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.

Mic Drop

As our work on the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary continues, we’ve got some more analysis to share with you.  Read this.  Do the Exercise, and give us some feedback.  The final version of the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon!


By Travis Dotson

You got a mic? Are you a wrapper?

Ha Ha – lots of people didn’t get that.

Rewind:

  • Do you have an external microphone for your radio? (“mic”)
  • Do you wrap the cord through the webbing on your line pack? (“wrapper”)

See how it’s not funny when I explain it?

What the hell am I even talking about?

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 10.54.02 AM

An External Radio Mic

I’m talking about needing to ditch your gear, grab your radio, and run for your life. See, that’s where the mic cord becomes a problem. The problem is when you are trying to escape from a wall of flame bearing down on you it can get hard to do things – especially things that need to be done fast. Fiddling with intricate little parts is a giant pain in the ass – especially with gloves on, and when it’s hot and you know with more intensity than you ever have that the smallest delay is deadly. Literally deadly.

You know where I’m going. It turns out it’s rather difficult to ditch your gear, grab your shelter, radio, and water when your radio mic is woven through the gear you are trying to ditch.

For those of you who are thinking “just don’t weave the cord, let it hang loose” – you might never have tried to actually work, especially in brush, with a loose cord dangling here and there. The environment we operate in is mean. It turns out trees, brush, tools…even rocks, all have deceptively intense grip, strength, reach, and are plain old sneaky as shit. That cord will be grabbed and held when and where you least expect it. This is why we invest so much attention in a tightly woven cord. We are trying to outwit the wrathful reach of that vengeful vegetation.

Yes, the mic cord is intentionally woven tight for good reason. But that good reason gets tangled up with survival in certain situations.

Check it out:

From the 2012 Holloway Entrapment report: “Firefighter A moves into the only opening she can see, removes her pack, gloves, then removes the fire shelter, discards her fuel bottle, and attempts to remove the radio and water from pack. She has difficulty retrieving the radio due to the remote microphone cord being intertwined in the line pack webbing.”

From the 2017 Preacher Fire Entrapment report: “Iron Mountain lookout was trained to drop line gear to lighten his load. He knew he needed to take his radio, fire shelter and hand tool. He threw his line gear on the upper cut bank of the road to remove his equipment. The cord to his external speaker mic was woven into the webbing of his line gear, which is something that many firefighters do to keep the cord out of the way. The urgency of the situation made it even more difficult to disconnect his radio mic. He felt it took an extraordinary amount of time and was extremely frustrated when he finally removed the radio from his line gear.”

 

See the problem? Pretty straightforward. When you are running for your life and go to ditch your gear but want to keep your radio (as you were trained) that external mic can be a real time sink, and you got no time to sink.

So what to do? Figure it out yourself. I’m not trying to be an ass. I just know we are a bunch of inventive bunnies and we put a lot of stock in things we come up with ourselves which means you are likely much better served if you customize a solution that works for you. So go do it.

You just got served (a lesson that is).


Wheel

Exercise (30 minutes)

  • Gather up with a few other folks who carry radios. Discuss the practice of “weaving your mic cord” through pack webbing.
    • What are the pros and cons? (10 mins)
  • Identify 3 ways to avoid the cord problem from the entrapment fires listed above. (10 mins)
  • Decide as a group if there is a reason to make a rule about this type of cord set-up? (Take a vote if you need to.) (10 mins)

Go get your gear if you need to make changes.

“I Noticed My Skin Falling Off”

By Travis Dotson

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 9.22.52 AM

Image from the report cover

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

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

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

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

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

There is more.

You should go see what else you need to do.

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

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

Physical Training and Death

By Travis Dotson

This is a nightmare.

Your Engine Crew heads out on a normal PT hike which turns into a medical incident. That medical incident has all the common elements of an emergency situation, including communication struggles and delays. That medical incident ends with the death of your fellow crewmember.

This is a nightmare, but it’s not – it’s real.

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 8.11.44 AM

The team who put this report together opens the report with these words:


Dear Reader,

While Bill Jaros always had a smile on his face, Bill’s coworkers and friends believed that it was important to inform the FLA Team that this crewmember was also going through significant personal challenges in his life. Due to these taxing circumstances in his personal life, Bill was experiencing a considerable amount of family and personal stress.

Once the FLA Team had interviewed Bill’s coworkers and learned about the difficulties that Bill was experiencing in his personal life, after much discussion, the FLA Team realized that this FLA needed to share and address—in a thoughtful and respectful manner—Bill’s psychological health. (Whether or not this contributed to his eventual medical incident during the PT hike that day is unknown.)

Bill’s family was briefed on this decision and they provided their support, as did Bill’s coworkers, for this FLA’s mental health focus.

That is why this FLA’s “Key Discussion Points” section concentrates on “Stress and Stress Management.” As is pointed out in this part of the FLA, it is critical for all wildland firefighters to be aware of the need to manage stress, both personal and professional. A series of discussion questions are provided here to help encourage discussion on this essential front. They include: “How are you managing your stress level?” and “Are you checking in with crewmembers who appear stressed?”

In addition, at this FLA’s conclusion we present a special section “Resources to Help Firefighters” that provides contact information on a variety of resources that are available to help provide mental health support to firefighters.

This FLA is respectfully dedicated to the memory of William “Bill” Jaros.

The Six Rivers PT Hike Fatality FLA Team


 

Please read this short report:

Six Rivers Physical Training Fatality

Please do one thing to better prepare for the nightmare, because it’s real.

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 8.12.19 AM

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

Like a Phoenix — The Evolving Nomad

More on the recent Two More Chains – please follow the link below to read this piece by Bre Orcasitas.

Dear Evolving Nomad Readers, Recently I was asked to be a guest author for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center’s Two More Chains article, Fall Issue. For those who are not Wildland Firefighters, the Two More Chains articles issued by the LLC offer a strong voice for the fire community. They consistently touch on subject matter […]

via Like a Phoenix — The Evolving Nomad

Self-Extrication

By Bre Orcasitas

Looks can be deceiving

Surely, there are countless reasons why someone would “choose” to leave the fireline. People come and go in fire like a revolving door and it’s easy to make assumptions as they pack up their lockers or desks. Perhaps it’s a worthy effort to put focus on some of the most prominent reasons why people leave and examine how it looks from the inside.

unnamed

  1. Injuries

There you are out on the fireline minding your own business when WHAM! One of a thousand scenarios takes you out. Not completely though, just enough to significantly alter your life. Maybe the injury pushes you out of the jump world; maybe it forces you out of fire completely. With either scenario, there is a sense of loss. You chose a certain avenue of fire because it was where you fit-in. Now you get to “choose” a different avenue of fire or get off the fireline entirely.

It’s less than desirable, but you know you shouldn’t complain because there are so many others who were banged-up to the point that they couldn’t come back at all. You are counted as one of the “fortunate” ones. Those who couldn’t return to fire after their catastrophic injuries but nevertheless, managed to survive are counted in the “lucky to be alive” category, which leaves little room to express anything but gratitude for their altered existence. An existence filled with chronic pain, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, and tracking of medical paperwork. When you’re “lucky to be alive” people give you the “yeah, but…” if you muster up the courage to tell someone how you really feel.

I am so sick of dealing with OWCP that my head is going to explode.

“Yeah, but you could be taking a dirt nap right now! The paperwork is probably better than the alternative right?!”

  1. Starting a family

There seems to be a constant panic about keeping women in fire. There are even committees dedicated to the retention of women. So what’s the problem? Although women (just like men) leave for countless reasons, starting a family is a heavy hitter. So let’s scratch beneath the surface, shall we?

First, let us recognize the ratio; for every 20 men in fire, there is approximately 1 woman. Just using statistics alone it’s easy to see that most male firefighters have a spouse who is not in fire, whereas most female firefighters have a spouse who is in fire. Why is that? As a woman, often times it’s much easier to have a relationship with someone who “gets it” rather than someone you have to explain your profession to. “What are you doing out there in the woods with 20 dudes?”

Since most female firefighters are married to fellow firefighters it makes starting a family exponentially more difficult because you don’t have the non-fire spouse with bankers hours to fall back on. Although a woman is no less dedicated to her career, she has no choice in carrying, birthing, and feeding her child; that’s just biology. Since there has been no smart career pathway created to navigate this circumstance within the firefighting community, the woman’s career is adversely affected and/or demolished, whereas the male experiences no career strain for the exact same situation.

While supervisors of the dad-to-be often times don’t even broach the subject of their upcoming parenthood, women hear statements from their supervisors such as, “well we could lateral you over into dispatch”, “family is the most important thing so if you need to leave fire to start a family that’s okay”, “so what are you going to do?” It’s being supportive without being supportive at all. But what else are the supervisors supposed to do exactly? There’s no flow chart for this because we haven’t collectively decided that it matters enough to figure it out.

Women are essentially forced into choosing between having a family or fighting fire, but men aren’t. Men don’t get placed in dispatch because they became a parent. There’s an overt assumption that if a woman becomes a parent she will be leaving fire which, often times ends up being true, but it’s because there is no support system not because she caught an uncontrollable case of baby fever. Because let’s be honest, fighting fire is a hell of a lot easier than the 1st year of parenthood.

To put the focus back on identity, how easy do you think the transition from fire culture to mommy culture is? You trade in your fire boots for a cutesy diaper bag and give up your nomadic lifestyle for a groundhog’s day existence. Having the firefighter’s stereotypical can-do attitude now leaves you feeling like a failure because as hard as you tried, you couldn’t figure out how to be a firefighter and a parent at the same time. And on top of that, you miss the fireline because it’s where you belong.

If you happen to find yourself on the fireline with a woman who is also a parent, stop and shake her hand because she made miracles happen in order to be there.

unnamed-2

  1. Saving your family

It’s no secret that there are high rates of divorce amongst the fire community for obvious reasons. During the fire season, work-life balance simply does not exist. The off-season used to be a time to reconnect with your family and try to make up for lost time, however, there has been an increase in meetings, trainings, and hiring obligations over the last several years that keeps fire folks away from home semi-regularly during the winter as well.

People want to spend time with their family and this career is not conducive to maintaining healthy relationships, so firefighters sacrifice positions on their beloved crews to ensure that their child will be able to recognize them when they walk through the door.

“Choosing” to take a lesser position, or leaving primary fire in an attempt to create some semblance of work-life balance looks good on paper but the reality is bittersweet, because it’s nearly impossible not to harbor feelings of loss. By taking that “lesser” job you traded in your passion for a steady paycheck that meets the need and nothing more. Your sense of purpose fades away as discontent slowly seeps in to take its place. You’re more or less leaving your fire-family for your family-family. One family takes a hit either way.

  1. Retirement

Retirement should be a time of celebration, a time when you can transition into the “choose your own adventure” part of life. But for many ground-pounders, their mandatory retirement date hangs over their heads like a guillotine. This is what you know, these people are your family; how are you expected to simply walk off into the sunset with a smile on your face? It’s just not that simple. “You have dedicated your life to this profession, congratulations! You’ve done it long enough that we are now forcing you to stop.” So the retirees give a courtesy chuckle to the youngster’s comment about how lucky they are to be done, while at the same time feeling slightly lost about what they’re supposed to do next. Where’s the IAP for this?

unnamed-1

Assumptions are salt in the wound

As it turns out self-extrication is jarring, whatever its form, in fact, it’s more like involuntary separation because it doesn’t feel like a choice at all. It takes time to come to terms with the loss of part of your identity; some people may never come to terms with it.

From the outside it’s easy to make the assumption that people who didn’t get killed in an accident are lucky, that all women want to have babies and are less committed to the job, that if you left your position to be closer to home you’re happy about it, or if you’re up for retirement you must be stoked. To assume these things would leave out the heart of the matter; being a wildland firefighter is more than just a job. The longer you’re in it, the more entwined with your identity it becomes until you can no longer recognize yourself without it, and then what?

So maybe it’s worth asking a follow-up question to those folks who are packing up their desks and/or lockers. You never know if that follow-up question could end up altering the outcome of someone’s situation, or at the very least, it can help them to feel valued as they walk out the door.

Bre Orcasitas is the author of ‘The Evolving Nomad‘ blog site. Go there and read more of her stuff!

Continue reading