Close Call Stories – Trusting Intuition

This post uses a video from:

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

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


By Travis Dotson

“I still kick myself for this…”

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the wisdom Dan.

 

This Has Happened Before…UTV Floorboard Fire.

By Travis Dotson

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

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

Here are some quotes from the reports:

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

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

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

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

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

You get the picture – now go check your UTV.

Links:

UTV Floorboard Fire RLS 2017

UTV Flammable Debris RLS 2014

UTV Fire SAFENET 2014

Burn Injuries – Wrong Hurts

By Alex Viktora

Wildland Firefighters receive burn injuries every season. Often times some sort of flammable liquid ignites resulting in a burn, like the rather common drip torch leg burn scenario mentioned in this NWCG memo. Other times we fall in stump holes and ash pits—sometimes up to our waist!

And then there is the plain old flame front scorching our elbows through Nomex or the super bad deal entrapment situations. Bottom line, it happens. So we need to know how best to follow through on medical treatment for these instances—because you can do it wrong, and wrong hurts!

Read these reports using the links below:

Rim Fire Burn Injury    Farm Fire Burn Injury    Mystery Fire Burn Injury

Information Collected from Multiple Burn Injury Incidents—Here are Some of the Most Important Reminders, Lessons and Tips

 First of all, if you or someone with you, gets burned, report the injury! Even if you think it’s a minor burn, even if you think you screwed-up somehow—let someone know about the burn. Chances are it’s worse than it seems and time untreated can be a bad deal all around—from paperwork to infections. It’s just better to let someone know and get the ball rolling toward proper treatment.

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Go to the place that can help – It’s called Definitive Medical Care (Emergency Room, Clinic, etc.)

  • Burn injuries are often difficult to evaluate and may take 72 hours to fully manifest.
  • Burns are different. Not all doctors have experience with the types of burns that firefighters suffer. Burns require specialized experience to treat appropriately. This often means that the injured party will need to seek care at a Burn Center.
  • Burns must be kept clean. Therefore, the fireline isn’t a good place to try to manage a burn injury. If you’re treated and released, don’t go back to the line. Don’t go up on a lookout. Focus on taking care of your burn injury.

Nobody wants to hang out at the hospital, but make sure to run through this list before you are discharged:

  • Make sure your Agency Administrator is notified, especially if you’ll require follow-up treatment and referral to a Burn Center.
  • Agency Administrators should be involved if there is hesitation to refer to a Burn Center.
  • Referrals to Burn Centers are critical and must be in the patient’s hands before leaving the Emergency Room, clinic, or doctor’s office.
  • When there is any doubt as to the severity of the burn injury, the recommended action should be to facilitate the immediate referral and transport of the firefighter to the nearest Burn Center.
  • Physicians Assistants (PA) CANNOT write referrals for Burn Centers (or any other increased level of care). If a PA prescribes any follow-up, including Burn Center visits, it must be countersigned by a Doctor (MD).

Copy? Here’s the deal: Get your higher-ups involved. Have a discussion with your higher-ups about a Burn Center referral.

Burn Center Tips

  • Burn Centers have both in and outpatient services. If you think you might need to go to a Burn Center, ask to be referred—even if you won’t need inpatient treatment (hospital stay).
  • Burn Centers may prefer to consult via telemedicine (such as e-mailing photos or videos of the injury, video-calls, etc.), rather than transporting a patient to their facility.
  • Ask about the option to have a Nurse Case Manager assigned to the case.

OWCP Claimant tips

  • Your OWCP claim number is critical. Once you get this claim number, put it in a place you’ll be able to access when you’re on the phone with doctors, visiting the hospital, filling prescriptions, etc.
  • YOU—the patient and claimant—are ultimately responsible for your OWCP case. Get involved. Pay attention. Ask questions. If you’re not getting the answers you need, keep asking.

Call the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (208) 336-2996. They have experience dealing with folks who have received burn injuries in the line of duty.

Watch this video:

Socks Matter

By Alex Viktora

I used to work for the National Park Service. One of the sweetest things about working for the NPS was the official socks.

That’s right. Socks.

As a member of a wildland fire crew, I rarely had much need to be in official NPS uniform, so my annual uniform allowance was spent on socks. Brown wool socks. If you wear them with shorts, you look like…well…German?

I bought so many of these things, I still have a cache of unopened wool socks in my closet.

As most firefighters can attest, keeping your feet in good shape is super important. The NPS uniform socks—most of which are a milk chocolate-colored wool blend—were awesome socks on the fire line.

I’ve always known this.

But what I just now learned is this: These sock could save me from a serious burn. Come to think of it, they probably already have.

My Leg Had Fire Swirling Around It

In maybe my third season, I was on a prescribed fire somewhere in Utah. I’d been running a torch for days and days during our typical spring burning. I usually carry the torch in my right hand, and so my right pant-leg was, uh, pretty dirty. It wasn’t drenched or dripping, but it was certainly flammable—as I was about to find out.

On this particular shift, I was the guy way up the hill, with torches strung out down the hill below me.

We came to a place where we had to hold-up firing for a bit. For some reason, someone rang me up on the radio. I answered the call. As I did so, I moved maybe 10 feet downhill from the line of fire that I just laid in ponderosa litter. (If you’ve never burned in ponderosa needle litter, you’re missing out. Mmmm….Pondo litter!)

This line of fire backed slowly towards me. And as I yammered away on the radio, the fire inched closer and closer to my right leg.

Suddenly, I looked down. My leg had fire swirling around it.

I thought: “Wait—I’m on fire?” What a bizarre realization!

I put the fire out and I can’t say for sure how it all happened. One thing’s for sure: Putting that fire out took longer than I woulda guessed.

My Nomex turned that telltale yellow/brown. And I had some ‘splanin to do to the boss. My damaged ego was the worst of my injuries. My leg was barely as red as a sunburn.

Did my socks help prevent a serious burn injury? Turns out, they may have.

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Tips on What To Do If Your Pant Leg Catches on Fire

The folks at the National Technology Development Program in Missoula have done some recently released great work to describe what happens when Nomex catches on fire. And it turns out, wool socks could be a key part of avoiding a burn injury.

Check out this new video for some cool tests:

 

Here’s a few specific tips on what to do if you find yourself with your pant leg on fire:


Testing Results and Accident Observations

  • Swatting at burning fuel can increase the fire intensity.
  • Stop, drop and roll does not readily extinguish fuel fires on clothing.
  • Fuel-soaked clothing burns hotter and for a longer duration than clean clothing.
  • Wool-blend socks provide significant protection to the wearer from thermal burn injuries caused by burning drip torch fuel.
  • Pouring water from a readily available water bottle onto the clothing is an effective way to extinguish the fire.
  • Dropping the pants to the ankles removes heat from next to the skin.

Next time you’re shopping for socks, consider some woolies that come up above your boots. Turns out, even the lovely brown ones might save your skin.

Do you have a story like this? Do you own any green Nomex pants that aren’t as green as they used to be?

 

 

Lessons from the Knoxville Mobilization Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Procedures and Innovations

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

Communication

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

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Adaptive ICS

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

How Do You Manage “Aggressive Kindness” on Incidents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping to Make Giving as Effective as Possible

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

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

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

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Three Suggestions for Managing Kindness on Incidents:

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

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Don’t Let Your Language Fool You: Risk “Transfer” is Not Risk “Mitigation”

Last week we featured writing from the Asheville Hotshots. This week we highlight several unconventional lessons generated by other folks in the Southern Area. The writing in this weeks series was originally submitted through Rapid Lesson Sharing.  In coordination with the submitters, several of these submissions have been adapted for this Blog.

Nice work Southern Area – way to set the bar on sharing lessons and perspectives!


If we can change our language we can change how we think about things—and therefore interrupt old ways of thinking that may undercut safety.

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By: 2016 Safety Liaison and Learning Teams, U.S. Forest Service Southern Region (Note: As part of the historic 2016 fall fire season in the Southeastern United States, the U.S. Forest Service deployed teams throughout the Region to capture learning opportunities.)

 Thinking and Speaking are Intertwined

It is one thing to say that our thoughts affect our speech, but it is quite another to recognize how our speaking shapes our thinking.

For example, the “Forest Service 2016 Wildland Fire Risk Management Protocol” suggests that we should consider replacing the commonly used phrase “initial attack” with “initial response” which implies a more “deliberate, thoughtful approach.” (Click here for the 2016 protocol document.)

The logic behind this suggestion is that if we can change our language we can change how we think about things—and therefore interrupt old ways of thinking that may undercut safety.

Thinking, Speaking, and Risk Assessment

One specific example of how language can train our thinking in unintended ways is when we use the word “mitigation”—when what we have really done is “transferred” risk. Even though “mitigation” means that we lessen the severity or likelihood of a potential outcome, we often function as if we have zeroed-out the risk completely.

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A Familiar Topic, a New Example

In December 2016, the Maple Springs Fire was burning from a developed area outside of Robbinsville, North Carolina into the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. Control lines outside the wilderness boundary were secured.

The Agency Administration and Incident Management Team began discussions about how to proceed with the portion of the fire located within the wilderness boundary. They wanted the fire progression stopped. Two possibilities were discussed.

The first was to put three crews in the wilderness using direct handline to secure the active fire edge. The second was to use water scoopers over a period of a couple of days to continually drop water on the edge and slow the fire’s progression.

The decision was made to limit the risk to the greatest amount of people (the fire crews) by using the aircraft to limit fire spread. However, the IMT expressed concern that this would not “mitigate” risk but rather “transfer” it from the crews to the aerial resources.

To be sure, while this decision mitigated the risk to the greatest number of individuals on the ground, it transferred risk to pilots in the air—where the magnitude of loss could be catastrophic if something were to go terribly wrong.

While both severity and likelihood were taken into account in this decision making process, the exact criteria by which the decision was made is not as easy to discern.


In the comments, share your own examples of when risk isn’t actually mitigated but really just transferred.

Ready…GO!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

No One Wants to Believe It Can Happen to Them

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


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

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

 

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

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

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