Continuing the Conversation: Getting Fire Science Research to the Boots-on-the-Ground

[The “One of Our Own” article in the Two More Chains Summer Issue featured Ted Adams, Assistant Supervisor on the Hells Canyon Wildland Fire Module, Payette National Forest. Entitled “Bridging the Gap Between Research and the Field,” the article focused on whether or not fire science research is being applied to decision-making on the fire line. The following quote from Ted was highlighted in the article’s opening: “We have all of this research that’s available to us and yet you could argue that a majority of individuals on the fire line are not reading peer-reviewed research and applying it to their decision-making, into their mental models.” After reading the article, Coleen Haskell contacted us. She asked if she could continue the conversation that we started with Ted. We said, please do.]

By Coleen Haskell, Communications Director for the Joint Fire Science Program

As a technology transfer specialist and fire meteorologist, I find that the Two More Chains “One of Our Own” feature in general and Ted Adams’ pull quote (above) in particular do a comprehensive job of describing the challenge of getting the latest fire science research into the hands of those who need the information—the boots-on-the-ground.

I concur with and echo Ted Adams’ “sincere and fervent quest for actively pursuing research to help improve the wildland firefighter’s challenging world.”

Adams also stated: “It isn’t that we have a shortage of research. We don’t have a shortage of information out there. What we have a shortage of is the translation of that information, in making that information relatable.” That is basically the same thing that I heard at the National Cohesive Strategy Workshop in May from Dr. Mark Finney, Research Forester with the Fire, Fuel, Smoke Science Program at the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Those are absolutely correct assertions that peer-reviewed journal articles generally are not provided in a format that is digestible and easily applicable for managers to put into use. I suggest that a significant disparity exists between primary research and how it is applied operationally in wildland fire and fuels management, sometimes with dire consequences.

In all disciplines, these gaps are filled by technology transfer specialists, boundary spanners, science delivery experts, or whichever labels they identify with. Wildland fire and fuels management is no exception. This creates opportunity space for the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) (www.firescience.gov) and others to translate research findings into meaningful and useable results. Let’s face it, policy-makers, resource managers, and boots-on-the-ground fire practitioners can do their respective jobs more efficiently and more safely through sound and actionable science informing their decisions. And they should.

Another Perspective

Where I believe there is more story to tell is with the “One of Our Own” article implying that the fire and fuels community is not expending sufficient resources on the connection between fire science research and the translation of that science’s utility to fire practitioners and managers. This Two More Chains article doesn’t mention the success that JFSP and our 15-regionally focused Fire Science Exchange Network (FSEN) are making.

Picture1The JFSP’s science delivery efforts were recently highlighted in the July edition of the Fire Science Digest: “Bridging the Gap: Joint Fire Science Program Outcomes.”  This Fire Science Digest publication describes numerous ways that the JFSP science delivery efforts have made significant strides over the past 10 years to bridge the gap between research and the field primarily through the 15-member Fire Science Exchange Network and its efforts to deliver useful and actionable science to end-users in the fire community.

The boundary-spanning role of the Fire Science Exchange Network is indispensable because it fosters communication between practitioners and researchers.

How FSEN Strives to Bridge the Gap Between Research and the Field

The FSEN integrates the best available fire research with wildland fire, fuels resource, and land managers. It is a national collaborative network of 15 regional fire science exchanges. Each regional exchange provides the most relevant, current wildland fire science to federal, tribal, state, local, and private stakeholders within their respective regions. Regions are primarily organized by geography and ecology.

The 15 regional exchanges are all different in terms of their research focal areas, how they are organized, and even how they label themselves. For example, in the Northern Rockies, the exchange is called “The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network (NRFSN).” Some of the exchanges, however, refer to themselves as “consortia” which was an early name when the network was formed several years ago.

Picture2

JFSP’s Fire Exchange Network (FSEN).

Regardless of how different each of their local issues are, they all share the need to build partnerships and relationships to effectively share information. They all translate scientific information to fire and fuels managers. In many cases, the FSEN collaborate on projects with each other. For example, the California Fire Science Consortium (the five-region exchange for California) developed a wildland-urban interface webinar series that was applicable beyond their regional boundaries. The series profiled five urban areas across the region, including Austin (Texas), Boulder (Colorado), Flagstaff (Arizona), San Diego (California), and Santa Fe (New Mexico). Examples of the most compelling land use planning tools were summarized to show how urban areas in the West are increasingly becoming wildfire-adapted communities.

High Priority Research Questions

Three of the high priority research questions that members of the FSEN are collectively focusing on:

  • Effects and effectiveness of different prescribed fire and other fuel treatment strategies (such as variability in treatment timing, frequency and intensity).
  • Potential effects of changing fire environments on vegetation, fuels and fire regimes.
  • Impacts of smoke from prescribed fires and wildfire.Picture3

 

While specific topics vary, they include: fire and grazing, smoke management, fuels reduction, fire-restored landscapes, and invasive species. For example, improved seasonal and short-term weather, fire danger forecasting, and effective fuels management recently emerged as high priorities in Alaska. In the Northern Rockies, fire science related to firefighter safety is taking center stage. In other regions, such as California and the Great Basin, the focus may be on invasive species.

Peer-to-Peer Communication

The best way to get science information into the hands of the boots-on-the-ground practitioners is through active peer-to-peer communication.

Without a doubt, the FSEN is considered to be the “go-to resource” for translating fire science research results, which fosters relationships among scientists and fire managers and is essential to the flow of information between those parties.

Specifically, interactive workshops, field tours and conferences foster a direct and immediate feedback loop.

Because shrinking budgets and more restrictive travel policies make face-time challenging, one middle-ground solution to this dilemma is webinars. For instance, the Lake States and Alaska fire science exchanges recently co-hosted a webinar on the new changes to the fuel moisture estimates in the National Fire Danger Rating System.

Best Way to Connect

The next best way for fire managers to connect with the FSEN is to visit the FSEN website and select the exchange that covers their region using the map on our homepage. Their region’s exchange staff or advisory boards can then connect them with other managers, practitioners and scientists working in their area.

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The organizational affiliations of FSEN participants in 2016 are represented in this pie chart. Note that the category of organizations with the most people participating in FSEN science delivery activities is the federal fire service. This category represents most of the fireline-type positions, our boots-on-the-ground community. There are also more of these folks in the State and Tribal categories.

 

Also online are a host of tools and resources, including fact sheets and science briefs. For example, a series of topic-based, searchable fact sheets are available on the Great Basin Fire Science Exchange’s website. The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network has a searchable archive that includes more than 400 recorded webinars and videos from a variety of partners.

Fire and fuels managers interested in connecting with their regional exchange can also subscribe to their exchange’s newsletters for updates and upcoming event announcements.

Social media is yet another way to connect with research results through the Fire Science Exchange Network and JFSP. They all have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some also offer online photo galleries and blogs.

Identifying Research Priorities

In addition, since the network’s inception, each of the regional exchanges have individually developed mechanisms for stakeholders to provide input on research needs to help identify research priorities. FSEN is piloting a more formal way to identify and develop new research topics in the form of a database. When completed, the database will enable JFSP to: track the wildland fire science community’s progress on addressing research priorities, assess the degree to which national and regional research priorities align, and determine the similarity of needed science across regions.

In future years, the database will provide a powerful tool for informing funding priorities, not just for JFSP, but for other research programs investing in fire science.

Another change in the works is increased outreach to new partners and stakeholders. Exchanges have recently connected with many new partners, including: extension professionals, regional ecology teams, prescribed fire councils, and Firewise groups. These partnerships are part of our strategy to connect with the next generation of fire managers, which the FSEN’s advisory boards and steering committees have identified as a priority.

 

 

Socks Matter

By Alex Viktora

I used to work for the National Park Service. One of the sweetest things about working for the NPS was the official socks.

That’s right. Socks.

As a member of a wildland fire crew, I rarely had much need to be in official NPS uniform, so my annual uniform allowance was spent on socks. Brown wool socks. If you wear them with shorts, you look like…well…German?

I bought so many of these things, I still have a cache of unopened wool socks in my closet.

As most firefighters can attest, keeping your feet in good shape is super important. The NPS uniform socks—most of which are a milk chocolate-colored wool blend—were awesome socks on the fire line.

I’ve always known this.

But what I just now learned is this: These sock could save me from a serious burn. Come to think of it, they probably already have.

My Leg Had Fire Swirling Around It

In maybe my third season, I was on a prescribed fire somewhere in Utah. I’d been running a torch for days and days during our typical spring burning. I usually carry the torch in my right hand, and so my right pant-leg was, uh, pretty dirty. It wasn’t drenched or dripping, but it was certainly flammable—as I was about to find out.

On this particular shift, I was the guy way up the hill, with torches strung out down the hill below me.

We came to a place where we had to hold-up firing for a bit. For some reason, someone rang me up on the radio. I answered the call. As I did so, I moved maybe 10 feet downhill from the line of fire that I just laid in ponderosa litter. (If you’ve never burned in ponderosa needle litter, you’re missing out. Mmmm….Pondo litter!)

This line of fire backed slowly towards me. And as I yammered away on the radio, the fire inched closer and closer to my right leg.

Suddenly, I looked down. My leg had fire swirling around it.

I thought: “Wait—I’m on fire?” What a bizarre realization!

I put the fire out and I can’t say for sure how it all happened. One thing’s for sure: Putting that fire out took longer than I woulda guessed.

My Nomex turned that telltale yellow/brown. And I had some ‘splanin to do to the boss. My damaged ego was the worst of my injuries. My leg was barely as red as a sunburn.

Did my socks help prevent a serious burn injury? Turns out, they may have.

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Tips on What To Do If Your Pant Leg Catches on Fire

The folks at the National Technology Development Program in Missoula have done some recently released great work to describe what happens when Nomex catches on fire. And it turns out, wool socks could be a key part of avoiding a burn injury.

Check out this new video for some cool tests:

 

Here’s a few specific tips on what to do if you find yourself with your pant leg on fire:


Testing Results and Accident Observations

  • Swatting at burning fuel can increase the fire intensity.
  • Stop, drop and roll does not readily extinguish fuel fires on clothing.
  • Fuel-soaked clothing burns hotter and for a longer duration than clean clothing.
  • Wool-blend socks provide significant protection to the wearer from thermal burn injuries caused by burning drip torch fuel.
  • Pouring water from a readily available water bottle onto the clothing is an effective way to extinguish the fire.
  • Dropping the pants to the ankles removes heat from next to the skin.

Next time you’re shopping for socks, consider some woolies that come up above your boots. Turns out, even the lovely brown ones might save your skin.

Do you have a story like this? Do you own any green Nomex pants that aren’t as green as they used to be?

 

 

Are Some IMTs Making Emergencies Harder to Manage?

By Jayson Coil, Battalion Chief Special Operations and Wildland Fire, Sedona Fire District, Arizona

I have a rule about not setting things on the top of my toolbox when loading-up for an assignment. This rule was developed after a new coffee cup and a BK radio slid off the toolbox and into traffic as I was leaving. So, I conducted my own little AAR as I filled out the damaged equipment report and realized that even though I intended to put them both in the front seat, there were distractions that prevented me from doing so.

On incidents, standardizing helps avoid bad outcomes by creating a shared understanding and expectations. When I think about how we make decisions and apply our training and experience to avoid costly errors, this standardization makes sense.


Do you remember what direction Wagner Dodge gave the rest of the jumpers when he realized the fire was below them?


When faced with a high stress, serious consequence situation, we do not engage in a strict comparison of options. In fact, we typically have incomplete information that requires us to continually reassess and validate the decision as the situation becomes clearer. So, we fall back onto our training and utilize recognition primed decision making (RPDM). And if the slide in our head—even if it’s a slide we developed in training—lines up with the reality we are facing, we make higher-quality decisions.

Do you remember what direction Wagner Dodge gave the rest of the jumpers when he realized the fire was below them? He told them to drop everything heavy. This was not anything they had practiced. Different crew members interpreted the order to mean different things. Because of this and other tragic events, we now incorporate “dropping your tools” into shelter training and conduct exercises on static and dynamic deployment. So at least in that example, we have demonstrated that we recognized developing a standardized approach to a critical task and practicing to proficiency makes sense.

Developing Good Checklists

There’s another reason why I think we should ensure that all IMTs follow a standardized approach. It has a lot to do with airplanes. When United Airlines Flight 173 ran out of fuel over Portland, Oregon and ten people were killed, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) listed the probable cause as: “The failure of the captain to monitor properly the aircraft’s fuel state and to properly respond to the low fuel state and the crewmember’s advisories regarding fuel state. This resulted in fuel exhaustion to all engines. His inattention resulted from preoccupation with a landing gear malfunction and preparations for a possible landing emergency.”

From this event and the subsequent work to reduce human error, crew resource management (CRM) was developed. In fact, CRM was one of the first books included in the wildland fire leadership development program. In CRM they recognize that checklists, such at the medical incident report, are effective ways to develop reliability and consistency. A good checklist establishes common ground, provides for standardization, serves as a cognitive aid, and reduces error.


We did our AARs and serious accident investigations and we took steps to standardize and improve. But, not every IMT has adopted the new standards. I don’t understand why.


So, I have explained why I believe we should train the way we perform in the real world and how the lessons learned in CRM can be applied to real life. If you think about my poor coffee cup and radio, a checklist that ensures nothing is on my truck before I pull out is a good thing. It would be even better to establish a standardized practice of never putting anything onto my toolbox. Also, I bet most of you know someone who has been hunting and leaned a gun against their vehicle only to drive off. That is a little off topic, but another practice to avoid. Trust me.

I Don’t Understand Why

A more serious example is the process improvements we have made for managing medical emergencies on fires. After Dutch Creek, we developed new protocol and the 9 Line. In 2014 we got a new med plan, the ICS-206WF, which included the medical incident report (MIR). We even added the MIR to the IRPG so everyone would have the same script to follow when reporting an emergency.

We did our AARs and serious accident investigations and we took steps to standardize and improve. But, not every IMT has adopted the new standards. I don’t understand why. Some IMTs still use the old ICS206 and some change the reporting requirements so they do not align with the MIR and the IRPG. Is their behavior aligning with the teaching of good CRM or what we should have learned from Dutch Creek? I don’t think so.

When there is high stress, new priorities, incomplete information and difficult environmental conditions, we are not going to take the time and consciously align our behavior with the model that a particular IMT has chosen to adopt. Sorry, but that is not how people behave.

Those people in the field who are managing the emergency will use their intuition, experience and training. If an effective and coordinated response that provides the greatest possibility for a positive outcome is the goal, we all need to align. To put it another way, if one of our top priorities is to increase the likelihood that an emergent event that threatens the life of a firefighter is handled as effectively as possible, then we need to follow the standard on every incident.


If an effective and coordinated response that provides the greatest possibility for a positive outcome is the goal, we all need to align.


The people we place in high-risk environments should know the training they have engaged in to effectively manage an emergency will apply. Sure, it’s more difficult for the MEDL to get all the information and it also takes up a few more pages in the IAP, but I fail to realize how either one of those issues trumps consistency and clear expectations for the crews in the field.

The way I see it, we have lots of things we can change, including: briefing times, the order of briefing, how far the toilets are from the sleeping area, if we are going to let crews spike out, collar brass, no collar brass. The list goes on and on. With all that ability to change stuff, let us all agree to leave the ICS206 WF and MIR standardized. Deal?

Bad Refreshers

By Travis Dotson

old-school-teaching

We have all been there.  The seated refresher.  All day in a chair.  Even if the videos are good, the process gets old.  The set up is not conducive to learning – it’s more likely to result in drowsiness and habitual Facebook scrolling.

So why do we do it?

We all know most folks get told “you need to put on the refresher this year.”  Then that person just replicates what they have sat through in the past.  We are not professional educators so what we get makes sense.  I happen to think there are a few small steps we can take to make our yearly tune up just a bit better.

 

1. Be Relevant: Use this: Annual Incident Review Summary I know – shameless plug for LLC stuff, but this thing is purposely built for injecting relevancy into curriculum.  It’s what happened last year.  It’s what those in the bulls eye had to say about what happened to them.  It has exercises you can do.  Modify them to suit your situation.

2. Go outside:  There are so many ways to do this.  Do a classroom section on driving and then load everyone up and drive to a field site for the next section.  That is real deal theory/application right there!  You could even design your own Staff Ride that meets refresher requirements!  If weather does not allow, replace outside with stand up and move around.

3. Prepare:  Use this: Wildland Fire Safety Annual Refresher Training  Again, it’s purpose built.

4. Be honest:  Talk about real stuff.  Authenticity matters.

5. Look to experts:  Be inspired by TED talks.  Show one and discuss it, we love relating non fire stuff to fire.   Go further.  Make presentations look like TED talks.  Don’t talk for more than 20 minutes – ever.  If you have a screen, don’t put lots of words on it – use pictures.

That’s all.  Just five things that could help.  Maybe just do one of them.  I’m sure you have ideas of your own – share them in the comments.