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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 10.01.26 AM

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.

 


 

Smokeless Danger

At the beginning of each year we summarize and analyze incident reports from the previous year.  Check out these previous summaries.  This year we will post individual topics here as we complete portions of the analysis.  Take a look, engage with the exercises, and give us some feedback.  The complete 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon. 


By Travis Dotson

This is a graph of incidents reported to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. This particular graph separates the incidents by Activity (what were they doing when the incident occurred).

There are lots of interesting things to talk about in this graph, please show it to someone who cares and have a nice little talk about what it means to you both. Maybe even circle up with a few others and do the exercise at the end.

2017_IncidentsActivityPTvsFire

2017 Incidents by Activity Graph

I’m sure we all have plenty to say about the “top 3.” They consist of:

  • Chainsaw Ops
  • Driving
  • Physical Training

These are all things we do on a regular basis. Just these three activity types account for 58% of the total. That means in 2017, whenever a report was created and sent to us, more than half the time it was related to someone running a saw, driving, or doing PT.

Take note that none of these activities require a fire. For many of us these are activities we do every day. That’s telling. It means things we do a lot are things that bite us in the ass.

What am I getting at? It’s pretty simple. The “danger” isn’t necessarily hiding on the fireline, it’s stitched right into your daily activities.

Are the briefings before PT different than the ones before the big burn show on Division Delta? Of course they are. They are different activities. Plus, none of us could tolerate a big deal briefing every day before PT.

Maybe I should reframe it: which operation is more likely to go bad? That, of course, is a loaded question. You can slice and dice the exposure, frequency, risk, danger, possibility, hazard pie all kinds of crazy. You could make this a spicy dish with whatever flavor your over analysis happens to be. You could also use math, but I think you might need other numbers to do that. I don’t have the numbers or the math mojo to tackle it.

But I do know that I don’t think of PT as dangerous. Turns out I’m wrong. Imagine that.

Get together with the people you PT with and do this simple exercise:


Wheel

Exercise (15 minutes) In small groups discuss the following questions:

Is PT really more dangerous than Firing Ops?

What is the danger of NOT doing PT?

Is your medical plan equally good for both operations (PT and Firing Ops)? – Should it be?

That’s all.

Now go PT.


 

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.

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.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME!

DRAWN BY FIRE

•-Combs-Social

Today I publish an illustration that was harder to draw than I thought it would be – and I knew it would be hard! The subject of alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and drunk driving is at times a taboo subject in the firehouse and our national conferences. We eagerly discuss tactics, obesity, cancer, suicide, depression, seat belts, speed, health and fitness… the list of ways we can become injured or killed seems endless, and we are doing a much better job of having these conversations. But as I write this, another brother is dead, another family is mourning a father/husband/son, and friends are crushed beyond words. I did not know this man outside of a couple on-line interactions, but it brought up so many feelings and emotions from friends lost in the past – losses that I’m still coming to terms with. So, as I do, I put my pain, anger…

View original post 300 more words

This Has Happened Before…UTV Floorboard Fire.

By Travis Dotson

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 10.04.37 AM

OK – super simple deal here. Go look under your UTV, specifically look between the skid plate and the floorboard.  Chances are there is a bunch of grass and sticks and stuff packed in that little space. It’s probably all dried out and primed to ignite – all it needs is a heat source – and we drive these things around in one big heat source.

Don’t think it’s possible? Tell that to the folks who have had it happen to them. Thankfully, some of those folks took pictures and wrote up the event and shared it with us here at the Lessons Learned Center – now we can tell you to go clean your UTV up so it doesn’t catch on fire while you’re driving it!

Here are some quotes from the reports:

“…vegetation lodged between skid plate and underbody ignited, burning a hole through floorboard…”

“Firefighter noticed flames protruding through the floorboard. A shovel with sand and the UTV fire extinguisher were used to suppress the flames.”

“Described as looking ‘like a hay bale,’ the material—packed in tightly—completely filled the compartment.”

“While using a 2016 Polaris 6×6 UTV on a prescribed fire, an accumulation of fine fuels located in an enclosed compartment under the UTV’s floorboard and above the skid plate ignited.”

“This fire melted a four-foot hole in the skid plate and floorboard and caused extensive damage to wiring and the gear selector cable.”

You get the picture – now go check your UTV.

Links:

UTV Floorboard Fire RLS 2017

UTV Flammable Debris RLS 2014

UTV Fire SAFENET 2014

Emerging Lessons – 2016

We just published another episode of our Podcast, you can listen here: http://wildfirelessons.podbean.com

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 3.00.12 PM

We talk about some of the “numbers” from this season.  Things like four cases of early season Physical Training Rhabdomyolysis in four days (May 4-5) and nine instances of “equipment burn damage”  (vehicles, chainsaws, camp equipment, etc).  Are those “trends”?  I don’t know for sure but I tend to resist using the term “trend” because I feel like it’s been thrown around way too loosely in our business.

How many safety officers have you heard get up at briefing and admonish the crowd about some “growing trend” we all need to look out for.  In many cases I feel like those “trends” were actually two personal observations or even repetitious rumors taken as gospel.  Thats annoying because it can add to the fog of misinformation and firecamp falsehoods.

All that to say we have some numbers, in addition to those numbers we have a few lessons.  The lessons typically come from the reports themselves, meaning they are based on a single event – advice those involved in that particular incident would pass along to others.  Sometimes we are able to extract additional lessons by looking at multiple events and identifying similarities (trends).  Here are just a few from this year.

Beware of early season physical training.  We had multiple instances of medical emergencies during the first several days of “critical training”.  When the crew comes on for the first week – be very mindful of how the week is structured.  If you are going to get started right off the bat with a “test” type of PT – what is the emergency plan and do you have emergency contact info for everyone…especially the new folks?  Think about it.

Oregon PT Heat Stroke    Day One PT Rhabdomyolysis    Black Hills NF Rhabdomyolysis

Take the time to make sure the black is cold before you park.  Yes, several vehicles caught fire this season.  Yes it takes time, but think about that sick feeling you get in your stomach when you see black smoke coming from the area you parked in…and then the radio crackles to life and you know exactly whats coming.  Not only parking, but anytime you stage equipment of any kind…fire surprises all of us so stay humble.

Erskine Dozer Transports    RX ATV/UTV Burn     Deer Creek Engine Burn

Do some homework on your tires.  How old are they?  How many miles do they have on them?  Are they on a recall list?  Better to look into this stuff than find out after a blowout and multi lane swerve…just saying.

Crew Carrier Tire Failure    AZ Tire Blowout

Numbers+Lessons=Learning?

Your call.