One Ash Pit Ate Two Firefighters

This blog post was compiled using several excerpts from two separate documents on the Laguna Fire Burn Injuries.


At approximately 1010 a crew member from the Type 2 crew fell into an ash pit, after ground gave way on a mechanically constructed berm the crewmember was mopping up with a branch line. The crewmember advanced a hose line up the berm and upon reaching the top the employee stepped toward the downhill side facing the Colorado River and berm gave way.

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The berm that gave way.

The employee went down to approximately the knee level in a void space created by burning material being consumed under the crust of the berm. The employee fell forward towards the downhill side adjacent the Colorado River. The employee had forward inertia and momentum which continued him downhill with a section of ash and dirt. The section was approximately 38 inches wide and 18 inches long. The employee extended their hands and arms to provide protection while falling forward. The employee sunk into the hot ash pit up to approximately the armpit and shoulder, additional hot rolling material followed the employee downslope encompassing lower extremities and upper torso.

As the employee was falling an adjacent crewmember heard the employee’s screaming. The witness employee was approximately 6 feet to the south on the same berm. The witness employee observed the employee who fell sinking up to the armpits and shoulders and then rolling forward. The employee also recounted seeing the employee who fell struggling to get out of the ash pit, and then once self-extricated beginning to walk/run around trying to get hot material off the employee’s body and personal protective equipment.

At approximately 1012 a witness employee began yelling for assistance and a radio to notify the crew overhead of an injury/incident. The witness employee generated a radio call as well as a physical call for additional assistance. At approximately 1013 several members of the crew including the crew boss, the foreman, and the squad bosses started toward the scene.

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Overview of fire area and injury location.

At approximately 1024 Fish and Wildlife Engine 2162 with two emergency medical technicians arrived on scene to continue patient care. The emergency medical technicians continued to expose and evaluate the nature of the injuries. At approximately 1027 an update on the employee’s medical condition was given via radio to the incident commander.

The incident commander notified Arizona dispatch, requesting an ambulance to transport the employee and start the notification process to the fire staff. The crewmember was ambulatory and communicating. The decision was made to walk the injured employee to a waiting crew agency vehicle to be driven and rendezvous with the ambulance at the ICP.


It continues…


At approximately 1045 the DFFM Safety Officer called the IC to receive an update on the incident within an incident. The Safety Officer requested the area of the incident within the incident be flagged off to preserve the scene for the investigation process.

At approximately 1100 a crew member from the DFFM Type II crew began flagging off the area of the incident within an incident. The employee was approximately 7’ to the south of the location on the berm, the employee utilized hose line to cool the area and a tool to probe the area as the employee moved forward. The employee stepped through the berm into an ash pit. The employee had forward downhill momentum and “tucked and rolled” down the berm through the ash pit.

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Second employee’s hard hat with burn damage.

The injured employee completed the flagging of the area. At approximately 1120 the injured employee notified the IC of the incident. The injured employee was evaluated by the emergency medical technicians on Fish and Wildlife Engine 2162. The employee suffered first-degree burns to the right ear, right upper arm (triceps area), left arm lower arm, right thigh, right and left shin, and right calf. The injured employee was wearing full PPE at the time of the incident.

The employee opted not to be transported to the hospital at that time because he was the ranking crew member present. The other crew overhead accompanied the previously injured employee to the emergency department. At approximately 1230 a supervisory crew member arrived back to the incident from the hospital. The injured employee was directed to go to the hospital and was driven in a crew vehicle to the hospital. The employee was evaluated, treated, and released by the emergency room with first-degree and possibly a few second-degree burns to travel home with the crew.


 

Do YOU think of mop-up as “dangerous”?

Does it matter if you do or don’t?

(Tell us in the comments)

Read both incident reports here: Laguna Fire Burn Injuries

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.

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.

 


 

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.”

obsessed-with-work

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:

10yrsFatal

 

 

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.

Rewind:

  • 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?

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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).


Wheel

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.

“I Noticed My Skin Falling Off”

By Travis Dotson

This quote: “I had been hit by IED in Afghanistan. I’d rather go through that than be burned again.”

Damn – for real? That says a lot. That scares me.

This quote: “When the hose burst it got me in the groin. I spun around. I ran to the shade. I was not sure if that was the water pressure stinging me or what. Then I ripped my shirt off and I was all red. I ran to the engine and ripped off boots and pants. That’s when I noticed my skin falling off.”

Damn! That scares me even more. I do not want that to happen to me or anyone I know. I don’t want that to happen to anyone period.

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Image from the report cover

Where are these quotes from? You guessed it – an accident report. It’s called the Crescent Fire Scald Injury. It’s 19 pages long. You should read it – if you want to be scared out of your wits. Or if you want to learn something that could keep your skin from falling off.

Do you run a pump? Do you know someone who does? If you are reading this, chances are the answer to one of those questions is yes. You now have a decision to make.

There are some real hose head nuggets in this report. Real technical nuts and bolts stuff that you can take action on. Check this out:

Finding: An obstruction in the pump bypass line on the Region 5 Type 3 Model 62 fire engine did not allow for adequate water flow through the line during the pumping operations. This condition led to the excessive heating of water sufficient to sustain burns.

Required Action: 1. Check the #17 pump bypass valve for obstruction. Inspect water flow through the pump bypass line by engaging the pump, opening the tank to pump valve (#1), closing the pump to tank valve (#2), opening the pump bypass valve (#17), and closing all other valves. Run the pump up to 400 psi and visually check the water flow at the line’s return point at the top of the tank. The return point should be located near the tank tower on top of the engine. Water flow at the return point should be a fairly strong stream of approximately 6 gpm.

There is more.

You should go see what else you need to do.

You can get the full report here: Crescent Fire Scald Injury

Please help keep you and your fellow firefighter’s skin on.

Minor Rhabdo Fatal Burns

By Travis Dotson

Look at this word cloud:

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.27.40 AM

I collect very simple notes about the types of injuries listed in the reports submitted to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. I took all of the notes from 2017 and used a word cloud generator to make this one. The size of the word is relative to how often it shows up compared to others.

What does it mean?

It means whatever you want it to mean. Just like every one of the reports these words came from, to most of us they end up meaning nothing. Yes, they might evoke some sort of emotion when we first see them. Most of us will quickly move away from that emotion into some sort of analytical sense-making  basically making up reasons for the presence and size of the words.

We don’t know why Rhabdo is so common.

We don’t know why firefighter fatality numbers refuse to change.

We don’t know when one of those words will apply to us.

That is unsettling. But it is.

And off we go to Division Delta.

Please leave a one-word comment regarding the utility of this word cloud thingy. You get a choice between these two words: Useless or Useful.

Your call if you want to say why.

This Hotshot Was Burned When His Saw Geysered – Listen to His Lessons.

By Travis Dotson

Nic bucked up the tree he had just put on the ground. Then he shut the saw off and sat with his saw partner for 15-20 minutes. Nic got up to cut another tree. The saw wouldn’t start.

He had heard all the stories.  He had talked about geysering in training. He had even experienced fuel geysers before.

Watch:

Nic is solid. Chances are you’re solid as well.

Solid does not mean accident proof.

Wisdom from Nic:

  • “It caught me off guard because it didn’t match up to any of the signs I’d recognized before. I’ve been surprised once, I can be surprised again.”
  • “I never thought I would get hurt by opening my fuel tank. It’s not one of those things you recognize as being a major hazard.”
  • “I definitely don’t feel like I can predict it anymore. I don’t think it’s worth betting on, just treat it like it’s always going to geyser and put yourself in a better place whenever you plan on opening the cap.”

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Now you know – do something different.

Burn Injuries – Wrong Hurts

By Alex Viktora

Wildland Firefighters receive burn injuries every season. Often times some sort of flammable liquid ignites resulting in a burn, like the rather common drip torch leg burn scenario mentioned in this NWCG memo. Other times we fall in stump holes and ash pits—sometimes up to our waist!

And then there is the plain old flame front scorching our elbows through Nomex or the super bad deal entrapment situations. Bottom line, it happens. So we need to know how best to follow through on medical treatment for these instances—because you can do it wrong, and wrong hurts!

Read these reports using the links below:

Rim Fire Burn Injury    Farm Fire Burn Injury    Mystery Fire Burn Injury

Information Collected from Multiple Burn Injury Incidents—Here are Some of the Most Important Reminders, Lessons and Tips

 First of all, if you or someone with you, gets burned, report the injury! Even if you think it’s a minor burn, even if you think you screwed-up somehow—let someone know about the burn. Chances are it’s worse than it seems and time untreated can be a bad deal all around—from paperwork to infections. It’s just better to let someone know and get the ball rolling toward proper treatment.

BurnGraph.png

Go to the place that can help – It’s called Definitive Medical Care (Emergency Room, Clinic, etc.)

  • Burn injuries are often difficult to evaluate and may take 72 hours to fully manifest.
  • Burns are different. Not all doctors have experience with the types of burns that firefighters suffer. Burns require specialized experience to treat appropriately. This often means that the injured party will need to seek care at a Burn Center.
  • Burns must be kept clean. Therefore, the fireline isn’t a good place to try to manage a burn injury. If you’re treated and released, don’t go back to the line. Don’t go up on a lookout. Focus on taking care of your burn injury.

Nobody wants to hang out at the hospital, but make sure to run through this list before you are discharged:

  • Make sure your Agency Administrator is notified, especially if you’ll require follow-up treatment and referral to a Burn Center.
  • Agency Administrators should be involved if there is hesitation to refer to a Burn Center.
  • Referrals to Burn Centers are critical and must be in the patient’s hands before leaving the Emergency Room, clinic, or doctor’s office.
  • When there is any doubt as to the severity of the burn injury, the recommended action should be to facilitate the immediate referral and transport of the firefighter to the nearest Burn Center.
  • Physicians Assistants (PA) CANNOT write referrals for Burn Centers (or any other increased level of care). If a PA prescribes any follow-up, including Burn Center visits, it must be countersigned by a Doctor (MD).

Copy? Here’s the deal: Get your higher-ups involved. Have a discussion with your higher-ups about a Burn Center referral.

Burn Center Tips

  • Burn Centers have both in and outpatient services. If you think you might need to go to a Burn Center, ask to be referred—even if you won’t need inpatient treatment (hospital stay).
  • Burn Centers may prefer to consult via telemedicine (such as e-mailing photos or videos of the injury, video-calls, etc.), rather than transporting a patient to their facility.
  • Ask about the option to have a Nurse Case Manager assigned to the case.

OWCP Claimant tips

  • Your OWCP claim number is critical. Once you get this claim number, put it in a place you’ll be able to access when you’re on the phone with doctors, visiting the hospital, filling prescriptions, etc.
  • YOU—the patient and claimant—are ultimately responsible for your OWCP case. Get involved. Pay attention. Ask questions. If you’re not getting the answers you need, keep asking.

Call the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (208) 336-2996. They have experience dealing with folks who have received burn injuries in the line of duty.

Watch this video:

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.

1

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?