They have everything we might need, and they’re super experienced and ready to hike wherever. Also, there’s a REM Team that will be at DP 30, just a mile down from 20. They’re pretty dialed-in. They’ve got this crazy UTV that can transport, they’ve also got a wheeled litter, and they’re ready to do high- or low-angle rope work. Our Short-Haul helicopter is down at helibase, which is maybe a ten-minute flight from where you’ll be working today. I think the Short-Haul crew is from Grand Teton National Park. They’ve got all the Short-Haul stuff, a bunch of EMTs, and one Medic. Remember, we can Short-Haul a Green or Yellow, not just a Red. If you have a medical, get stuff moving to it, and make sure to use the 9-Line…uhm…I mean the 8-Line.

Me: The Medical Incident Report, in the IRPG, right?

DIVS D: Yeah, that! It’s also in the IAP on the last page, so you don’t have to flip through the entire IAP novella to find it.

Me: Sweet. I think we’re good to go! Thanks!

A Basic Truth


That’s a lotta jargon, and I love my jargons! (I sometimes joke that I get $1 for each acronym I use. Just check out the conversation above.) All this jargon—which will be spelled out and clarified in this piece—highlights a basic truth: Today, we’ve got a ton of stuff for fireline medical and rescue work.

Here’s a partial list of achievements and accomplishments—successful improvements—you might have the benefit of encountering on your next large fire assignment:

Has it always been like this? The short answer is no. The long answer is, well, it’s longer.


Short-Haul operation successfully gets an injured firefighter off the 2011 Las Conchas Fire. Photo by Kari Greer.

The Fire Incidents that Provided Key Medevac Lessons

This particular story of medevac lessons and progress is filled with the names of fires like Dutch Creek, Deer Park, Las Conchas, Big Meadows, Freezeout, Strawberry and San Antonio. Some of these stories involve firefighter deaths; some of these stories were merely close calls; all of these stories involve chance and luck and each event is chocked-full of lessons.

This story also includes boards of review, memos, “Pink Stickers”, 9-Lines, as well as lessons from the world of structural fire. Through it all, there’s never been a single effort or a single Incident Commander tasked with “fixing” the medevac problem. Countless efforts at different organizational levels and at different places around the country have contributed to this effort. Bucket by bucket, the tank is being filled.

A Complex, Tragic Story

To many of us, the fireline medical story begins with Dutch Creek (https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/dutch-creek-tree-fel). As a National Park Service employee and firefighter at the time, just like Andy Palmer, his death on this incident hit particularly close to home. I didn’t know Andy. I didn’t know his brother, Robert (a former firefighter as well), and I didn’t know anyone on the Eagle Fire in Northern California that afternoon.

But over the next decade, I came to know people who worked at Olympic National Park, Andy’s home unit. I even hired one of Andy’s coworkers to join our Module in Utah during the following (2009) season. Words like “golden hour” and “definitive medical care” started peppering our conversations about medical emergencies on the fireline.


The Pink Sticker.

The First Version of the 9-Line

As the conversation around fireline medical emergencies evolved, folks were eager for additional tools in the toolbox. It was in the Dutch Creek follow-up where one tool began to emerge, the “Dutch Creek Protocol”, which established a basic process and expectations for calling in medical incidents on large, IMT-managed fires.

It’s this memo that became the “Pink Sticker”—almost literally a band-aid applied to the IRPG until 2014. That’s when the first version of the “9-Line” became part of the IRPG. Technically called the “Medical Incident Report” (MIR), this tool was designed for firefighters—not just EMTs or ICs—to call in a size-up and get resources moving to the scene of a medical emergency. This tool was designed to be used on fires of all sizes, with incident communications and local dispatch units as well. While not perfect, this first version of the MIR was a major step forward from the basic stuff in the IRPG, and an improvement on the Dutch Creek Protocol.

As the Medical Incident Report began to be used, numerous lessons began to emerge on how medevacs actually take place, how preparation and training are critical to good medical response, and how to improve the MIR itself. New tools have come on scene. REMs and Short-Haul are among the most noteworthy.


The Medical Incident Report (above) is available in the back of the IRPG, as well as in some IAPs.

Our Collective Medevac Journey

In the wake of Dutch Creek, other incidents shed light on where we were on our collective medevac journey. The 2010 “Deer Park Fire Hit By Rock FLA” (https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/deer-park-fire-hit-b) (still one of my personal favorites) calls out some hard truths, right there on the cover of the report: “The organization is ethically and morally obligated to put an EMS program in place that is supported by the organization, and given the standardized training and equipment to make the program succeed.” The organization—in this case—is the United States Forest Service, which has been working to develop an agency-wide EMS program over the last several years.


Next, helicopter Short-Haul entered the wildland fire medical story in 2011, when a firefighter with a broken leg was short-hauled off the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico. At the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (LLC), we thought this was such a big deal that we made a video to help spread the word and tell this success story. If you’re not familiar with Short-Haul, check this video out: “ROCK: Firefighter Extraction Success Story” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sinqJsUrYzE.

The effects of deliberate medical planning, combined with specialized equipment—in this case an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)—and a touch of luck, showed up in 2013 on the Big Meadows Fire at Rocky Mountain National Park. The Lessons Learned Review (https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/big-meadow-medevac-2013) and eight videos produced to capture the lessons from this event are among the most thorough we’ve seen at the Lessons Learned Center. (This AED incident on the Big Meadows Fire is discussed in this Blog post https://wordpress.com/post/wildfirelessons.wordpress.com/2671.)

Rapid Extraction Modules entered our lexicon in 2015, with two reports regarding their use on the Rough Fire in California: “Firefighter Pinned Beneath Burning Log Lessons Learned Review” (https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/rough-fire-pinned-by-burning-log); and the “Rapid Extraction Module Support RLS” (https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/rapid-extraction-module-support-20).

Throughout the last decade, a persistent reality occasionally emerges: firefighters sometimes have to innovate on the fly due to system-level shortcomings. If you don’t have a hammer, well, you can actually pound a nail with a pulaski. It’s not pretty, or fast, and it might not be the safest. And there’s certainly no policy to support it, but sometimes the pulaski is the only option. In the case of the 2014 Freezeout Ridge Fire snag incident medevac (https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/freezeout-ridge-fire-snag-incident), the only tools available at the time weren’t widely known as “approved” or supported as the best tools for the task of extracting a critically injured firefighter in a timely fashion. In that situation, the use of the helicopter, long line, remote hook and Traverse Rescue Stretcher were the only tools available.

These tools were the aforementioned “pulaski” scenario. And for many years, helitack crews all over prepared to use a “pulaski” when folks knew a “hammer” would be better.

(To many folks, what took place on the Freezeout Ridge Fire set expectations for what Short-Haul programs would provide. There are critical distinctions between what happened at Freezeout and what Short-Haul is. For more information on this subject, read: https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/short-haul-procedures-and-the-trave .)

Lessons and Takeaways

When I personally look at what has changed over the last ten years, I have some key thoughts and lessons that I think folks can take action on. Each of these is associated with a set of actions, and they’re examples of fruit you can reach. (See the Summer 2017 “Fruit We Can Reach” Two More Chains https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/two-more-chains-summer-2017.)

  1. Practice Medical Responses. This lesson has shown up in reports of all kinds, from Rapid Lesson Sharing documents to Accident Investigations and Facilitated Learning Analysis reports. Practicing medical emergencies can pay huge dividends. Whether it’s crew or module-level training; a drill conducted by an Incident Management Team; or a larger-scale scenario with a patient triage, agency and non-agency aircraft (with piles ignited to provide realistic effect).
  • A Related Lesson: Do medical training, refreshers and scenarios before you do stuff that could get you or your folks hurt. Things that can get you hurt are numerous, but some of the lessons we’ve seen that stress this order of operations include chainsaw and physical training.
  • A Second Related Lesson: Ensure that more than just crew leadership is ready to run a medical incident, because supervisors aren’t immune to being injured. (See: https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/chainsaw-training-tree-injury-2012.)
  1. Get familiar with the tools in your medevac toolbox. The things we have available to us will vary from fire to fire and Division to Division. If you find yourself in close proximity to a REM, tie-in and chat about what kind of gear and experience they have. If you can swing by the helibase and say hello to the Short-Haul folks, do the same. Ask them if your backboard will work in their Bauman Bag. Don’t know what a Bauman Bag is? Yeah – you should go to helibase and say hello. In the meantime, read this: “Short-Haul Procedures and the Traverse Rescue Stretcher” written in 2016 (https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/short-haul-procedures-and-the-trave).
  2. Medical responses can be traumatic events. Regardless of the eventual outcome, and even when “everything works out OK,” a medical response can have huge impacts on numerous groups. These impacts extend beyond those firefighters on the line who experience or witness an injury. This group also includes: those who help with the medical response (adjacent crews, helitack modules, ambulance crews, etc.), as well as folks who work in communications units or dispatch centers. (See the Summer 2018 “Are Our Dispatchers Exposed to Trauma?” Two More Chains https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/two-more-chains-summer-2018.)

One of these events can be enough to send folks into tough places; several of these events could be unbearable. The lesson for all of us here is this: Watch out for each other. Lend an ear or a shoulder in the days, weeks or months after a medical emergency. If there’s a group that wants to get together around the fire pit to talk about the close-call, go for it. Also, it’s a good stroke to get familiar with some of the resources available to us. Peer Support and Employee Assistance Programs are just of few of the tools we might need to reach for.

Final Thoughts

To wrap this up, here are a few final thoughts. Unlike the lessons above, these three noteworthy topics (below) are for you, for all of us, to discuss—and maybe even argue over. Translating discussion into action will be challenging.

  1. There’s still some work to be done with regard to medical emergencies on the fireline. Here’s a sampling of the things that we still struggle with:
    • We still have a tough time talking to non-agency medevac aircraft. At the LLC, we’ve called this issue “Can’t Talk to Medevac” (we are genius namers, aren’t we?). We have a list of at least 11 reported incidents where communications between ground personnel and “Life Flight” aircraft were difficult or impossible.
    • Competition for resources like Short-Haul is high during peak fire season.
    • What exactly a “REM” (Rapid Extraction Module) is and how to reliably get one is still not widely standardized or even understood.
  2. As wildland fire organizations expand their fireline medical programs, a critical question will need to be periodically addressed: Who is this service for? Is it just for firefighters and fire-support personnel? Is it for anyone who might need medical service? Depending on your perspective, this might be a simple question with a simple answer…or…not.
  3. Some folks would argue—I occasionally count myself as one of them—that all these improvements may actually be increasing (we sometimes say “enabling”) the types of risks we’re willing to engage our wildland firefighters with. Unless we’re very careful, these improvements—just like any safety or PPE improvement—could result in exposure to more hazards and different risks. Here’s my favorite apropos comparisons:
    • Does a better football helmet prevent concussions? Or does it allow football players to hit harder, and actually cause more long-term damage?
    • Is it a good idea to put your shroud down when you’re close to active fire? Or, does the shroud allow you to stand too close to fire for too long?

All of these improvements (and those sure to come) are good news. I’d way rather get hurt on a fire today than 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to get better, we need to keep having tough conversations about risk and hazard. Sometimes it will make sense to put folks in steep, rugged country, and add in extra lookouts, a REMs Team and a Short-Haul helicopter. (See the 2018 “San Antonio Tree Strike FLA [Water Flowing Uphill]”: https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/san-antonio-fire-tree-strike-2018.)

In other situations, it might be best to get off the high ground and work where we’re closer to definitive care. Sometimes these situations align with operational objectives, but involve other trade-offs. The process of solving the dilemma of when, where and how to engage our firefighters should—every time—include this significant consideration:

Just as with any other safety measure, we must always be diligent in asking ourselves if our risk mitigation efforts enable, mitigate, or transfer risk.

High Visibility — More to the Story . . .

By Tony Petrilli

As the U.S. Forest Service’s National Technology and Development Program (T&D) Project Leader for firefighter clothing, I would like to address some of the history and decision-making criteria concerning Forest Service “spec” garments.

A recent Blog Post on this LLC site written by Charlie Palmer [https://wildfirelessons.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/high-vis/] referred to a proposal that he sent to us at the National Technology and Development Program four years ago requesting us to evaluate high visibility (HV) flame resistant (FR) garments. While this project proposal was rejected, most importantly, the concept was not. (Another Key Point: Project proposals to T&D are vetted through an interagency fire steering committee, not necessarily T&D itself.)

Many years ago, I asked FR fabric manufacturers here in the United States about HV. A couple years after that, one of the manufacturers had developed a new HV fabric.

Current Shirt

During the T&D firefighter shirt redesign project that resulted in the current (M2011) FS spec design, high visibility yellow color fabric was one of the many fabrics considered and was wear tested by firefighters in the field. Some resultant facts and findings:

  1. Flame resistant meta-aramid (Nomex IIIA) fabric does not bond well with high visibility colored dyes to American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) visibility standards.
  2. Flame resistant fabric made with modacrylic fibers can be dyed with HV colors.
  3. In order to meet the minimum radiant protective performance (RPP) requirements, modacrylic fabric needs to be heavier and thicker than current meta-aramid (Nomex IIIA) fabric.
  4. Wear test shirts made from HV modacrylic blend fabric received low ratings from firefighters in terms of heat stress and comfort due to lower air permeability and heavier weight of the fabric.
  5. Wear testers found that the high visibility dyes washed out with relatively few washings and leftover fire grime in the fabric left it rather dull and faded.

It seems most everything is a tradeoff in firefighter clothing. Balances therefore need to be scrutinized and discussed. Example: Garment/fabric radiant heat protection (from the fire) is very much inversely proportional to heat loss that is human generated. HV also comes with a tradeoff cost.


Firefighters run the risk of heat stress many days during a fire season. It was therefore decided that it was not worth increasing that risk (as slight as that may be) by wearing heavier/less breathable high visibility clothing. The traits of the normal yellow meta-aramid blend shirt was determined as the appropriate balance of all fabric qualities.

BLOG_Tony P_Photo 1

Retroreflective striping has been added to the 2011 FS spec shirt design. Depending on stocking levels, this new revision of shirts will arrive in orders within a year or two.

Any New Developments? Retroreflective Striping

Just last month, the NWCG Equipment Technology Committee agreed to a slight modification to the 2011 FS spec shirt design. The NWCG Risk Management Committee has also been briefed on this new revision. The shirt style has been wear-tested with firefighters in the field.

The biggest change is the addition of segmented retroreflective striping. It is limited to placement on the pocket flaps and the bottom edge of the elbow patches due to the small possibility of stored energy burns and the lack of air permeability. Placing a limited amount of segmented striping will decrease the possibility of unintended outcomes yet is a practical step toward being more visible.

Depending on stocking levels, the new revision of shirts will arrive in orders within a year or two.

In a few years, when the Product Review Life Cycle brings back the shirt project, high visibility fabric and other new technology with potential benefits will once again be considered. This year we are starting a project review for firefighter pants. Be looking for a product questionnaire coming out soon!

Any agency or department can perform their own Risk Assessment and Trade-Off Analysis. If the need for excellent high visibility qualities (instead of the very good qualities of a clean yellow shirt) outweigh the need for excellent heat loss and air permeability, investigate private vendors that sell HV garments. For buyer protection, make sure the garment label confirms certification to NFPA 1977.

Until New Shirts with Reflective Striping Arrive, What Can We Do to Optimize Firefighter Visibility with the Current Clothing?

  1. Many firefighters carry signal mirrors that coincidentally don’t work well in smoky and cloudy conditions or in the dark. Consider replacing or supplementing that signal mirror with a small (size of a marker) strobe flashlight. Some folks have reported that these flashlights are very effective. (See this “New Signaling Tools” RLS.)
  2. Trade in dirty clothing at incident Supply Units or come to a fire with a couple clean sets in your red bag.
  3. Follow The Red Book Chapter 7 direction for permanently stained or old, faded shirts—replace them.
  4. Leave reflective striping intact on helmets and fireline packs.

Besides Visibility is Dirty PPE an Issue?

Besides the lack of visibility qualities, soiled garments have been shown to offer less radiant heat protection, be flammable (if gas and oil soiled), less breathable, and may contain toxins that are harmful to the wearer. Anecdotally, I have noticed less and less super-dirty firefighters while on assignments lately. Even so, firefighters need to be educated on this issue and supervisors need to take measures to ensure relatively clean garments are worn.

Currently, T&D is working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to test real-world soiled firefighter clothing for such potential hazards, then determine the risk as well as the appropriate cleaning practices.

BLOG_Tony P_Photo 2

A couple years ago… A Division Supervisor (me) on right in a clean yellow shirt next to a (former dirt-bag) hotshot (my son). As you can see, the soiled shirt has much less visibility quality than a clean one.

Many firefighters don’t want to be visible. They feel clean clothes and reflective striping somehow makes them look uncool. They subscribe to LCES—“Look Cool Every Second”. (Sorry, Paul G.) If someone gives you grief for wearing a clean or new looking shirt, tell them you wore out your old one. By the way, my son did not give me grief for being clean, he knows better than that. He did, however, say that I look good!

Comments or questions? Feel free to contact me at anthony.petrilli@usda.gov or 406-329-3965.