Effective firefighter recruitment?

USFS recruitment

The U.S. Forest Service’s “USFS Fire-California” (@R5_Fire_News) Twitter account distributed this photo Tuesday, with the following text:

Picture yourself in a wildland fire career w/ the U.S. Forest Service fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/fire… #jobs #hiring

My first reaction? I could not picture myself in a photo like that. It reminds me of the photos you see at the Awkward Family Photos website.

I am certainly not criticizing the firefighters in the photo. I’m sure they are not responsible for how it turned out.

HERE is a photo of an engine crew where the firefighters look more comfortable, natural, and not quite so artificially posed.


Report released about entrapment of three firefighters on the Beaver Fire

Beaver Fire entrapment

Photo taken of the Beaver Fire the day after three firefighters were entrapped. It was shot from along the Klamath River about a mile west of the Incident Command Post, looking in the direction of the entrapment, which occurred beyond the smoke visible in this photo taken by Bill Gabbert.

A facilitated learning analysis has been released about the entrapment of three firefighters August 11, 2014 on the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California.

Entrapped that day were a Dozer Operator (DZOP), a Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB), and a Heavy Equipment Boss Trainee (HEQBt). They all got inside fire shelters in a small deployment site that was not large enough to qualify as a safety zone. Their injuries included some first and second degree burns, but overnight hospitalization was not required.

The dozer operator’s story in his own words:

By the time I got off the dozer, the fire had closed in on two sides—and was closing in on my third and fourth sides. I worked as long as I could to get us more protection. I intended to push up more berms. Embers were falling everywhere. I spent too much time getting dug in. I backed the cat in. I should have deployed sooner. My intent was to get us all together under the dozer. I was not in the best position.

I tossed off my ball cap, put my hard hat on, grabbed my gloves and shelter. I had my web gear bungeed to the cage. I grabbed it quick and rolled in the dirt under the dozer. I pulled the shelter’s tabs, but they didn’t work. So I ripped at it to get it open.

It was a confined space so it took a while to get the shelter open. I had to physically unfold every fold to get it deployed. That’s when my leg got a little scorched. Overall, the shelter worked the way it was supposed to. Those shelters no doubt saved our lives.

The video below includes videos and still photos taken during the entrapment.

beaver fire convection column

Don Hall sent us this picture of a convection column over the Beaver fire, saying it was taken at about the same time the three firefighters were entrapped.

We first wrote about the entrapment on August 12.


Former CAL FIRE Battalion Chief pleads not guilty to murder

Orville Fleming

Orville Fleming

A former Battalion Chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection pleaded not guilty Monday to murdering his live-in companion. An instructor at the agency’s training academy at Ione, California, 55-year old Battalion Chief Orville Fleming had been charged in the May 1 stabbing death of 26-year old Sarah Jane Douglas. The plea was in spite of having earlier “admitted culpability in the stabbing”, according to Sheriff Scott Jones.

After the murder Mr. Fleming ditched his CAL FIRE truck and disappeared but was found 16 days later when he left his hideout near his home and boarded a bus to obtain food.

When he did not show up for work for five days, he was fired from his $130,000 a year Battalion Chief job. Earlier in his career he was a firefighter with the city of Madera for three years when the city contracted with CAL FIRE for fire protection. He was promoted to fire captain in 2001 and to battalion chief in 2012.

Read more about the capture of Mr. Fleming.


Photos from the Norbeck prescribed fire

These are photos taken October 20-21, 2014 at the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire being managed on State, Federal and private lands approximately 4 miles northeast of Pringle, South Dakota. More details about the project can be found here.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Wetting down the six-foot wide mowed firellne just outside the Wind Cave National Park boundary, before the lighters touch off the vegetation on the other side of the wire fence, meant to contain bison, but not flames.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck prescribed fire

As far as I know, there were no significant spot fires or slop-overs in the area shown above.

Norbeck prescribed fire Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck prescribed fire

The south end of the Norbeck prescribed fire as seen from the Rankin Ridge Lookout Tower.

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Norbeck prescribed fire in the Black Hills

Norbeck prescribed fire

Briefing for the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire at 7 a.m., October 20, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Monday morning we attended the 7 a.m. briefing for the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire in the Black Hills. It is a complex, Type 1, 1,938-acre project on State, Federal and private lands approximately 4 miles northeast of Pringle, South Dakota. The 120 personnel will be igniting vegetation in Wind Cave National Park, Custer State park, Black Hills National Forest, and private land. Some of the funding is provided by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. To assist with ignition on the large project a Type 3 helicopter will be dropping plastic spheres that burst into flame about 30 seconds after they exit the dispenser on the helicopter.

When I looked at the large crowd assembled for the briefing and remarked to Todd Pechota, the Fire Management Officer for the Black Hills National Forest, that I didn’t expect to see so many people, he said, “We wanted to get this one right”.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Communications Unit Leader Bob Fischer briefs on radio usage for the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The four different land owners and the funding from a non-government organization are some of the reasons why planning for the project has been going on for at least five years. They brought in a Prescribed Fire Burn Boss, Ross Wilmore the Fire Management Officer on the White River National Forest in Colorado, to work with the trainee Burn Boss, Matt Spring.

And just to make things a little more complicated, the annual buffalo roundup in Wind Cave National Park is occurring now, with the animals being herded to corrals about a half mile east of the prescribed fire. Many people from the national park are tied up on that project.

The ignition of the burn is expected to take two days, Monday and Tuesday of this week. Dew and even frost in some areas may delay the start of the project Monday morning, but things should dry out by mid- to late morning.

Highway 87 through Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park will be closed Monday through Wednesday. As the fire progresses through the ponderosa pine and grass meadows in the area, it will be putting up a large amount of smoke. The firefighters expect to work from north to south, primarily concentrating on the three northern-most units on Monday, and move to Unit 4 on the south end on Tuesday. (See the map below.)

We will return to the prescribed fire Monday afternoon to report on the progress and hopefully grab some more photos.

(UPDATE: photos taken as the project was underway are here.)

Norbeck prescribed fire

A heliwell and two dozers at the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The heliwell is filled with water, so that a helicopter with a buck can dip out it. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Map of the Norbeck prescribed fire

Map of the Norbeck Section 2 prescribed fire. I drew in NPS 5, the dirt road that intersects with Highway 87 at Drop Point 6. (click to enlarge)

The weather for the project looks pretty good. The spot weather forecast for Monday predicts southwest then south winds at 6 to 10 mph, 72 degrees, and relative humidity of 31 percent; Tuesday looks about the same. The smoke will be pushed toward the north and northeast.