It’s Going to Happen Again

By Mike Lewelling – Fire Management Officer – Rocky Mountain National Park

The Safety Officer stated that the purpose of our review was to learn from this accident and to ask ourselves: “How could this accident be prevented?” A good goal, and a good question. But, even so, it is a question that bothered me.

I recently had the unfortunate job of completing an accident review on one of my Hotshots who had received a very serious chainsaw cut wound to a finger.

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By policy—and good practice—we convened an accident review panel. This group included the Hotshot Superintendent; my Supervisor; the Park Safety Officer; the injured Hotshot; and me, the Park Fire Management Officer.

The Safety Officer stated that the purpose of our review was to learn from this accident and to ask ourselves: “How could this accident be prevented?” A good goal, and a good question that we should always ask. But, even so, it is a question that bothered me.

Important Sideboards

It seems to me that to even frame such a question, some sideboards and assumptions first need to be made. These include:

  • Unwanted wildland fires will continue to occur.
  • Line Officers/Agency Administrators will continue to request that firefighters suppress wildland fires.
  • Wildland fires will continue to occur in uneven, steep, rocky terrain with countless physical and environmental hazards.
  • Firefighters will continue to utilize direct and indirect strategies and tactics to achieve the mission.
  • Hotshot crews will continue to be asked to accept potentially higher-risk assignments.
  • Firefighters will continue to utilize chainsaws to effectively and safely accomplish their mission.
  • More? What other high-risk duties do we ask our firefighters to accomplish—that aren’t going to change as long as we continue to ask them to operate in the wildland fire environment?

Removing the Non-Realistic Mitigations

These sideboards/assumptions prevent the “Root Cause” seekers from recommending non-realistic mitigations such as:

  • Not being near wildfires,
  • Not walking on steep uneven ground,
  • Not going near physical and environmental hazards,
  • Not using dangerous tools like chainsaws.

The fact is, we made a personal choice to work in wildland fire, and that choice of employment carries with it inherent risk. The sideboards/assumptions (listed above) come with accepting this job. As public servants, the very nature of our employment comes with risk—meaning if you don’t want to be exposed to risk, you can choose another line of work.

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Here’s What Happened that Day

Having framed this accident with sideboards, here’s what actually happened that day on the Clark Creek Fire on Colorado’s White River National Forest.

The Sawyer and Swamper were asked to take care of a 3×3-foot spot across the fireline that was smoldering in the duff under a tree.

This spot was on a steep slope. The Sawyer, working the bottom side of the tree, had moved to the tree’s high side. The Swamper was clearing brush that had already been cut below the tree.

The Sawyer and Swamper were approximately 10 feet apart.

The Swamper slipped and fell toward the tree—putting his hands out in front of him to break the fall. At the same time, the Sawyer reached out with the chainsaw to limb the tree. Both of those movements closed the gap. The tip of the chainsaw made contact with the Swamper’s right ring finger, cutting through his glove lacerating the finger from his main knuckle to the tip of his finger.

A well-orchestrated medical treatment and evacuation occurred. The Swamper was transported by the Superintendent’s vehicle off the fire and transferred to a waiting ambulance who got the Swamper to the hospital emergency room in an hour.

Key Factors in this Accident

In reviewing the accident, we looked at several key factors:

 Risk Management

The crew has chainsaw JHA’s that they go over at the beginning of the season and periodically review, as well as tailgate safety sessions each day based on the day’s work.  These processes identified potential hazards as well as mitigations of Sawyers and Swampers working together.

Mission Drive

There was no sense of urgency. The spot fire was not posing an immediate threat. The crew was just beginning work for the day to complete handline and the fire was not moving.

Team Selection

The Sawyer and Swamper have been working together all year. Each person had two years on a Hotshot Crew. Prior to being on the Hotshot Crew, the Swamper had six years of fire experience. He is certainly well aware of risks and is proficient in moving over steep, uneven ground. The fact of the matter is, as a Hotshot Saw Team, these two are as experienced as it gets.

Training

The Sawyer and Swamper have had basic saw training, years of crew experience snagging, cutting hotline, bucking, felling, etc. In addition, the entire crew spends a great deal of time on Sawyer and Swamper operations as a standard operating procedure. 

Team Fitness

This accident occurred first thing in the morning. Both employees had good rest. They had just eaten, were warmed up, and were very situationally aware. Both of their physical fitness levels are outstanding. The crew was toward the beginning of their third assignment of the year.

Environment

This was a typical fireline environment that you would find on any fire in mountainous terrain. Cannot be avoided.

Work Complexity

Limbing and brushing-out around a tree is a skill that both of these employees were very proficient at. They had done this countless times this fire season. 

Complacency

The Sawyer and Swamper were situationally aware and are on their game when the saw is running. Although brushing and limbing are a task frequently done, when the saw is running, these two pay extra attention.

History

Looking back at this IHC’s history, this is the first reported chainsaw cut accident in more than 20 years. This is an astonishing feat given the countless hours of exposure and technical difficulty of their chainsaw operations.

These two employees were doing the job they were asked to do. And they were doing it in a way that was professional, competent and how they were trained to do it. The Swamper simply slipped and tried to arrest his fall by putting his hand out in front of himself. I do not know of anyone who has not slipped, tripped or fell at some point.

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My True Answer: “I Don’t Know”

My empathetic mind—as a leader of employees who are real people with real families and loved ones—cannot process that there is an acceptable level of accidents/injuries or fatalities in our line of work. However, the practical part of my mind has to acknowledge that once we agree to an acceptable level of risk, do we not also—at the same time—accept a certain level of loss? It’s a simple mathematical equation; probability and consequences.  If we accept that we have a 99% chance of success, that also means we accept the 1% chance of loss.

As leaders, we ask our employees to accept risk by completing assignments for us. If we ask them to accept this risk, did we just make a subconscious decision to accept the potential for loss should something go wrong?

I do not say “accept loss” as some flippant resignation that by accepting this concept that people getting hurt or killed is ok.  I want the people I lead to know this is a possibility, and in some part of their brain they will take that extra look, take an extra second, make a different decision that makes a positive difference in the future.

Therefore, my true answer to “How could this accident be prevented?” is: 

I don’t know.

Do You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

We Made it Out, But it Was Very, Very Close – Reflections From The Nuttall Fire.

Everyone was moving in slow motion. On our intercrew I could hear our Lookout giving us updates calmly but forcefully: It was time to be gone.

 

By Matt Holmstrom

Current – Superintendent Lewis & Clark IHC

Nuttall Fire – Squad Leader Lassen IHC

There are so many impressions and recollections that I have from that day, July 2, 2004. Some of them are lessons I tried to learn and pass on to my guys, some that, even now, I’m not sure that I have fully processed. I do know it was very, very close.

And I do know that this is in contrast to the official record.

I was a young Squad Leader that day. One Foreman was detailed away and the other was in a large-scale lookout. So it was the Superintendent, another Squad Leader, and myself running the crew.

I remember that during the previous shifts we had been burning across these ridges and for at least one night shift. The slop-over on the Division that day wasn’t too large and certainly wasn’t very active. I thought it would be a good transition day from nights to days.

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We were cutting direct line and making good progress with the other crews. On our initial scout that morning we had identified the same “safety zone” that everyone else did. This would become the safety zone that the Flagstaff IHC ended up deploying in.

The fact that 80+ people all thought that a SZ that 20 people later deployed in looked good should give a good indication of our mindset. The Augusta IHC ended up in a nearby aspen grove with our Superintendent. Lassen and Plumas IHCs ran uphill back to the road system.

One of the Most Terrifying Moments in My Life

On that run, at the start, I was impatient to get going. I was trail, making sure that everyone had been accounted for and was together moving up the line.

Plumas was ahead of us and it seemed to take forever for the hike to start. Everyone was moving in slow motion. On our intercrew I could hear our Lookout giving us updates calmly but forcefully: It was time to be gone.

As we started up slope, the gaps started almost immediately. The Squad Leader leading our crew out was very tall and was striding it out, gapping the slower guys at the back. I was annoyed and was trying to close up those gaps. That’s when I had one of the most terrifying moments in my life.

I looked back below us to gauge the distance between us and the fire—fire that we could now hear. What I saw made me almost physically ill: one lone blue hardhat at the bottom of our line, looking around, obviously confused.

At first, I thought that I had miscounted. That I had missed one of my guys. I immediately started another head count. I was turning around to go back and shouting down at them to hurry when the two overhead from Plumas thundered past me downhill on the run.

Because both crews wore the same color hats, I couldn’t tell that this person was a Plumas firefighter, and not one of mine.

Of course, we all made it out that day, but that was a powerful reflection in leadership that I have always carried with me.  Those two guys ran down at fire coming uphill at them to help a slower teammate who somehow just got separated in the retreat. I got to see leadership and bravery exemplified, and tempered with humility.

Mike Sherman and Pete Duncan, my hat is off to you both for your courage and leadership. Again, none of this is in any official records, mostly because those guys are humble. They’ll probably be mad at me for mentioning them here.

I was in Disbelief—I Felt Tricked or Somehow Betrayed

Our Lookout, my Captain, later asked me why we didn’t leave when he first told us about the activity below us. He had eyes on the entire Division, gave us plenty of advance warning, and we could’ve left far earlier.

I couldn’t answer then and I would struggle to answer now.

I reflect back to the confidence that I felt that morning. The idea that this would be a good shift to transition over from the night burns we’d been doing and into the day shift. I remember being extremely convinced that The Plan was solid. After all, it was developed by guys who had been fighting fire longer than I’d been alive. If they weren’t concerned, why should I be?

I remember even once we were pulling out, I was in disbelief. I felt tricked or somehow betrayed. The fire had not done what it was supposed to, what we had planned for it.

I had completely forgotten that there is a home team, and we were not it. Looking back, I would say that we got head-faked by our earlier work. We were victims of our own making – through several successful shifts and the corresponding over confidence.

So, what did I take away from the Nuttall Fire?

  • Every day is a new day. Don’t be overconfident.
  • All transitions are tough and may be dangerous.
  • Listen to your Lookouts, you put them there for a reason.

Always remember that the fire gets a vote on your plan—Mother Nature always bats last.

 

 

When You’re the Division Supervisor and Fire Shelters Come Out

“I try to cultivate relationships and build trust so I can create an environment where people feel safe telling me that my idea is a bad one.”

By Jayson Coil

Division Supervisor on the Nuttall Fire

When I reflect on the events surrounding the entrapment and subsequent shelter deployment on the Nuttall Fire there is one main lesson that continues to resonate with me. Along with this lesson comes the acknowledgement of the cost of this lesson.

When I refer to “cost,” I am not referring to the cost for me personally, but the impact the event had on others that day. Like any other fire, there are firefighters who depend on us (leaders) for their safety. This is not to say that individuals are not accountable for their own safety. But the actions that those of us in leadership positions advocate for can most certainly influence the risks that a firefighter faces. This is the “cost” I am referring to here.

A Potential Slow and Painful Death

For some of the people on H-4 that day, it was their first big fire. For them, it was not just smoky, it was the scariest thing they had ever experienced. For others, it was another one of too many close calls.

After this incident, some people left their careers for other professions. And, there may be other impacts to folks that I am unaware of.

The conditions that afternoon were bad. When the fire whirl crossed the helispot, it would have been a slow and painful death if anyone had inhaled those superheated gases.

I Would Be ‘That Guy’

I am certain somewhere in my own thoughts, along with the concern I felt for the other people, I was also troubled about the personal impact if we deployed our shelters. This was my Division. I would be “That Guy”.

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Of course, I know it should not be that way. Such a concern should not influence one’s decision. However, I know that it can.

I try to remember the potential of a given consequence when I consider a course of action—to help myself remember that the actions you take early in an incident can impact your options days down the road. I find this sort of assessment beneficial because it prevents me from anchoring into false assumptions.

But if I minimize this incident’s impact on others, what message would I be sending?

I Wanted the Plan to Work

So, what did I learn on July 2, 2004?

 

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I learned—and I have attempted to remind myself of this on every subsequent incident—that the effort you put into a plan and its implementation should not taint your assessment of risk on a given day.

Many people had worked hard on that line. They were invested. I was invested. I had just arrived at the lookout when everything started to pick up. I am thankful for the leadership many provided that day.

I do not look at this incident with the notion of how I could have changed things that day. Rather, I look at it from the perspective that I was invested more in that line because it was mine and because of the hard work crews had put into constructing it. I wanted the plan to work. I wanted the line to hold.

I felt accountable for the slopover. It was my Division. So, I wanted it fixed and the line to hold.

However, I would suggest that this is the wrong way to look at it. We deal with uncertainty and variables outside our control all the time. Often, these variables lead to unintended consequences. Today, I try really hard to recognize that and continue to reassess the quality of information I have received.

I try to declare my biases and invite others to challenge my assumptions. I want them to help me calibrate because I know self-assessment is not the solution. I try to cultivate relationships and build trust so I can create an environment where people feel safe telling me that my idea is a bad one. From my perspective, that is essential to effective leadership.

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Close Call Stories – Trusting Intuition

This post uses a video from:

THE SMOKEY GENERATION: A WILDLAND FIRE ORAL HISTORY AND DIGITAL STORYTELLING PROJECT

The Smokey Generation is a website dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing the stories and oral history of wildland fire.


By Travis Dotson

“I still kick myself for this…”

Ever felt that way? We all have. That is called hindsight. When we look back it’s easy to see what we should have done.

How do we take a “bad feeling” into pro-active mode?

“It’s so hard to put your finger on that bad feeling.” Yes.

“Talk about it, get it out in the open…maybe you’re not the only one.” Action.

Be able to say this: “Here’s my worst case scenario for the day and it’s sure going that way right now, maybe it’s time to talk about it.”  Bam.

Thank you for the wisdom Dan.

 

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?

 

 

Lessons from the Knoxville Mobilization Center

How Thorough and Creative “What If” Thinking Led to Safety Successes

SERBy the 2016 Fire Safety and Learning Teams, U.S. Forest Service Southern Region

 [Note: As part of the historic 2016 fall fire season in the Southeastern United States, the U.S. Forest Service deployed teams throughout the Region to capture learning opportunities.]

IMT personnel at the Knoxville Mobilization (MOB) Center during the 2016 fires in the Southeast were proactive.

Instead of saying: “We had an accident and then we changed our procedures,” they thought through intricate scenarios about how things might go wrong—so that they would go right.

The intent here is not only to share the specific lessons, but also to encourage this type of thinking.

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Procedures and Innovations

  • High visibility vests were worn by all command and camp help for safety and to also ease recognition of leadership.
  • One-way traffic was established at ICP to streamline the mob/demob of crews.
  • Safety was emphasized during loading and unloading buses and boarding planes. They eliminated access to the active runway through the positioning of buses. 
  • Driving in the area was particularly dangerous. Crews were informed not to try to convoy.
  • They reduced the potential for off-duty incidents by having crews turn-in rental vehicles the night before they flew out and established hotel shuttles. They were also mindful of housing crews in areas that had restaurants and laundry facilities nearby.

Communication

  • The Emergency Phone Number for the airport ambulance was conspicuously posted around the MOB center so that people would NOT call 9-1-1. Calling 9-1-1 would have sent an ambulance from the city, which was much farther away.
  • Intake materials were printed in Spanish and English.
  • They also set up a text message system and email account to communicate with crews about departure times.
  • To enhance and ensure optimum communication between the IMTs and airport, one person was assigned as a single point of contact.
  • This liaison was extremely important in working with airport personnel to get access to secure areas. For example, the secure snow bay was used to keep crews dry during loading and unloading, which helped with safety and morale.
  • The liaison formed relationships with the pilots and flight crews, which allowed the opportunity to weigh-in early and fly when ready instead of sticking to a rigid schedule.
  • The liaison worked with the rental car company and the airport to identify alternative parking options to accommodate the high volume of rental vehicles being returned at the same time.
  • The National Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation spoke to incoming crews on the apron which provided a clear boost in morale, and emphasized Life First.

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Adaptive ICS

  • IMT personnel were flexible about roles and tasks. When it was time to load or unload, everyone in the ICP, except for Finance, would put on a vest and go help.
  • They weighed crews in the night before they were scheduled to fly and allowed them to shed excess weight in a less stressful environment.
  • They assisted fire victims by donating excess items that had been shed to the Red Cross.
  • They ordered a 10-person module for the MOB center specifically to streamline loading and unloading of cargo and personnel.

How Do You Manage “Aggressive Kindness” on Incidents?

Although volunteers and individual acts of kindness provide wonderful support, if a mechanism is not in place to deliver this support, it can create a unique kind of challenge.

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By the 2016 Fire Safety and Learning Teams, U.S. Forest Service Southern Region

[Note: As part of the historic 2016 fall fire season in the Southeastern United States, the U.S. Forest Service deployed teams throughout the Region to capture learning opportunities.]

During the 2016 fires in the Southeast, communities rallied together to support emergency responders. These emergency responders reported an outpouring of community support unlike anything they’d ever seen.

One Incident Commander said that you had to be careful to avoid being overheard saying something like “my hands are cold” because the next day you would walk out and find 200 pairs of gloves out by your truck.

Restaurants in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee organized breakfast donations for every morning briefing. Crews reported having a hard time refusing cash donations from members of the public. Some of these people had lost their homes, yet they were concerned for the health and safety of the firefighters in the area.

In addition to such individual acts of kindness, volunteer organizations also worked tirelessly to support emergency responders during the severe 2016 Southeast fire season. DollyLocal as well as national celebrities also gave their time to encourage this type of giving.

Dolly Parton set a positive tone by releasing a PSA filmed with Smokey Bear about wildfire prevention and local giving.

These examples of giving truly support the notion that Southern hospitality is more than a colloquialism.

Helping to Make Giving as Effective as Possible

Although volunteers and individual acts of kindness provide wonderful support, if a mechanism is not in place to deliver this support, it can create a unique kind of challenge.

During these types of “disaster” events, people need an outlet for their thankfulness in order for their giving to be as effective as possible. At one morning briefing, hundreds of sausage biscuits were donated. They were delicious and everyone left with an extra biscuit for their pocket—but many were not consumed.

While gifts may be more difficult to manage, voicing thankfulness, like the letter below, is always warmly appreciated.

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Three Suggestions for Managing Kindness on Incidents:

  • Create a volunteer “welcome center” to streamline the efforts of volunteers.
  • Discuss the phenomenon of “aggressive giving” during a morning briefing so that people can be aware and discuss strategies that might be useful, particularly within the affected area.
  • Finally, because most state and federal employees are not allowed to accept financial contributions, we must also be thoughtful about preparing our employees with strategies to re-direct this public giving to the appropriate outlets. Creating a pocket card or handout for Division Supervisors that lists locations for donations at the local level, and contact information for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation or other national organizations are examples of these outlets.

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The Change in Acceptable Risk Needs to Stem from the Top Down

This is Asheville IHC Reaction #14 – part of the Asheville Hotshots written reactions to  “The Big Lie”


I agree and disagree with many things in Mark’s essay “The Big Lie.” The best thing it does is that it seems to have lots of people talking, from ground pounders to fire staff and national office types. The essay addresses a few obviously very sore subjects with risk and safety being the hot topics.

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In my reaction to the Big Lie, I think Mark brings up some very valid points, that most firefighters and fire managers believe that if you follow all the rules that you cannot get hurt—and that’s just not true. But as Dave stated in his response that you can never account for every detail, you cannot account for human behavior and Mother Nature, there’s too much out of our control. I believe that too often being “politically correct” is what gets us hurt or into trouble. The quote from the ranger saying that they can’t tell 18-year-olds or new firefighters they might die in this line of work or recommend they have a will because it’s not “politically correct.” That’s the real lie. That’s the real disservice.

We need to look new hires right in the eye and lay out the risks and potential dangers they WILL be exposed to. Stop tiptoeing around the reality of the job and telling folks: “Yeah, 19 of us die every year but that won’t happen to you.” That’s where the family surprise comes from. Nobody actually thinks it will happen to them. Fire managers sending a hotshot crew a mile interior to take care of a political smoke, that in reality has no chance of impacting fire growth or causing any harm but an eye sore, and one of them getting killed is by no means acceptable! So why does that still happen? Then the same people that wanted the smoke taken care of ask why the crew was even in there in the first place!

Fire managers are setting these new hires up for failure by having them believe in this fallacy, that they have a “right” to a safe work environment. Fire managers are not only to blame, common sense and thinking for yourself goes a long ways. I have never once accepted an assignment thinking it was completely safe and free of risks even if someone told me it would be. Common sense tells me that working for the Forest Service in any capacity will have risks. Just taking a nature walk has the risk of injury from slips, trips and falls.

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Safety seems to be something that’s taken for granted more and more these days. During our “life first” engagement this spring, fire managers said that only zero line of duty deaths will be acceptable. Everyone in the room immediately knew that wasn’t possible. The only way that could happen is to never engage a fire again. The zero death tolerance is directly in the way of fire accomplishment objectives. I think the change in acceptable risk needs to stem from the top down.

People are forgetting that this job demands the utmost respect for fire, for wildlands, and all aspects of nature. I like the military aspects Mark addressed throughout the essay. Everyone knows the potential of risks and accepts that. They know men and women will die and do their best to avoid that—but they know it’s going to happen. I think this essay will get the topic of acceptable risk out in the open and hopefully talked about more. I am very interested in hearing what other crew members’ opinions are, and speaking to mine, which I am sure will be much more than I have written here.

No One Wants to Believe It Can Happen to Them

This is Asheville IHC Reaction #12 – part of the Asheville Hotshots written reactions to  “The Big Lie”


After reading the Big Lie I was definitely on the same mindset as Mark Smith—no one wants to believe it can happen to them. I agree with the part of the essay that says “There is acceptable risk. There is no acceptable losses.”

There is only so much we can predict, manipulate, influence, and control on fire situations. Whether it be suppression or prescribed, we base a lot of our actions on expected fire behavior and forecasts—but how often is the weatherman right?

 

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The point is that we put ourselves out in these high-risk environments because it is our job and certain tactics or strategies have worked for us in the past until they don’t and we have a casualty.

Within every incident there is an investigation to figure out how things could have been avoided. But I feel as though not every situation will be avoidable. People need to be aware that you’re constantly working in a moderate to high-risk environment not just on fires but even back at our home units, doing projects such as falling trees which is one of the most dangerous things we do.

I feel like if we inform people on “The Big Lie,” people within the fire culture will be more vigilant while being on the job and incidents will stay low. We have talked about how losses are inevitable. But by telling firefighters that we are constantly in a moderate risk environment we will keep people on their toes and keep injuries and deaths down.