Radio headsets for dozer operators

Adventure Fire
Dozer puts in fire line on the Adventure Fire north of Placerville, California, July 16, 2015. CAL FIRE photo.

Should all heavy equipment operators have access to radio headsets?Tim Banaszak pointed out to us that while working on a fire, communication between an operator and the Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) can be difficult or impossible. The equipment makes so much noise that it can be a challenge to hear the radio. Even relying on hand signals is not reliable due to dust and vegetation, Mr. Banaszak said.

We are still throwing rocks or sticks to get the operator’s attention, YIKES! The high RPM noise makes a portable [radio] useless. All other fireline operations have a clear and reliable communication link. Just hearing the word STOP can prevent equipment damage, an injury, or even worse.

He suggests that a cache of headsets for radios be available that could be checked out at a fire with the operator’s portable radio.

What do you think? Is this a problem that needs solving?

The Air Force has one firefighting dozer team

Vandenberg dozer
Senior Airmen Ronald Skala and Thomas Williams, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators, with a fire dozer, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during wildfire season and during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford.)

The only firefighting dozer team in the U.S. Air Force is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California. The 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators’ fire dozer team consists of approximately ten Airmen and civilian workers. Their job is to support the firefighters by helping to limit damage and contain the spread of wildfires.

“Because of the sheer size of our equipment we can accomplish a lot within seconds,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Robertson,  a heavy equipment operator. “When we go out to a fire, those who have already responded breathe a sigh of relief because we can accomplish a huge amount of work in a short amount of time.”

When a fire breaks out, the base firefighters are the first to respond. When the fire is too difficult to control, the fire dozer team is called to assist.

“We are supporting the fire department, and will get their call if they need us,” said Raymond Boothe, 30th CES equipment supervisor. “We are not sitting around waiting for a call though — we are constantly working all over base, performing our job as heavy equipment operators.”

“Vandenberg is the only base in the Air Force that has a fire dozer team,” said Robertson. “So this is the only place in our career that we are going to get this kind of experience and training.”

Airmen also receive a Red Card certification, which states the holder has the experience and training necessary to fight wildfires. This certification is utilized by both state and federal fire agencies and is useful for civilian jobs across the nation.

Another significant component of the job is supporting the space mission. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets.

Adventure Fire burns 100 acres northwest of Placerville, California

Adventure Fire
Dozer puts in fire line on the Adventure Fire north of Placerville, California, July 16, 2015. CAL FIRE photo.

The Adventure Fire burned about 100 acres 8 miles northwest of Placerville, California Thursday afternoon. The only reason we’re writing about this 100-acre fire is that we ran across this excellent photo of a dozer that we wanted to share.

But, since we’re here — we might as well mention also that we have an unconfirmed report saying the first engine that arrived at the fire observed a slow rate of spread and canceled the aircraft. Sometime after that, the slow rate of spread changed to a rapid rate of spread.

CAL FIRE said it was reported at 12:05 p.m. In mid-afternoon quite a few additional resources were ordered, including several crews and an “immediate need” strike team of engines. Later, many resources, both on the ground and in the air, were able to corral it. By about 5 p.m. most of the spread had been stopped.

Below are the weather observations taken from the Pilot Hill RAWS weather station 3 miles west of the fire:

Pilot Hill weather
Weather at Pilot Hill RAWS station, July 16, 2015.

By 1 p.m. it was 90 degrees with 26 percent relative humidity and a 7 mph wind gusting to 13. Over the next three hours it got hotter and drier.

One of the cardinal rules of initial attack on a wildland fire is, do not turn around any responding firefighting resources until you are absolutely, totally, unreservedly, unconditionally, altogether, certain that they are not needed.

Have I ever mentioned Dr. Gabbert’s Prescription for how to keep new fires from becoming megafires?

Rapid initial attack with overwhelming force using both ground and air resources, arriving within the first 10 to 30 minutes when possible.

Map adventure fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the Adventure Fire at 2:46 p.m. July 16, 2015.