Siren settlement: Federal Signal agrees to pay firefighters $3.8 million for hearing loss

sirenFederal Signal Corporation has reached a settlement with 1,125 firefighters who claim they have hearing loss caused by the company’s sirens. Federal Signal has been fighting numerous law suits from firefighters for years. In the settlement the company agreed to pay $3.8 million to the firefighters represented by attorney Joseph Cappelli.

If you are an emergency responder who rides in a piece of apparatus with a siren mounted on the cab roof, or if you keep the windows down while the siren is blasting, you may have an increased risk of hearing loss.  But even if your siren is on the front bumper you may still be at risk from the siren as well as the low frequency engine sounds which are transmitted through the bones in your skull to your ear. Headsets and ear plugs will provide little protection from the low frequency sounds.

To reduce your chances of hearing loss from the siren:

  1. Wear ear plugs or a sound-attenuating headset.
  2. Keep the windows up while responding.
  3. Remove the siren from the top of the cab and install it on the front bumper.
  4. Turn off the siren when you don’t need it.

More information about the dangers of hearing loss from sirens is HERE and HERE. And HERE is an interesting article that compares electronic sirens to electro-mechanical sirens.

And if your fire engines participate in parades, do not blast the sirens, no matter where they are located on the apparatus. In my town, the fire department has been known to blast the sirens from six to eight engines all at the same time in parades, while they drive very slowly past hundreds of spectators 10 feet away.

Top wildland fire stories of 2010 – with poll

Vote on the most significant wildland fire stories of 2010

As we documented earlier this month, the 2010 wildland fire season, when measured by the acres burned in the 49 states outside Alaska, was the slowest since 2004. But in spite of that, there has been significant news about wildland fire. In fact, we posted over 670 articles this year.

In 2009 we listed some of the top stories and invited you to vote on the ones that you considered to be the most significant.

Continuing that tradition, below we have listed the top stories of 2010. The line of duty fatalities are not listed unless there was an unusual spin-off story associated with the fatality. Below the list, there is a poll where YOU can let us know which stories you feel are the most significant of 2010.

Top wildfire stories of 2010

Jan. 8: The National Park Service released the report on the August, 2009 Big Meadow escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park. The fire blackened 7,425 acres before being controlled by 1,300 firefighters at a cost over $15 million. It became the eighth largest fire in California in 2009.

Jan. 11: One of the five Type 1 Incident Management Teams in California was disbanded. Bill Molumby, who had been the team’s Incident Commander for several years, retired in November, 2009 and apparently they were not able to replace him.

Jan. 21: Federal wildland firefighter bill introduced in Congress. The “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act” would affect the pay, retirement age, and fireline liability of federal wildland firefighters.

Feb. 1: Fire contractor sentenced to 10 months in prison for forging wildfire training certificates and task books.

Apr. 23: NIOSH to study long-term health effects of working as structural firefighter, but not as a wildland firefighter. In a follow-up a few days later, Brian Sharkey of the USFS’ Missoula Technology and Development Center downplays lung cancer risks for firefighters. NWCG later responds to our article.

Apr. 30: The International Association of Fire Chiefs, an organization that concentrates on structural fire, received at least $13.2 million from the U.S. Forest Service and DHS-FEMA over a seven-year period, reportedly for wildfire-related purposes. The IAFC became furious at Wildfire Today for exposing the information.

Jul. 5: Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, sues the Billings Fire Department over the loss of “trees and ground cover” on his property during an 1,100-acre fire in 2008.

Aug. 2: Hundreds of wildfires in Russia claimed more than 50 lives, left more than 3,500 people homeless, and caused massive air quality issues in Moscow and other areas.

Aug. 2: A BAe-146 jet airliner was converted to an air tanker and was tested in Missoula. The Interagency Air Tanker Board failed to certify it due to inadequate ground coverage of retardant.

Aug. 24: The 100th anniversary of the fires of 1910 and Ranger Pulaski’s incident are commemorated at several events in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Aug. 26: In spite of weather forecasts that would have alarmed most fire managers, the Helena National Forest in Montana ignited the Davis prescribed fire during a near record heat wave. The fire escaped and burned 2,800 acres. The report was released in November. The Forest Supervisor said the report did not point out “something clearly that we did wrong, done incorrectly or that we’re going to make big changes on”.

Sep. 6: The Fourmile Canyon fire burned 6,200 acres and 169 homes a few miles west of Boulder, Colorado. The fire was devastating to local fire districts within the burned perimeter in several ways, including the facts that a firefighter’s burn pile escaped and started the fire, the homes of 12 firefighters burned, and one fire station and an engine inside it burned.

Sep. 21: The Commander of the Utah Army National Guard assumed responsibility and apologized for the Machine Gun fire that burned 4,346 acres and three homes near Herriman, Utah. The fire started during target practice with a machine gun at a National Guard base.

Sep. 24: The Australian state of Victoria tested the U.S.-built DC-10 very large air tanker and concluded that it did not perform adequately and would not be suitable for use in their wildland-urban interface areas.

Oct. 13: The US Forest Service’s response to the 2009 Station fire is criticized, and Congress holds hearing in Pasadena, CA about the management of the fire, which burned 160,000 acres near Los Angeles.

Oct. 26: “Dirty Jobs” TV show features prescribed burning in a Florida wildlife refuge. Video footage captures some activities that are criticized by some viewers.

Dec. 2: A fire in Israel kills 43 prison guards and firefighters. Air tankers from the United States respond.

Dec. 7: NTSB holds a meeting about the helicopter crash on the Iron Complex fire in northern California in which nine firefighters and crew members died. Much of the blame was attributed to falsified helicopter performance documents supplied by Carson Helicopters when they applied for a contract with the U.S. Forest Service. Carson and the surviving co-pilot dispute that conclusion.

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Honorable mention stories (not exactly top stories, but interesting; they are not part of the poll).

Feb. 24: Wood piles were burned on frozen Lake Pactola in South Dakota.

Mar. 29: Washington D.C. Metro train drives through wildfire, and stops in the middle of it. And on July 25 we posted a very impressive video that was shot from a Greyhound bus that drove past a large bushfire during the night in Queensland, Australia.

May 11: NWCG outlaws the use of some terms, including “appropriate management response” and “wildland fire use”.

Jun. 20: It was not a wildland fire, but every firefighter can relate to some of the problems encountered when a kinked fire hose and improper procedures delayed the rescue of IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro from her burning race car which crashed at Texas Motor Speedway.

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POLL

Choose three of the wildfire stories you consider the most significant of 2010.

View Results

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Feel free to leave a comment (or “response”) explaining your choices, or to discuss other news items that did not make the list.

NWCG’s position on firefighter-cancer study

Before we published the article on April 23 about the study that NIOSH is conducting on a possible link between structural firefighters and the occurrence of cancer, as part of our research we emailed Michelle Ryerson, the chair of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Risk Management committee, formerly called the Safety and Health Working Team. We asked if the NWCG was aware of any similar studies that involved wildland firefighters. We also explained to her that we had talked with Travis Kubale, the NIOSH study’s primary project officer, who at the end of the conversation became interested in perhaps doing a cancer study on wildland firefighters. We passed along Mr. Kubale’s contact information to Ms. Ryerson, as well as others in the NWCG.

Today we received a response from Ms. Ryerson, which she called “an update from the NWCG Risk Management Committee perspective”:

  • NWCG was never approached by NIOSH to be included in this study.
  • The NWCG is coordinating with US Fire Administration on potential of including wildland fire to the NIOSH study.
  • NWCG has an active Smoke Exposure Task Group (SETG) under the auspices of RMC who’s focus is smoke hazard identification and mitigation for wildland firefighters and support personnel in fire camp environments (SETG website should be up and working by end of May).
  • The SETG began smoke exposure monitoring in 2009 and will continue monitoring in 2010 so that we can better understand the levels of smoke exposure both in fire camp and fireline operations.
  • The SETG is also preparing a long-term project proposal abstract to seek study sponsorship from universities, NIOSH, and other scientifical organizations.
  • Also worth mentioning is the fact that the DOI, FS, and many state agencies have instituted wildland firefighter medical standards programs that help track firefighter health issues throughout their arduous duty fire career.

We replied to Ms. Ryerson and the others that she had cc’d with her response:

I can imagine that employers of wildland firefighters may not be enthusiastic about opening a can of worms that may link cancer with exposure to smoke on wildland fires, but the Right Thing To Do is to look at this issue and either prove or disprove a link. I hope the NWCG will not only continue to collect data about the fire environment, but will also pursue a possible cancer link with just as much enthusiasm.

Follow-up on cancer risk among wildland firefighters

(Revised @ 2:50 MT, April 26, 2010)

More information has come to light regarding the article we wrote last week about “Cancer risk and smoke exposure among wildland firefighters“. In response to an email, we heard from Brian Sharkey of the USFS’ Missoula Technology and Development Center, an exercise physiologist who was instrumental in the design of the Step Test and Work Capacity Test for wildland firefighters. We asked Mr. Sharkey if he was aware of any studies that considered a possible increased cancer risk for wildland firefighters. He said no, and:

However, our 1997 risk assessment (Booze in Health Hazards of Smoke, 1997) showed an increased risk only when we used “worst case scenario” – which estimated career exposure at exposure levels 95% of highest values measured. No one works for 25 years anywhere near those values. Also, some carcinogens are not as high on fires as they are in winter (from burning wood in stoves) (Smith et al.).

Structural FF do not have increased risk of lung cancer. Chinese women who cook over coal fires have more cancer – those who cook over wood fires do not.

We need a study of health effects that looks at all causes of morbidity and mortality – not just cancer (where risk is about 1 in 3 for US population). We also need an injury/illness surveillance system that tells us the impact of fire on respiratory, cardiovascular and – yes – cancer.

We asked Mr. Sharkey what data supported his statement that “structural FF do not have an increased risk of lung cancer”, and he was in a hurry, about to leave for a “smoke meeting”, but referred to a study on Philadelphia firefighters. We found the 24-year old study to which Mr. Sharkey may be referring. Here is an excerpt, the Methods, Results, and Conclusions:

Methods
We conducted a retrospective cohort mortality study among 7,789 Philadelphia firefighters employed between 1925 and 1986. For each cause of death, the standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) and 95% confidence intervals were estimated. We also compared mortality among groups of firefighters defined by the estimated number of career runs and potential for diesel exposure.

Results
In comparison with U.S. white men, the firefighters had similar mortality from all causes of death combined (SMR = 0.96) and all cancers (SMR = 1.10). There were statistically significant deficits of deaths from nervous system diseases (SMR = 0.47), cerebrovascular diseases (SMR = 0.83), respiratory diseases (SMR = 0.67), genitourinary diseases (SMR = 0.54), all accidents (SMR = 0.72), and suicide (SMR = 0.66). Statistically significant excess risks were observed for colon cancer (SMR = 1.51) and ischemic heart disease (SMR = 1.09). The risks of mortality from colon cancer (SMR = 1.68), kidney cancer (SMR = 2.20), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (SMR = 1.72), multiple myeloma (SMR = 2.31), and benign neoplasms (SMR = 2.54) were increased among firefighters with at least 20 years of service.

Conclusions
Our study found no significant increase in overall mortality among Philadelphia firefighters. However, we observed increased mortality for cancers of the colon and kidney, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. There was insufficient follow-up since the introduction of diesel equipment to adequately assess risk. Am. J. Ind. Med. 39:463-476, 2001. Published 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Wildfire Today has called for a study on the cancer risks associated with wildland fire. Not just lung cancer. The study needs to be conducted by medical doctors and epidemiologists.

We also learned that a proposal was prepared by Joseph Domitrovich in December, 2008, for the US Forest Service Technology and Development Program to study the effects that carbon monoxide may have on the cognitive function of wildland firefighters. Here is an excerpt.

An extensive EPA review on CO effects (2000) concluded that behavioral impairments in healthy adults are not significant below 20% carboxy hemoglobin (COHb). However, some studies have showed mild impairments at 5% COHb or below. Cigarette smokers have COHb levels of 5-10%, sometimes as high as 15%. In view of the reported adverse effects among fire staff, suspect additive or synergistic interactions among pollutants that worsen the neurobehavioral effects that would be predicted from CO exposure alone.

PROPOSED TECHNOLOGY & DEVELOPMENT WORK:
The deliverable outcome of the proposed project is a report detailing the levels of smoke exposure and cognitive effects. This could then be used by IMT, crew bosses along with training (RX-410) to help better understand the potential cognitive effects when exposed to wildland fire smoke.

POTENTIAL BENEFITS:
This project will help us to better understand the effects of wildfire smoke on our cognition, which would increase safety of fire personal.

Wildfire Today recommends that this study be funded.

A “smoke meeting” is being held in Boise this week. It will interesting to see if anything that will benefit the health of firefighters will come out of the meeting. We understand that at least one actual medical doctor is beginning to be involved in smoke studies related to wildland firefighters, which is a step in the right direction.

More information about wildland firefighters and smoke. It begins on page 8 (page 74 of the main publication).

Cancer risk and smoke exposure among wildland firefighters

(Note: after we wrote this article, more information came to light, and we wrote a follow-up piece.)

NIOSH and the U.S. Fire Administration are conducting a study of cancer among firefighters. HERE is a 2.1 Mb Powerpoint presentation describing the project.  I talked with the physician/epidemiologist, Dr. Tom Hales, who is a co-investigator for the study which began in October, 2009 led by Travis Kubale, the study’s primary project officer. He said that over the next four years they will study firefighters from three fire departments: San Francisco, Chicago, and the District of Columbia. They will look at the causes of death of firefighters that have worked for the departments over the last 50 years and compare that with tumor registries in their local communities and the National Death Index for cause of death.

Dr. Hales said that they will ask the firefighters in the study if they have ever worked on wildland fires, but other than that, they will not collect data on firefighters who specialize in wildland fires. He also said that NIOSH has no plans to specifically study cancer rates among wildland firefighters, but emphasized that NIOSH has collected data on smoke exposure on active wildfires and prescribed fires (see below).

What about wildland firefighters?

It is unfortunate that wildland firefighters will not be evaluated in this study, but you have to consider that the probably-flawed TriData study only looked at structural firefighters, and the IAFF and IAFC who helped to push for this new study spend most of their energy and political capital on structural fire.

There needs to be a concerted effort to conduct a similar study on wildland firefighters. It should be led by a physician/epidemiologist and should evaluate the long term health and occurrence of cancer and other diseases among wildland firefighters. There is a lot of grant money out there and it should be possible to get some of it pointed towards this overlooked niche of firefighting.

Wildfire Today is calling out the following organizations to get together and put some pressure on FEMA, NIOSH, and the U.S. Fire Administration to get this done:

  • National Park Service
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • U. S. Forest Service
  • National Wildfire Coordinating Group and their Risk Mgt. Comm.
  • State land management agencies
  • International Association of Wildland Fire
  • International Association of Fire Chiefs
  • International Association of Fire Fighters
  • Federal Wildland Fire Service Association

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Below are links to studies about smoke exposure on wildfires, as well as excerpts from a bibliography on the same subject.

Continue reading “Cancer risk and smoke exposure among wildland firefighters”

Wildfire news, July 8, 2009

After 90 years, Whitefish, MT fire siren is silent

The Whitefish, MT fire siren. Lifo Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon photo

After 90 years of summoning volunteer firefighters to staff the fire engines, the siren in Whitefish, Montana is being shut down because it exceeded the noise levels issued by OSHA and the NFPA. Whitefish fire chief Tom Kennelly said the noise was too loud for the full time staff that now reside in the fire station, just 20 feet from the siren’s many horns.

More information

History of firefighting helicopters

Forest protection supervisor Jack Dillon experiments with a water nozzle in a Bell 47D-1 owned by the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests around the early 1950s. The pilot is Shorty Ferguson. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Photo

Verticle On Line, “The Pulse of the Helicopter Industry”, has an interesting article about the history of helicopters used in fighting fire.

Charles Barkley donates to fire victims

Ex-NBA star Charles Barkley has donated another large sum of money to the victims of the June, 2007 Angora fire which destroyed over 250 homes. A year ago Mr. Barkley gave $100,000 to South Tahoe’s Commuinity Disaster Resource Center. Last week the center received another check from him, this time for $90,000. Shortly after the 2007 fire, Mr. Barkley hosted a dinner for 100 firefighters.

Study: No increased wildfire risk in spotted owl habitat

From the AP:

A new study challenges a basic justification about the threat of wildfires that the Bush administration used to make room for more logging in old growth forests that are home to the northern spotted owl.

The study, appearing in the journal Conservation Biology, found no increasing threat of severe wildfires destroying old growth forests in the drier areas where the owl lives in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

“The argument used to justify a massive increase in logging under the (spotted owl) recovery program was not based on sound science,” said Chad T. Hanson, a fire and forest ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who was lead author of the study. “The recovery plan took a leap-before-you-look approach and did it without sound data.”

For more information

Li’l Smokey children’s book published

Adam Deem, the CalFire firefighter who found and rescued the injured bear cub on the northern California fire last year has written a children’s book about the bear. The book costs $11.99 and Mr. Deem says a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the nonprofit Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, where “Li’l Smokey” was nursed back to health.

For more information

Snags on the Backbone fire

Six Rivers National Forest photo

The Backbone fire, which is being managed by the Atlanta National Incident Management Organization team, is in an area that burned in the 1999 Megram fire. Snags are one of the hazards faced by the firefighters. The fire has burned 4,584 acres in the Trinity Alps Wilderness in northern California and is 25% contained.

Embers burn more homes than flame impingement on some wildfires

The Missoulian has an article about the study completed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology which Wildfire Today first told you about on June 19.

Here is a brief excerpt:

The report found that “out of the 74 destroyed structures, 38 were on the perimeter and the remaining 36 in the interior of the community.”

“Forty percent of homes on the perimeter were destroyed, compared to 20 percent in the interior. In the interior of the community, structure losses were a result of exposure to embers generated from burning wildland and residential vegetation and structural fuels,” according to the report.

Storing carbon vs. thinning forests

A new study concludes that forests are a great way to store carbon to offset global warming, but scientists say thinning would reduce this beneficial effect.

Thanks Dick and Kelly.