Is the Wildland Fire Service Better Off than it was Ten Years Ago?

[This is an interview that Travis Dotson had with Mike Lewelling, Fire Management Officer at Rocky Mountain National Park. Mike manages a complex program and has an important perspective on growth and change in the wildland fire service to offer us.]

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Mike Lewelling – Fire Management Officer at Rocky Mountain National Park.

By Travis Dotson

TRAVIS: Is the wildland fire service better off than it was ten years ago?

MIKE:     I’m so divided on that question. I see positives and negatives. If we’re talking about medical response, yes definitely we’re better off than we were 10 years ago. But it doesn’t matter where I go, who I talk to, everybody is talking about HR and the difficulty in hiring and how that is diluting our pool of professional people that we want. And then there is budgets, changing priorities from the top, and other things like that. So, are we better off than 10 years ago? It depends on what angle you’re looking at it from.

TRAVIS: Give me an example of the good and bad.

Zion Regulars 2000

Mike with the Zion Regulars Crew.

MIKE:      One of the things as far as risk management goes is just the significant difference in perspectives and approaches between IMTs. There was a fire recently where the very first team got with the Agency Administrator (AA) and the AA said “We are not going into the timber. Trees are falling over for no reason. There is serious risk of people getting killed. We’re not going into the timber.”

Some hotshot crews looked at it and said “Oh man, if we can just dig this line right here, we can cut it off.” But the AA stuck to their guns. They said “No, it’s OK if it burns, it’s going to come out. We’ll wait for it.”

So another team comes in and it’s the same. A subsequent team was more aggressive and said “You know what, we can get through this and put this out.”

There is story after story of just the differences in teams and how critical it is for AAs to maintain consistency in team transitions. Two or four months into a fire, the home unit gets tired of the fire and eventually gets a team who says “We can put this thing to bed.”

TRAVIS: Yeah, we don’t control what team shows up in the rotation. The aggressive team could have shown up first. And it’s totally fair that local units get tired of dealing with a fire. That variation in styles might not be something we can eliminate, but we can improve how it is we prepare our workforce, including Agency Administrators.

MIKE:     I am impressed with how our involvement with AAs is changing. I was able to be a part of the M-582 (Fire Program Management; Leading Complex Fire Programs) cadre as a table coach and it’s very interesting to see the different levels of Agency Administrators that are coming up. There’s some that have absolutely no fire experience and some that have a ton—and I don’t know which one’s better!

Agency Administrators also need their own team of people helping to make these risk management decisions so they don’t just hand the fire and all the decisions to the IMT. The concept of “Shared Risk” is vital to the decision-making.

TRAVIS:  Is that progress? The way that we acknowledge the Agency Administrator’s role and our efforts to educate both our fire workforce and Agency Administrators on the process?

MIKE:     Absolutely. I would definitely say that I’m real impressed with the new M-582. They include a Cerro Grande site visit. The Agency Administrators come out of there going “Wow, that was actually worth it for a week.” You try to get an Agency Administrator to go to a week-long training—it better be good.

TRAVIS: That feels like progress—we have Agency Administrators going on site visits!

But getting back to the areas that we can’t put in the “progress” pile. Do you have hope for us getting better at things like hiring?

MIKE:     Honestly, no. I don’t have much hope. It’s been five years of “Oh, it’s going to be better.” And yet every year, it gets worse. We’re eating ourselves from within.

Whether it’s how we have to reconcile our credit cards to how we do travel to how we hire, each of these processes operate as a silo and there’s no consideration of how they impact each other or the whole. We are supposed to hire the best and brightest for a more professional, educated workforce that can make better risk decisions. It’s becoming more and more difficult to make that happen. And it is connected to risk!

TRAVIS: Sure. Say a bad thing happens on the fireline. Someone gets hurt. People often ask: “What risk decisions were made prior to and at what capacity do those decision-makers operate? What kind of training do they have?” and so on. Seems like you can draw a pretty straight line to hiring.

MIKE:      Absolutely. One of the foundational considerations when evaluating a high-risk mission is team selection. You want the best team that you can get. If you don’t have much to pick from, you might be in trouble.

Medical Emergency Response

TRAVIS:   Getting specific on the medical emergency response, tell us a little bit about your experience and background with that element.

MIKE:      Here in the Park we have always had some sort of plan. Like “OK, if somebody gets hurt, we’re going to get them out of there.” But we never really dialed-it in—like exactly what are we going to do? Being able to answer the questions that got put in the IRPG after the Andy Palmer incident [https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/dutch-creek-tree-fel]:

  • What will we do if someone gets hurt?
  • How are we going to get them out of here?
  • How long will it take to get them to a hospital?
Itent into Action

Mike Lewelling

On the Big Meadows Fire in 2013, we ordered an Incident Management Team and we were all trying to figure out the “Dutch Creek Protocol” together. We did all kinds of stuff that probably never would have happened in the past as far as EMTs, Paramedics on-site because it’s a very remote fire.

And you wouldn’t expect it, but we had a hotshot go down with sudden cardiac arrest! They were hiking to the line from spike camp and boom! They had an AED to him within minutes and they successfully restarted his heart and brought him back to life. 10 years ago, we would not have had an AED on the fireline.

And there’s nothing like sitting in ICP, hearing a call come in saying “no pulse, not breathing” and instantly, I know what that means. And I know that person is not going to survive and sure enough, “Paramedic on scene”—with AED. And they brought him back to life and he fought fire the next year.

That was an absolute life saved, no question. And no question it was attributed to changes made after the Andy Palmer incident.

TRAVIS:  Wow.

I remember hearing about that incident and what I kept saying to anybody who would listen was “They had an AED in spike camp!” When I’m loading up for spike camp, I’ve never to this day said “Make sure the AED is in there.” I just don’t think that way.

MIKE:       Yeah, no kidding. And really, I mean even to this day, it’s very common to NOT have an AED in spike camp.

I think about risk a lot. I was recently thinking about the term “luck”. The definition of luck is very similar to risk. And I wrote it down: “Success apparently brought on by chance rather than one’s own actions.”

I don’t think we’re going to be studying “luck management.” But, thinking ahead and positioning yourself in a way that has the most potential of being lucky. That’s very similar to risk management. Louis Pasteur said: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

TRAVIS:  “Are you good or lucky?” A lot of people lean on that. I think it’s a great parallel to draw between luck and risk. It comes into play with blame as well. If something goes bad and we are thinking about “risk” it is somehow easier to assign blame. Whereas with “luck” we are more able to accept as is—whether good or bad.

MIKE:     Yes, absolutely.

TRAVIS:  Do you have any other personal experiences that have shaped your perspective on this?

MIKE:     Yes. The San Antonio Fire [https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/san-antonio-fire-tree-strike-2018]. I was the lead for the FLA. What really stuck out to me for that one was: “How do you choose between multiple unsafe options?” The Type 3 Incident Management Team, the two Agency Administrators, hotshot crews, they all got together and looked at options for this fire and there was not a safe option to be had.

Every fire has some kind of risk. But this fire had high risk no matter what choice you took. Going direct, you’re going down in a hole, in timber, super steep slopes—not ideal. But going indirect was way worse. A lot more people at risk.

TRAVIS:  And they’re also doing that in the shadow of a community that has some pretty vivid memories of big bad fires—the Cerro Grande Fire and the Los Conchas Fire (both located outside Los Alamos, New Mexico).

MIKE:     Absolutely. So on the San Antonio Fire, some weather came in and it kind of parked the fire for a bit, giving them a chance to catch it small. But in doing so, when they decided that they were going to do a high-risk operation, they were like “OK, how can we mitigate some of the risk?”

They had four hotshot crews. They ordered a REMS (Rapid Module Extraction) team. They had the helicopter with short haul capabilities. They got prepared. Then two guys get hit on the head by a limb!

Those 60 hotshots packaged both patients and got them out before the REMS even had time to set up. They prepared because they knew they we’re going into a risky situation.

TRAVIS:  Compare that scenario to a similar one pre-Dutch Creek (And Palmer’s tragedy incident). I feel like that looks different.

MIKE :      Yes, I think it would be more like: “Hey, let’s go direct on this and we’ll just get after it.”

And the hotshot superintendents I know, they’re all for it. It’s not “Oh man, we’re being forced to put this ‘mitigation’ in place.” It’s more like “Hey, if one of my people gets hurt, I want to know that I can get them out.” Sometimes you get policies or procedures in place and people are kind of negative about it. But I haven’t heard too much negative chatter on this. We all want to take care of our people.

TRAVIS:  Some folks debate the process, whether we should be using a military style “nine line” or the current “eight line” version. Should it be geared toward treatment or transport? Should it be standardized or let IMTs each have their own? That is the stuff folks nitpick. But I think you are right. Everybody is on the same page about if we’re going to put somebody out there and ask them to do the dangerous work, let’s be prepared to support them when the bad thing happens. And to me, one of the big changes is using the word when rather than if the bad thing happens.

MIKE:     Absolutely. We had a fire this summer and I was flying over it. It was kind of a “peninsula of fuel” and there’s only about a quarter mile of line that needed to be cut.

If we didn’t cut that quarter-mile line, it would have turned into a rest-of-the-summer fire because it was going into an area that there is no way we could send people. And so during the briefing, we acknowledged this situation. We only have a quarter mile to cut but there are snags. There’s beetle-kill through there and it is a high-risk situation.

I trust the people who are going to be up there making the final decision. So once you get up there, make the decision about whether you can go for it or not. But just know that by this one high-risk operation, it’s going to save two months of additional high-risk operations and a lot more people at risk.

And we got some good feedback from the people who went up there. They said: “Thanks for setting the stage for us.”

TRAVIS:  Sure, enabling them to make an informed decision with support and the capacity to respond. And acknowledging that, yes, somebody could get bonked out here and everybody is on the same page about that. I think that is difficult for some managers.

MIKE:     Yes, absolutely. For managers to fully appreciate the risk and if the folks don’t want to do it, they’re fully supported.

TRAVIS:  Yeah, on the operator end, if you decide not to go in, it’s almost like knowing you will have moral support. But if you DO decide to go ahead with the mission, it’s like having physical support: knowing we have a dialed-in medical plan and the capacity. There’s a ship on call and we know the phone number and we know the helicopter is actually sitting there on the pad, that kind of stuff.

MIKE: Yes, Absolutely.

TRAVIS: In the past, it was more of “Let’s go for it”. And it feels like a lot of that was just based on hope. Let’s hope no one gets hurt. Let’s hope nothing bad happens. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like that, but a lot of the attitude was just like, hey, man, that’s what we do. We deal with the unknown and if the bad thing happens to be somebody gets hurt, trust us, we’ll deal with it. We’ll improvise. And we did good a lot of times.

MIKE:       Until we didn’t. Until it took two hours to get someone onto a helicopter.

TRAVIS: Unfortunately, that’s kind of how the fire service tends to do its learning.

So what are some other ways that we still need to improve in this area?

What We Still Need to Improve

MIKE:       Well, I think just an overall support of the medical and evacuation mission. We kind of piecemeal it together right now. When hiring, our hotshot crews may think “Oh sweet, this person’s an EMT!” Or we say “Hey, let’s order a REMS module” or something along those lines. We don’t have actual positions, not like “We’re going to hire you and you’re going to be a GS six instead of a five because you’re an EMT” or be able to provide that kind of training. As a whole, the firefighting machine does not support it. It’s not funded or incentivized.

TRAVIS: Yes, hiring by hope: “I hope an EMT applied this year.”

MIKE:       Right. And beyond that, maybe even improving the whole REMS. I’m not sold on that whole concept yet. But I think it’s good to invest in it and give it an honest try.

TRAVIS: On the REMS, I feel like we are at the beginning and it needs time to improve. It’s still more of an “idea” and people are adapting gear that was meant for other stuff to fit our situation. Eventually, we’re going to get to the point where we’re making situation-specific gear and protocols—that stuff just takes time.

I mean, five or eight years ago you could literally say the words “Rapid Extraction Module” and most people would ask: “What are you talking about?”

On the EMT and Paramedic front, there’s a lot of people feeling like “Hey, if we’re going to step into this realm and we really are going to take care of our own out there, then where is the agency sponsored EMT and Paramedic training?”

MIKE:     Yes, absolutely. And then comes the debate: Are we a wildland fire service, or are we an emergency response service? Everything is complicated.

Biggest Positive Changes?

TRAVIS: Overall, what would you say are the biggest positive changes you’ve seen in our culture during your entire career?

MIKE:     I think we are more mindful about how we manage fires now. I saw a map side-by-side of all the fires from the early 80s into the 90s and it’s all these little pinpricks of fires. And then you go into the 2000s to now and the footprints are a lot bigger. There’s a lot that goes into that. But I think part of that is not always throwing everything at every fire. Mother Nature uses fire to clean house and it doesn’t matter what we do, she’s going to do it eventually. So whether we put ourselves in the way of that or let it happen is an important decision. I think that, overall, risk management—how we respond to fires—is a significant advance.

TRAVIS:  For sure. I’ve seen research showing that the best investment we can make is big fire footprints. That is what ends up being both a money saver and exposure saver down the line as well as an ecological investment, obviously. For so long, large fire footprints were only being pushed from an ecological perspective and now we’re talking about the risk benefits of changing our default setting away from just crush it. There is often an immediate and future benefit on the risk front (less exposure now AND a larger footprint reducing future threat).

MIKE:      Yes. Absolutely. And every fire is different. Every day on every fire is different. And so you can’t make a blanket statement. And it’s tough. Around Rocky (Rocky Mountain National Park) we’re trying to set the stage with the public that, we’ve got beetle-killed lodgepole that goes right up to the Park boundary and we have communities down the gun barrel where we frequently have 70 mile-an-hour winds. As the Fire Management Officer, we have got to think outside the box about preparing. It’s no different than preparing for a hurricane or a tornado or a volcanic eruption. If you live where the natural event happens, you need to be prepared for it.

TRAVIS:  Do you feel you have the capacity and the support to get better at that kind of planning?

MIKE:      Certainly for fire response, getting the word out there that we are not going to be able to send firefighters into the middle of a beetle-killed forest. I’ve got a couple photos that help sometimes. I compare a green healthy lodgepole forest in which I wouldn’t hesitate to send people hiking three or four miles into that forest to put a fire out. And then I’ve got a current picture of this jack straw nasty mess. Imagine sending people through that when trees are falling for no reason? And so we’re slowly telling the story.

 

 

 

Your Goofiest Story

TRAVIS:  Alright, that is all super good perspective and information. Now for the most important: What is the goofiest fire-related event you can recall?

MIKE:     Oh man, there have been a few. This one sticks out:

I was dropping ping-pong balls at Whiskeytown. I was front seat. Before we took off, I was joking about getting airsick. I said: “I got my puke bag!” So I had my puke bag in my pocket and we’re flying and we’re dropping ping-pong balls and the pilot goes, “Hey, you got that puke bag?” I looked at him and I kind of laugh. I’m like, “Well, yes, but I’m good.” He’s like, “No, give it to me!” And I’m like, OK.

And so I gave him my puke bag and he starts hurling as we’re flying. You know how your body kind of convulses when you puke? He somehow bumped the controls and we just come screaming out of the unit. And thankfully, the PSD operator stopped dropping balls in the back. But yeah, he puked all over the place and then of course my puke bag had holes in it and so he hands it back to me and his pukes drip all over my legs. We ended up flying back over the fire and dropped the puke into the fire.

So, that was kind of goofy.

TRAVIS:  You cannot make that stuff up.

MIKE:      And it wasn’t that he was airsick, it was food poisoning or something. I don’t know how you can puke and fly at the same time. I’m glad we didn’t crash.

TRAVIS:  Dropping ping-pong balls when the pilot gets sick—classic.

Do you have anything else on this whole topic of “growth” that you had other thoughts on?

More of a Learning Environment Now

MIKE:      I guess just the whole learning process. Moving away from punitive, how that circles back around to risk management. I’ll never forget one of our NPS leaders throwing all of my friends under the bus during Cerro Grande and just how ugly that was. And from experiencing that to now, being able to be involved in some of the FLAs. I know that it’s definitely more of a learning environment now. For me, that’s been huge.

TRAVIS:  Yes, for sure. In terms of progress, in general, I feel like we treat people better, specifically those who have been involved in some sort of really bad outcome.

MIKE:      I agree. I feel like sometimes you wake up and you have the best intentions for the day and the bad thing happens and it changes your career—and even your life.

TRAVIS: And when that day happens to someone other than us, man, wouldn’t we want to be supportive and try to get some good out of it? Because that’s going to happen to them no matter what, their career/life is going to change. Now, what are we going to do to treat them and ourselves as “brothers and sisters” since we’re so fond of using that term?

MIKE:     Yes. You’ve got to mean it.

 

High Vis?

By Charlie Palmer     chicken_hi_vis_jacket_yellow_chicken.jpg

I pored over hunting catalogs and websites. I watched video after video, and read hundreds of product reviews. I had made a vow with myself that this year was going to be different. Having drawn a coveted special permit in a hunting district known for its big bull elk, changes in my usual approach were going to be made.

Instead of hunting all over the state, my efforts were going to be focused in this one geographic area. Instead of my propensity for road hunting or not getting very far from the truck when I did decide to hike, this year the ventures would be farther afield and deeper into the backcountry.

And lastly, adjustments in my apparel needed to be made. For years, I have gotten by with a hodgepodge collection of camouflage clothing, none of it expensive or technical in its construction. My frugality on this front often left me wet, cold, and looking like some kind of militia reject.

So I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about high-end camouflage hunting clothes. Thus my previously described research efforts.

Having decided on a specific company and some of the products from them that I needed, I plunked down several Benjamins and checked this item off of my pre-season action plan.

Although significantly lighter in the wallet, my excitement about staying warm, dry, and better hidden this season began to build. Having spent so much time immersed in the finer points of concealment clothing, I could not help but think about another type of effective camouflage with which I was also quite familiar: the Nomex clothing that wildland firefighters wear. Let’s be honest. When it comes to blending into our surrounding environments, green or khaki fire pants and a dirty yellow shirt do a fantastic job of helping us stay less visible out in the woods. But is this what we want?

As someone who is intrigued by risk management, and the actions that humans can take to minimize or mitigate some of our exposures, I have watched closely as multiple other professions have embraced the usage of high visibility clothing.

Whether it be the construction trades, highway workers, railroads, airline ramp personnel, waste collectors, or various other public safety officials, hi vis clothing (often times coupled with reflective striping) is everywhere, it seems. They must be wearing it for some reason, right?

Interestingly, despite the surge in its usage popularity, there has been very little research done on its effectiveness. Furthermore, in the few studies that have been completed the results have not necessarily been conclusive. While a Danish study found that a sample of nearly 7,000 cyclists who wore a high visibility yellow jacket had a 47% lower chance of personal injury accidents when compared to those cyclists who did not wear one (Lahrmann et al, 2018), research from Nottingham University Hospital’s NHS Trust and Nottingham University concluded that cyclists wearing hi vis jackets actually had an increased chance of collisions (NHS, 2016). Investigators theorized that cyclists wearing high visibility apparel may be encouraged to take more exposed positions on the road. However, the study only reviewed 76 total accidents.

Wildland firefighting is risky work. Unfortunately, accidents and fatalities happen each and every year.  In how many of these mishaps was visibility (or lack thereof) a factor? Could hi vis flame resistant (FR) apparel help reduce these figures?  These are questions to which we currently do not have answers.

A little over four years ago, I submitted a proposal to the the US Forest Service Technology and Development Program recommending that an analysis/investigation of high visibility FR clothing for wildland firefighters be undertaken. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected.

My idea vanquished, I put my interest in the topic onto the back burner, and I moved onto other projects. And there it stayed until I read the Horse Park Fire Entrapment FLA. A lookout running for her life. A lead plane frantically trying to find her for 40 minutes. Thankfully, all involved that day made it out safely, but it was a very close call. Would high visibility clothing have helped?

One of the lessons at the end of the FLA brought up this very question: Are there advantages to high vis flame resistant clothing in the wildland fire environment? I say it’s time to find out.

What then, if anything, can be done in terms of next steps? To me, it makes sense that further investigation is needed. This would require the assistance of the Technology and Development Program. Maybe I need to resubmit my original proposal?

Perhaps the analysis could start with a limited production of different versions of high visibility Nomex fire shirts with reflective striping (green, orange, green/orange combination). With hi vis FR fires shirts available, a small number of crews could voluntarily choose to wear them. They could then evaluate them on such things as effectiveness, user satisfaction, and ability to retain visibility after becoming dirty.

Or, perhaps I’m just barking up the wrong tree? Maybe those in the field have no interest or see no utility in high visibility clothing. And I’m okay with that if that’s their feedback. It just seems odd to me that so many other professions have adopted high visibility attire for their workers as a means of risk management and wildland fire has not yet followed their lead.

What thoughts do you have on this matter?


References:

Lahrmann, H., Madsen, T., Olesen, A. V., Madsen, J. C., & Hels, T. (2018). The effect of a yellow bicycle jacket on cyclist accidents. Safety Science, (108), 209-217.

Nottingham University Hospitals annual report. (2016). Retrieved (October 26, 2018) from https://www.nuh.nhs.uk/download.cfm?doc=docm93jijm4n2243.pdf&ver=3305.

Ground Ignition Equipment Standards?

By Paul Keller

torch1

You now have an excellent, super-comprehensive “one-stop shopping” resource for insights and information on all ground ignition equipment standards and procedures.

Released this February, the 134-page “NWCG Standards for Ground Ignition Equipment” publication (https://www.nwcg.gov/publications/443) discusses everything from the advantages and disadvantages of using ATV/UTV torches to how to best transport flares and flare launchers.

Got a question about gelled fuel blivets, power torches, or terra torches? You’ll no doubt find your answer here. This 2019 document is an updated revision of the last 2011 version that now includes additional details for new equipment and manufacturer points of contact.NWCG Ground Ignition Cover

As stated in the publication’s introduction, its ground ignition standards include:

  • Ensure that all ground ignition operations are performed in a safe and efficient manner.
  • Provide a framework within which areas, regions, states, and local units can provide their own supplemental, site-specific guidance.
  • Provide the minimum standards and specifications for ground ignition equipment.
  • Provide basic information for each type of commonly used ground ignition equipment to aid with safe operation and to help with selecting proper equipment for the desired ignition results.

Publication’s Organization

“NWCG Standards for Ground Ignition Equipment” is divided into nine chapters: “ATV/UTV,” “Drip Torches,” “Flares and Flare Launchers,” “Fusees,” “Gelled Fuel Blivets,” “Plastic Spheres and Launchers,” “Power Torches,” “Propane Torches,” and “Terra Torches.”

Each of these chapters includes: an equipment description, operational advantages and disadvantages, sources of equipment, situations favorable for use, safety requirements, qualifications, equipment inspections and fuel mixing methods, operating (normal and emergency) procedures, maintenance and storage, and resources.

If you’re going to be implementing firing operations, this publication provides a great reference resource!


Here is some context related to this topic:

Ice Canyon RX Burn Injury

“The Terra Torch wand was leaking burn mix near the trigger. The operator got some burn mix on his right pant leg around the calf area, which ignited.”

Drip Torch Leg Burns

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 12.26.08 PM

“It happens often.  Second and third degree burns on the calf associated with using a drip torch.”

 

 

Fuel Geyser Awareness Project Updates

By Paul Keller

There’s updated news on the “Fuel Geyser Project” front.

The U.S. Forest Service National Technology and Development Program’s National Fuel Geyser Project’s ongoing efforts to minimize injury to employees from fuel geysering recently posted a range of insightful information on their activities. The “National Fuel Geyser Awareness” program is a function of the NWCG Equipment Technology Committee.

These updates include fuel geyser incidents in 2018, fuel geyser incidents by manufacturer, and by incident type. In addition, this map (below) has been provided that indicates where fuel geyser incidents occurred from 2015 to 2018.

Updated Fuel Geyser Map

The Technology and Development Program’s National Fuel Geyser Project awareness updates now include: Recent Accomplishments and Next Steps/Actions Planned. Other subjects include: Alternative Solutions and Risk Analysis; Implementation Risk Factors; and Fuel Solutions.

Fuel Geyser Incidents in 2018

There were a total of 28 fuel geyser incidents reported in 2018. Twenty-three of these were chainsaw incidents (21 with Stihl chainsaws and 2 with Husqvarna chainsaws). Four incidents occurred with fuel containers, and one incident occurred with a leaf blower.

Fuel Geyser Incidents the Past Two Years

From 2017 through 2018, fuel geyser incidents were reported during these activities: Chainsaw (43 incidents); Fuel Transport Container (6 incidents); Leaf Blower (3 incidents); Brush Saw (1 incident); ATV (1 incident).

Alternative Solutions and Risk AnalysisFHP

The National Technology and Development Program’s National Fuel Geyser Project members have also been studying potential solutions to prevent fuel geysering.

These alternative solutions that have been identified include: 1) Vaporless Refueling Systems; 2) Formalized Fuel Geyser Training; 3) Standard Saw/Requirements; 4) No Gas Chainsaws; 5) Specialized Fuel; and 6) Fuel Conditioning.

Fuel Solutions

The specialized fuel alternative would involve low volatility fuel. This solution would be three years out for potential implementation.

Fuel conditioning would reduce fuel volatility. The technology for this is not currently available. This may also violate emissions regulations.

Recommendations

A key recommendation of the National Fuel Geyser Project is to continue its field evaluation of vaporless refueling systems. This effort would include 50 test crews and 30,000 refueling cycles. It would occur from May through November of this year.

This field evaluation would be implemented on all handheld-engine powered engines (including chainsaws, string trimmers and blowers).

Next Steps

The following ongoing development efforts will continue in the near term:

  • Vaporless Refueling System – by Industry and the National Technology and Development Program
  • Saw Specification/Requirements – by the National Technology and Development Program
  • Training – by Saw Program/Office of Safety and Occupational Health (OSOH)

The National Fuel Geyser Project’s communication plan now includes a “National Awareness Campaign” and disseminating information on the “Implementation of Fuel Geyser Solutions”.

In addition, these action priorities will continue to be pursued:

  • Continue Fuel Geyser Reporting
  • Assess effectiveness of solution
  • Re-evaluate implementation strategy annually

National Fuel Geyser Awareness Website

For more information—or if you experience a fuel geyser that you would like to report—go to the National Fuel Geyser Awareness website: https://www.nwcg.gov/committees/equipment-technology-committee/national-fuel-geyser-awareness.

 

Who Uses Lessons?

By Travis Dotson

If you haven’t seen it yet, please look at the 2018 Incident Review Summary.

Cover

We compile this 10-page report every year. It’s kind of a big deal to us here at the Lessons Learned Center because, well, it’s the lessons (pretty much what we do). It for damn sure is not ALL the lessons from the past year. But it’s the topics we chose to highlight based on reviewing incident reports all year (year after year).

We get it wrong sometimes. That happens when you try to simplify complex things.

But, so what, imperfect tools are still useful (ever used a McLeod?).

Please answer the four questions below:


Thank You!

Please use the lessons.  We care about all of you.

Drawing the Line of Duty

This is from the 2018 Incident Review Summary.


By Travis Dotson

We recorded the work-related death of 19 wildland firefighters in 2018.

lineDuty

But not everyone is on the same page about which ones should be considered a “Line of Duty Death.” Everyone agrees that if you are overrun by fire or get hit by a tree on the fireline—that is death in the line of duty. But what if a fire crew member doing project work begins convulsing, goes unconscious, and is pronounced dead at the hospital? What if a fire crew member gets home from a fire assignment and dies the next day due to complications from pneumonia? Tough questions. But for us here at the Lessons Learned Center we list them all because we are concerned with LESSONS—not numbers. Each of these tragic instances provides an opportunity for collective and individual solemn introspection.

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Exercise

In small groups discuss these topics:

  • What does the term “Line of Duty Death” mean to you?
  • What are the lessons from a non-typical firefighter death?
  • Should we honor people differently based on how they died?

How We Roll

Here is more from our forthcoming 2018 Incident Review Summary.

By Travis Dotson


In 2018 we collected 17 reported Rollover Incidents. Mostly Water Tenders and Dozers (5 each). The others were chase vehicles, an Engine, a UTV and an ATV.

Almost all of the rollovers involved slipping off the road shoulder.

We move big heavy things around on dirt roads under difficult conditions while stressed and tired.

We sometimes slip off the road.

Rolls

Got a Dozer or a Water Tender in your Task Force?

Heads up.

5n5


Here are a few clips from reports:

“…he began to feel the back of the Tender pulling him sideways as the Tender began to slide off the road.” Cougar Creek Fire Water Tender Accident

“…dozer slipped off the edge of a logging road and tumbled down end-over-end…” Sugar Pine Fire Dozer Rollover

“…passenger side front wheel traveled off the edge of the road, and the engine departed the roadway, and rolled.” Fawn Fire Engine Rollover

“There were three slip locations, spread over several hundred feet, where Dozer 1 left the trail prior to the rollover.” Ferguson Dozer Fatality

“…it left the road on the downhill side and rolled over.” Miles Fire Water Tender Rollover

“…he became distracted and the truck drove straight off the road.” Ferguson Fire Water Tender Rollover


This is from the 2016 Incident Review Summary:

2016_Rolls


 

Exercise (30 minutes)

Study the quotes above.

Individually write down your answer to this question:

What are all the reasons you can think of why we might “slip off the road”?

Compare your list with others.

Discuss ways to prepare for and prevent rollovers.

 

 

 

 

Tree Trauma

By Travis Dotson

“Hit by Tree” events are a difficult topic. We have had a series of tragedies in recent years. We’ve endured eight fatalities in the last four years.

We’ve had one hotshot die in “Hit by Tree” incidents each summer for the past three years.

Each instance is heartbreaking. These events are sometimes difficult to process because there is often a feeling of inevitability around the issue of wildland firefighters being struck by trees.

How do we make these events matter?

8in4

Eight “Hit by Tree” Fatalities in four years.


Not every time a firefighter gets hit by a tree results in death. In 2018 we received reports of 16 non-fatal incidents. Each instance is terrifying.

How do we make these events matter?


TaylorCreekRLS

“The butt end of the tree hit the faller as it jumped backwards off the stump and swung uphill almost 25 feet.”
Taylor Creek RLS


 

SanAntonio2

San Antonio Fire FLA

From the FLA:

The limb struck Joel on the left side of the hard hat at an “angle smearing the hard hat off his head.” The branch also hit Memo hard on the back, knocking him to the ground.

The story here is a description of several hotshot crews engaged in direct attack on a fire in extreme terrain with numerous snags, and steep slopes with rocks rolling down the hill like a bowling alley.

Why were they exposed to such risk? Why were they even there? What happened? Did someone mess up cutting a tree? Did someone walk under a bucket drop? Did they lose situational awareness?

What do we learn when there is no glaring mistake made?
No “Human Error” that caused the accident?

After a thorough review of this incident, the FLA team has come to a potentially confounding conclusion: That in the case of the San Antonio Fire accident, Line Officers, IMT members and on the ground firefighters did just about everything right.

But wait, firefighters got hurt really bad…WHY?


During a chainsaw training session, a Fire Captain who is an Advanced Faller (C-Faller) Cadre Member was struck by a grounded tree limb that was under tension. The Fire Captain remained unconscious with agonal respirations as they completed an assessment of his injuries. The Fire Captain suffered significant injuries to his head, neck and chest that required hospitalization.


Exercise (30 minutes)

Study the events above.

Identify what has the most meaning for you.

Write down a few notes on WHY your selection has meaning.

Compare your answers with others.

Discuss these Questions:

What makes an event have meaning for us individually?

What makes an event NOT have meaning?

Two More Chains – The View From Here

TMC1

The View from Here

Our normal ops were interrupted by the recent 35-day “Government Shutdown.” Given the short window to produce the winter issue of Two More Chains, we decided to use it as an opportunity to share and highlight a new publication from the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (LLC): “The View from Here”.

This publication presents a collection of 16 essays from various authors. Most of these essays originally appeared in Two More Chains or were featured on the LLC’s Blog. They all share a common theme: How and why we must alter some of our most ingrained practices and perspectives.



From the Introduction of ‘The View from Here’:

This collection of essays—divided into three key categories: Risk, Culture, and Operations—daylights qualities and practices in the wildland fire service across a broad spectrum, from outdated and unwarranted to honorable and profound. We must acknowledge our current culture and its shortcomings while using its strengths to lead change.

The main intent is to provide awareness for those decision-makers operating at crucial levels who are empowered to influence how we interact with fire across the landscape.

We must align our perspectives related to risk and exposure if we are to advance our collective interest in the well-being of our workforce and our landscape.

To fully appreciate the task at hand, we must also fully acknowledge the culture that supports and shapes the work as it’s currently performed. This collection is intended to illuminate the complexity of interacting with wildland fire while revealing the simplicity of shifting perspective. Common understanding will lead to actions that will ultimately advance our collective well-being.


Use ‘The View from Here’ to Stimulate Group Discussion and Learning

These essays provide ideal material for group dialogue and learning.

Select one essay at a time for everyone on your staff to read. Set a time and discuss it together. What are the key takeaways? Has your perspective changed? Will you change your behavior? How will you take follow-up action related to the topic?

Chasing Spots

By Travis Dotson

Spot! 

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all yelled it. We can all feel the little push on our pulse and the tingle in our toes just hearing it in our head.

It can be calm or it can be chaotic, but no matter how it’s called out—it’s time to get serious.

Let’s look at the most common ways we holler this one word and all that gets communicated by the way we voice this attention getter.

Spots

The Heads-Up

This is the notification version—loud enough for people to hear but with no urgency conveyed. This is saying “heads up, we have spotting, but don’t worry about this particular spot because I just put it out.” This is purely a notification, information for our communal SA, just feeding the common operating picture for the greater good. That is a lot of information to convey with the volume and tone of one word.

A Little Help!

Then there is the come help me out version. It’s definitely loud enough for folks on either side of you to hear and has just enough urgency conveyed to inform others to come help. It’s usually clear that if everyone gets on it, it won’t be a problem—but, start steppin! You can hear it in your mind. Actually, try saying it out loud just to practice: SPAAAAHT! (Hopefully you are reading this in the break room at the station. Then you can see if you did it right based on people’s reactions.)

ALL HANDS! (Fixin’ to Go Over the Hill)

Last but not least, there’s the full-on scramble. This is a bellow from the bottom. It’s loud, urgent, tense. Just shy of panic. Panic is never cool, but getting everybody moving sometimes requires a little pepper in your pipes.

What we’re saying in this instance is “we’re probably not going to catch this one, but we need to haul ass, bust ass, and pray for the luck that so often smiles on us, cause this one has legs!” This is a serious shout. Don’t be messing around with this one. In fact, if you put this call out there and the situation doesn’t warrant it, be ready to catch hell. It’s a good way to get a nickname—“ole Freddy Freak Out over here.” But nobody is joking around when it fills the air. We come running. We don’t EVER hesitate to get there and jump in, get dirty, and do our duty—to help.

We all know this in our bones and we learned it quick, because if you don’t come running when it’s time to chase spots—you don’t belong here. AND, if you don’t call for help when it’s time to chase spots—you don’t belong here.

Did you catch that part? The part where you learned how to call for help?

You know exactly where I’m going.

You are Not the Exception

Why is it we are so capable of calling for help on the fireline but will literally kill ourselves before asking for help off the line?

Emotions regularly kick our ass. I know you think you are the exception—some sort of lone wolf emotion-master killer-ninja bad-ass, but you’re not.

Not if, but WHEN you are struggling with whatever hard sh*t comes your way—call it out. Just let one person know you got a few spots. Even if you are gonna stomp them out with your boot, it’s just a heads up. You never know how many more are out there and you never know when it’s gonna go from nothing to scramble mode.

When you are holding line for the crucial burn show, would you ever see spots and just ignore them? Just hope they don’t grow together? The answer is no, you wouldn’t, because you’re not dumb (although you have eaten some ridiculously rancid rubbish for absurdly low sums of money).

HandsAsk for Help

We are all capable of doing not-so-intelligent things. In the case of hotshot Olympics, the consequences are rather benign (aside from the emotional scarring of any happenstance spectators).

But the not-so-intelligent move of not getting help with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress gets real in a hurry.

That stuff will push your ass into a hole.

But that’s OK, because you know how to ask for help. Little spot, big spot, lots of spots—don’t matter. Call it out.

Ask for help, Toolswingers.


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This article is the Ground Truths column from the Fall 2018 issue of Two More Chains titled “Traumatic Transitions.” Please read the the rest of the issue available here:

https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/two-more-chains-fall-2018