Wildfire news, September 23, 2008

Montana county initiates new emergency information website

On September 10 we wrote on Wildfire Today, in part:

Making real time information about the fire’s location available, interpreting that data to decide what areas should evacuate and which areas are safe, then providing this data to the public in near-real-time is not a small task. But it could be argued that this should be the most important objective of fire managers, above and beyond the boiler-plate written into every Incident Action Plan of “provide for the safety of the public and firefighters”.

In that post we further explained how this could be done, using the Internet and various sources of information.

We don’t know if the Madison County Commissioners were aware of that post, but they recently….

….gave speedy and unanimous approval to develop a county sponsored “emergency information” web-site. The site (madison.homestead.com) was up and running the next day.

The new web-site will be maintained by the County Communications Department. The site is intended to allow county residents extremely fast (nearly instant) access to information related to significant county emergencies and urgent county related information.

The County Commissioners all agreed that since Madison County has no local television or radio stations, there is no reliable way to allow residents immediate access to developing or changing information. Particularly, information related to significant, long duration county emergencies – as evidenced during the Labor Day Hebgen Dam incident.

Even though early in the incident, designated Public Information Officers tried desperately to alert the media in Bozeman about the situation at Hebgen, the television coverage of the incident was weak at best.

During the Hebgen event, local residents were generally aware that there was an emergency of some sort, but had difficulty accessing timely and rapidly changing facts of the incident. Consequently, due to an information vacuum, the rumor mill took over – and many residents understandably reacted to inaccurate information.

From The Latest.

And they had the web site “up and running the next day”! Congratulations to the forward-thinking County Commissioners of Madison County, Montana!

Climate and fires

Fire in Wyoming, Sept. 4, 2007 by Bill Gabbert

From the LA Times:

The biggest overall influence on global wildfire activity in the last 2,000 years has been climate, according to a new study that also shows humans have played a significant role in fire levels in recent centuries.

Researchers looked at charcoal levels in hundreds of corings of ancient lake sediments and peat from around the world.

What they found is that until about 1750, there was a long-term decline in burning, reflecting a global cooling trend. Then, as global settlement expanded and the Industrial Revolution took hold, wildfires increased, peaking around 1870. Farmers used fire to clear the land. Increased fossil-fuel use contributed to rising levels of carbon dioxide that sped plant growth and created more to burn. More people meant more fires started by humans.

But starting in the late 19th century, settlement had the opposite effect, particularly in western North America, the tropics and Asia.

Livestock ate the native grasses that had helped fuel frequent, low-intensity fires in the West. Wildlands were replaced by farms. During the 20th century, fire suppression became the norm in many parts of the world.

The result was an abrupt drop in fires, despite a warming climate.

The paper, “Climate and Human Influences on Global Biomass Burning over the Past Two Millennia,” was published online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience and was written by a nine-member team from the U.S., Europe and Great Britain.

It did not take into account recent decades, when wildfires in the U.S. have been on the rise.

Patrick Bartlein, a University of Oregon geography professor and one of the study authors, said climate is regaining the upper hand as the dominant force.

“All signs point to the idea that with continued global climate change … we’ll see more and bigger” fires.

Firefighters' dirty drinking water, and "shift food"

The Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) just published the 12th edition of the “Wildland Firefighter Health and Safety Report” written by Brian Sharkey (if you don’t have the user name and password, go HERE):

Shift food…better than…?
Their research shows that when firefighters eat “small items” during the shift, every 1-2 hours, their total work output increased by 15-20%. Most of the firefighters preferred the shift food to the standard sack lunch. But, almost any food is better than the standard sack lunch, especially after eating the damn ham on Wonder Bread sandwiches for 2 weeks. How does the saying go? When trees burn pigs die?

Water bottles are filthy
Researchers found loads of nasty stuff in the water bottles and drinking systems of firefighters. They tested the bottles or systems of 15 firefighters and found that several of them had high concentrations of molds and yeasts. Legionella-like bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, were detected in one water bottle and in one drinking tube.

The fatality rate from Legionnaires’ disease has ranged from 5-30% according to Wikipedia. Legionellosis infection occurs after inhaling water droplets containing the bacteria. Pontiac fever is caused by the same bacterium, but produces a milder respiratory illness without pneumonia which resembles acute influenza.

The molds growing in the water systems could be causing allergic responses in some firefighters. But water purifier technology, chlorine dioxide tablets, was found to clean the systems very well. Aquamira and Camelbak sell these tablets. The Camelbak site has instructions about how to clean their products.

In 2005 there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Rapid City, South Dakota that resulted in one death and 19 hospitalized and was sourced to a small ornamental fountain in a popular Mexican restaurant. The mayor of the city was one of those hospitalized. The restaurant went out of business and was torn down.

OK, quit reading this blog….get off your butt and go clean your water bottles and Camelbak!

Increased risk of bladder cancer for firefighters

It seems like there are more and more chronic diseases that firefighters are predisposed to get. Now you can add bladder cancer to the list.

ScienceDaily (May 15, 2008) — A new study presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA) suggests that firefighters may be at an increased risk of developing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC, or bladder cancer) and should be considered for routine annual screening. Currently, no guidelines exist for regular TCC screening.

Researchers are from the University of California, San Francisco.

It is well known that prolonged exposure to certain environmental pollutants and chemicals puts humans at a major risk for developing bladder cancer. As the body absorbs carcinogenic chemicals, such as cigarette smoke, the chemicals are transferred to the blood, filtered out by the kidneys and expelled from the body through the urine. Greater concentrations of chemicals in the urine can damage the endothelial lining of the bladder and increase a patient’s odds of developing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). Firefighters, who are regularly exposed to smoke and chemical fumes, may be at a higher risk for developing the disease than other groups.

Researchers explored this possibility in a screening study of 1,286 active and retired San Francisco firefighters. From August 2006 to March 2007, the subjects – mean age 45 (SD+9.7) – participated in voluntary urine dipstick testing and point-of-care NMP-22 testing. 93 Patients tested positive for hematuria and six tested positive for NMP-22. These 99 patients were referred for upper tract imaging, cystoscopy and urine cytology. Of the group, a single firefighter tested positive for both NMP-22 and hematuria, with two patients – both retired firefighters – ultimately diagnosed with TCC.

The age and sex-adjusted incidence for TCC is 36 per 100,000. These findings represent a higher incidence, suggesting that retired firefighters may be a high-risk group.

In Canada, the British Columbia government recognizes as an occupational hazard for firefighters the following diseases:

  • testicular cancer
  • lung cancer in non-smokers
  • brain cancer
  • bladder cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • ureter cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • leukemia

This means that full-time, volunteer, part-time, and paid on-call firefighters suffering from the diseases will qualify for worker’s compensation and benefits, without having to prove individually that the diseases are linked to their jobs.

Rather sobering, don’t you think?