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?

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An External Radio Mic

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

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

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

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

Check it out:

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

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

 

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

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

You just got served (a lesson that is).


Wheel

Exercise (30 minutes)

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

Go get your gear if you need to make changes.

“I Noticed My Skin Falling Off”

By Travis Dotson

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

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

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

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

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Image from the report cover

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

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

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

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

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

There is more.

You should go see what else you need to do.

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

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

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.

Continuing the Conversation: Getting Fire Science Research to the Boots-on-the-Ground

[The “One of Our Own” article in the Two More Chains Summer Issue featured Ted Adams, Assistant Supervisor on the Hells Canyon Wildland Fire Module, Payette National Forest. Entitled “Bridging the Gap Between Research and the Field,” the article focused on whether or not fire science research is being applied to decision-making on the fire line. The following quote from Ted was highlighted in the article’s opening: “We have all of this research that’s available to us and yet you could argue that a majority of individuals on the fire line are not reading peer-reviewed research and applying it to their decision-making, into their mental models.” After reading the article, Coleen Haskell contacted us. She asked if she could continue the conversation that we started with Ted. We said, please do.]

By Coleen Haskell, Communications Director for the Joint Fire Science Program

As a technology transfer specialist and fire meteorologist, I find that the Two More Chains “One of Our Own” feature in general and Ted Adams’ pull quote (above) in particular do a comprehensive job of describing the challenge of getting the latest fire science research into the hands of those who need the information—the boots-on-the-ground.

I concur with and echo Ted Adams’ “sincere and fervent quest for actively pursuing research to help improve the wildland firefighter’s challenging world.”

Adams also stated: “It isn’t that we have a shortage of research. We don’t have a shortage of information out there. What we have a shortage of is the translation of that information, in making that information relatable.” That is basically the same thing that I heard at the National Cohesive Strategy Workshop in May from Dr. Mark Finney, Research Forester with the Fire, Fuel, Smoke Science Program at the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Those are absolutely correct assertions that peer-reviewed journal articles generally are not provided in a format that is digestible and easily applicable for managers to put into use. I suggest that a significant disparity exists between primary research and how it is applied operationally in wildland fire and fuels management, sometimes with dire consequences.

In all disciplines, these gaps are filled by technology transfer specialists, boundary spanners, science delivery experts, or whichever labels they identify with. Wildland fire and fuels management is no exception. This creates opportunity space for the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) (www.firescience.gov) and others to translate research findings into meaningful and useable results. Let’s face it, policy-makers, resource managers, and boots-on-the-ground fire practitioners can do their respective jobs more efficiently and more safely through sound and actionable science informing their decisions. And they should.

Another Perspective

Where I believe there is more story to tell is with the “One of Our Own” article implying that the fire and fuels community is not expending sufficient resources on the connection between fire science research and the translation of that science’s utility to fire practitioners and managers. This Two More Chains article doesn’t mention the success that JFSP and our 15-regionally focused Fire Science Exchange Network (FSEN) are making.

Picture1The JFSP’s science delivery efforts were recently highlighted in the July edition of the Fire Science Digest: “Bridging the Gap: Joint Fire Science Program Outcomes.”  This Fire Science Digest publication describes numerous ways that the JFSP science delivery efforts have made significant strides over the past 10 years to bridge the gap between research and the field primarily through the 15-member Fire Science Exchange Network and its efforts to deliver useful and actionable science to end-users in the fire community.

The boundary-spanning role of the Fire Science Exchange Network is indispensable because it fosters communication between practitioners and researchers.

How FSEN Strives to Bridge the Gap Between Research and the Field

The FSEN integrates the best available fire research with wildland fire, fuels resource, and land managers. It is a national collaborative network of 15 regional fire science exchanges. Each regional exchange provides the most relevant, current wildland fire science to federal, tribal, state, local, and private stakeholders within their respective regions. Regions are primarily organized by geography and ecology.

The 15 regional exchanges are all different in terms of their research focal areas, how they are organized, and even how they label themselves. For example, in the Northern Rockies, the exchange is called “The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network (NRFSN).” Some of the exchanges, however, refer to themselves as “consortia” which was an early name when the network was formed several years ago.

Picture2

JFSP’s Fire Exchange Network (FSEN).

Regardless of how different each of their local issues are, they all share the need to build partnerships and relationships to effectively share information. They all translate scientific information to fire and fuels managers. In many cases, the FSEN collaborate on projects with each other. For example, the California Fire Science Consortium (the five-region exchange for California) developed a wildland-urban interface webinar series that was applicable beyond their regional boundaries. The series profiled five urban areas across the region, including Austin (Texas), Boulder (Colorado), Flagstaff (Arizona), San Diego (California), and Santa Fe (New Mexico). Examples of the most compelling land use planning tools were summarized to show how urban areas in the West are increasingly becoming wildfire-adapted communities.

High Priority Research Questions

Three of the high priority research questions that members of the FSEN are collectively focusing on:

  • Effects and effectiveness of different prescribed fire and other fuel treatment strategies (such as variability in treatment timing, frequency and intensity).
  • Potential effects of changing fire environments on vegetation, fuels and fire regimes.
  • Impacts of smoke from prescribed fires and wildfire.Picture3

 

While specific topics vary, they include: fire and grazing, smoke management, fuels reduction, fire-restored landscapes, and invasive species. For example, improved seasonal and short-term weather, fire danger forecasting, and effective fuels management recently emerged as high priorities in Alaska. In the Northern Rockies, fire science related to firefighter safety is taking center stage. In other regions, such as California and the Great Basin, the focus may be on invasive species.

Peer-to-Peer Communication

The best way to get science information into the hands of the boots-on-the-ground practitioners is through active peer-to-peer communication.

Without a doubt, the FSEN is considered to be the “go-to resource” for translating fire science research results, which fosters relationships among scientists and fire managers and is essential to the flow of information between those parties.

Specifically, interactive workshops, field tours and conferences foster a direct and immediate feedback loop.

Because shrinking budgets and more restrictive travel policies make face-time challenging, one middle-ground solution to this dilemma is webinars. For instance, the Lake States and Alaska fire science exchanges recently co-hosted a webinar on the new changes to the fuel moisture estimates in the National Fire Danger Rating System.

Best Way to Connect

The next best way for fire managers to connect with the FSEN is to visit the FSEN website and select the exchange that covers their region using the map on our homepage. Their region’s exchange staff or advisory boards can then connect them with other managers, practitioners and scientists working in their area.

Picture4

The organizational affiliations of FSEN participants in 2016 are represented in this pie chart. Note that the category of organizations with the most people participating in FSEN science delivery activities is the federal fire service. This category represents most of the fireline-type positions, our boots-on-the-ground community. There are also more of these folks in the State and Tribal categories.

 

Also online are a host of tools and resources, including fact sheets and science briefs. For example, a series of topic-based, searchable fact sheets are available on the Great Basin Fire Science Exchange’s website. The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network has a searchable archive that includes more than 400 recorded webinars and videos from a variety of partners.

Fire and fuels managers interested in connecting with their regional exchange can also subscribe to their exchange’s newsletters for updates and upcoming event announcements.

Social media is yet another way to connect with research results through the Fire Science Exchange Network and JFSP. They all have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some also offer online photo galleries and blogs.

Identifying Research Priorities

In addition, since the network’s inception, each of the regional exchanges have individually developed mechanisms for stakeholders to provide input on research needs to help identify research priorities. FSEN is piloting a more formal way to identify and develop new research topics in the form of a database. When completed, the database will enable JFSP to: track the wildland fire science community’s progress on addressing research priorities, assess the degree to which national and regional research priorities align, and determine the similarity of needed science across regions.

In future years, the database will provide a powerful tool for informing funding priorities, not just for JFSP, but for other research programs investing in fire science.

Another change in the works is increased outreach to new partners and stakeholders. Exchanges have recently connected with many new partners, including: extension professionals, regional ecology teams, prescribed fire councils, and Firewise groups. These partnerships are part of our strategy to connect with the next generation of fire managers, which the FSEN’s advisory boards and steering committees have identified as a priority.

 

 

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.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 2.39.29 PM

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 2.39.43 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 8.55.00 AM

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.