Making a withdrawal from the Bank of Experience

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

Sully, the movie about the Miracle on the Hudson that opened today has so far received pretty good reviews. As you may know, it is about the aircraft that struck a flock of geese at 3,200 feet about 100 seconds after taking off from La Guardia airport near New York City.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger
Captain Chesley Sullenberger. Photo by Ingrid Taylar.

Chesley B. Sullenberger III was the pilot in command. After both engines went silent he said to his First Officer whose turn it was to take off on that flight, “My aircraft”.

Captain Sullenberger, now often called “Sully”, was selected for a cadet glider program while attending the Air Force Academy. By the end of that year he was an instructor pilot. When he graduated in 1973 he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class “top flyer”. He went on to fly F-4 Phantoms in the Air Force and served as a member of an aircraft accident investigation board in the Air Force. After he became a commercial pilot for US Airways he occasionally assisted the NTSB on accident investigations and taught courses on Crew Resource Management.

When the geese hit the engines January 15, 2009, Sully felt the impact, but more disturbing was the the sensation after the engines quit of slightly moving forward in his harness as the aircraft suddenly went from accelerating to slowing — at low altitude over New York City when they were supposed to be climbing.

US Airways did not have a checklist for the loss of both engines in an Airbus A320 at low altitude. The First Officer, Jeffery Skiles, went through the checklist for restarting the engines, but of course had no success. Sully evaluated their options — returning to La Guardia, diverting to Teterboro airport, or the third choice, a water landing in the Hudson River. Based on his experience, and drawing on his background as a glider pilot, he determined that it was impossible to make it to either airport. He lowered the nose and headed toward the river.

Passing 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge he pointed the aircraft so it would come to rest near a boat he spotted, thinking that it could help pull the passengers out of the very cold water on that winter day. Working with his First Officer, they made the only non-fatal water landing of a large commercial aircraft in recent history.

Airbus Hudson river
US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Photo by Greg L.

As the 150 passengers and four other crew members climbed out onto the wings and waited for rescue by ferry boats, Sully walked through the passenger compartment as it took on water to make sure everyone was off, then grabbed the maintenance log book and was the last one to exit the aircraft.

In a  recent interview Katie Couric conducted with Sully director Clint Eastwood and actors Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, she recalled something Sully, who at the time had 19,663 flight hours, told her not long after the successful water landing:

For 42 years I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. On January 15 the balance was sufficient so I could make a very large withdrawal.

In the last few decades wildland firefighters have used another name for the “bank of experience”, their “slide file” —  memories of the situations they have been in over the course of their careers, good experiences and bad ones, all of which left data from which they can extrapolate solutions to new situations.

There is of course no substitute for an account balance in a bank of experience or a slide file. You can acquire incremental bits of it from books and training. But you can’t write a check and easily transfer it to someone else, not entirely, anyway. It has to be earned and learned, organically.

And here’s hoping you don’t have to “make a very large withdrawal”, on the ground or in the air.

Two wildland firefighters killed in Minnesota vehicle accident

(Originally published at 10:17 p.m. MDT August 27, 2017. Updated at 11:05 p.m. MDT August 28, 2016)

(UPDATE: the driver of the firefighters’ truck has been charged with a crime.)

Two firefighters with a Type 2 hand crew were killed in a traffic accident Saturday August 27 near Blaine, Minnesota. The Minnesota Incident Command System verified that the firefighters were part of the Beartown Fire Crew from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the upper Peninsula of Michigan that was en route to the Box Canyon Fire in Utah.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community confirmed the tragic accident:

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community learned this evening that our Beartown Firefighting crew was involved in a tragic traffic accident. Two of our fire fighters were killed and several others were severely injured. Our hearts are broken and our prayers are with the family members and those injured.

The seven other firefighters in the crew carrier that were injured in the crash are expected to recover.

The two deceased firefighters were identified Sunday by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as James F. Shelifoe, Jr., 23, of Baraga Michigan, and Alan J. Swartz, 25, of Baraga, Michigan.

The Minnesota State Patrol said in a statement:

The truck was southbound on I-35W near 95th Avenue. The truck left the roadway for an unknown reason, struck the median cable barriers, and rolled. A total of nine people were in the vehicle.

There were 11 other firefighters en route to the same fire. They were traveling in a convoy but had become separated.

According to Minnesota Department of Transportation, that section of the Interstate was closed in both directions for about four hours after the accident.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs manages the Beartown Firefighters Type 2 hand crew. It is based out of Baraga, Michigan and is available for dispatch locally as well as nation-wide.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, coworkers, and friends of the injured and deceased firefighters.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Entrapments is the fourth leading cause of wildland firefighter fatalities

For the last several days we have been writing about fatalities on wildland fires —  the annual numbers and trends going back to 1910 and some thoughts about how to reduce the number of entrapments (also known as burnovers). Often when we think about these accidents, what automatically comes to mind are the entrapments. When multiple firefighters are killed at the same time it can be etched into our memory banks to a greater extent than when one person is killed in a vehicle rollover or is hit by a falling tree. Much of the nation mourned when 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun and killed by the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013. A fatal heart attack on a fire does not receive nearly as much attention.

When we discuss ways to decrease deaths on fires, for some of us our first thoughts are how to prevent entrapments, myself included. One reason is that it can seem they are preventable. Someone made a decision to be in a certain location at a specific time, and it’s easy to think that if only a different decision had been made those people would still be alive. Of course it is not that simple. Perfect 20/20 hindsight is tempting for the Monday Morning Incident Commander. Who knows — if they had been there with access to the same information they may have made the same series of decisions.

An analysis of the data provided by NIFC for the 440 fatalities from 1990 through 2014 shows that entrapments are the fourth leading cause of fatalities. The top four categories which account for 88 percent are, in decreasing order, medical issues, aircraft accidents, vehicle accidents, and entrapments. The numbers for those four are remarkably similar, ranging from 23 to 21 percent of the total. Number five is hazardous trees at 4 percent followed by the Work Capacity Test, heat illness, and electrocution, all at around 1 percent. A bunch of miscellaneous causes adds up to 4 percent.

NIFC’s data used to separate air tanker crashes from accidents involving other types of aircraft such as lead planes and helicopters. But in recent years they began lumping them all into an “aircraft accident” category, so it is no longer possible to study them separately. This is unfortunate, since the missions are completely different and involve very dissimilar personnel, conflating firefighters who are passengers in the same category as air tankers having one- to seven-person crews — from Single Engine Air Tankers to military MAFFS air tankers.

The bottom line, at least for this quick look at the numbers, is that in addition to trying to mitigate the number of entrapments, we should be spending at least as much time and effort to reduce the numbers of wildland firefighters who die from medical issues and accidents in vehicles and aircraft.

CAL FIRE engine rolls over — three firefighters injured

CAL FIRE engine rollover
The CAL FIRE engine that rolled over August 13, 2015 near Browns Valley, CA. Photos credit: CAL FIRE.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has released a “Green Sheet”, a preliminary report on the rollover of one of their fire engines that occurred August 13, 2015 near Browns Valley, California about 50 miles north of Sacramento (map).

The accident involved two pieces of firefighting apparatus from CAL FIRE, but only the engine was damaged. Three firefighters received minor injuries.

The engine and a dozer transport truck were dispatched to the same fire. The dozer transport stopped on Marysville Road before turning left onto Bayberry Lane. With its turn signal on, it began to turn left but stopped again as the driver saw the engine approaching and attempting to pass. The driver of the engine swerved to avoid a collision and went off the shoulder of the road at approximately 45 to 50 mph. The engine then slid along the gravel shoulder for about 100 feet before rolling over and coming to rest 197 feet from where it left the pavement.

CAL FIRE engine rolloverOn September 5, 2015 near Napa another CAL FIRE engine rolled over, injuring two firefighters.

Related articles on Wildfire Today:

Our commentary about the frequency of fire engine rollovers.
Articles tagged Rollover.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kirk.

Report released for short-haul extraction of firefighter with broken leg

A preliminary report has been released for an accident that involved a firefighter who sustained a broken leg on July 20 and was extracted by short-haul the next day. This occurred on the Gregg Creek Fire in the Willamette National Forest east of Corvallis, Oregon. Earlier, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release with some basic information, but on July 26 the Willamette National Forest, over the signature of Forest Supervisor Tracy Beck, filed a “72-Hour Preliminary Report” approximately 144 hours after the extraction.

Below is the narrative and a photo from the report:

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“On July 20th, at approximately 2100 hours a Type Two IA crew was hiking off of the Gregg Creek Fire when a crewmember fell and sustained a lower leg injury. Crew EMT’s assessed the patient using the Medical Incident Report in the IRPG indicating “Priority-YELLOW (serious injury)”. Gregg Creek Short-haulThe IC of the fire requested aerial extraction of the injured person though Eugene Interagency Dispatch (EICC). An additional 20 person hand crew, paramedics and overhead were dispatched to the incident to support medical evacuation operations while EICC pursued night time aerial extraction options. Both Oregon Air National Guard and United States Coast Guard were contacted for possible night time aerial extraction.

At 0303 hours on July 21st aerial extraction was attempted by the US Coast Guard without success due to excessive rotor wash creating additional hazards (ember showers and snags falling). Local cooperator Paramedics hiked in and were able to assist with patient care. A short-haul mission was ordered for first light.

At approximately 0830 hours short-haul operations were completed by a National Park Service short-haul capable helicopter which was prepositioned in the area due to fire activity. The patient was transported to a hospital and treated for a broken fibula and associated ankle injuries requiring surgery.”

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On July 21, 2015 at Corvallis, Oregon a helicopter would have been permitted to begin flying at 5:18 a.m. PT, which was 30 minutes before sunrise.

Four fighters sustain burn injuries on Lowell Fire

(UPDATED at 8:38 a.m. PT, July 27, 2015)

Sunday night CAL FIRE released the following additional information about the four fighters that sustained burns on July 26:

Early [Sunday] evening, two CAL FIRE and two U.S. Forest Service firefighters suffered burn injuries while battling the Lowell Fire in Nevada County. The firefighters were airlifted from the fire and transported to UC Davis Burn Center in Sacramento.

The two CAL FIRE personnel and one of the U.S. Forest Service firefighters are likely to be treated and released [Sunday] evening. The remaining U.S. Forest Service firefighter is being admitted with serious burn injuries.

CAL FIRE has activated one of its Serious Accident Review Teams to review the incident.

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(Originally published at 9:17 p.m., July 26, 2015)

Four fighters sustained burn injuries on the Lowell Fire 46 air miles northeast of Sacramento on Sunday. CAL FIRE Public Information Officer Daniel Berlant said they were airlifted and paramedics were assessing their condition.

The Lowell Fire started July 25 and CAL FIRE is calling it 1,500 acres.

We will update this article as more information becomes available.