A Lessons Learned report has been released for a serious burn injury that occurred on the Saddle Salvage Natural Fuels burn unit, a prescribed fire somewhere in the Northwest. Oddly, neither the agency or even the state were identified, but the injured firefighter was eventually transferred to Harborview Burn Center in Seattle.
Briefly, a firefighter’s Nomex pants caught fire while he was using a drip torch to ignite vegetation during a black-lining operation. He suffered second and third degree burns over 20‐25% of his body, both legs and the left hand. He spent five weeks at the burn center but is now back to work on light duty. A full recovery is expected.
The report found that the management of the response to the injury went very well. Quite a bit went right.
A lab analysis of the protective clothing worn by the victim indicated that fuel was present on his pants and boots. Some of the fuel may have been deposited onto the clothing the previous day during ignition operations. Nomex contaminated with torch fuel is flammable even with small amounts of fuel and a low ratio of gas to diesel (1:5 gas to diesel) mixture.
The drip torch was inspected later at the Missoula Technology Development Center. Investigators found that the breather (vent) tube was in the torch but not attached to the breather tube screw. If the breather tube was disconnected from the breather tube screw during use, and the breather screw was open, fuel would drip from the screw.
A lab analysis of the drip torch fuel mix was completed. The analyzed torch fuel was not drawn from the injured employee’s torch, but did come from another torch that was used on the burn unit. Investigators concluded that the fuel was approximately a 1:1 gas/diesel mixture, which is a much higher concentration of gasoline than is specified in the U.S. Forest Service Health and Safety Code Handbook.
The Citation for the CPTPA and the Notice for the USFS were both dated February 7, 2013.
The CPTPA citation was for the following:
Serious violation: For not providing a safe working environment; 8 of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders were violated, and they did not mitigate 11 of the 18 Watch Out Situations. Proposed penalty: $4,900.
Serious violation: employees engaged in wildland firefighting were exposed to being struck by hazard trees while constructing fire line. Proposed penalty: $4,900.
Serious violation: Firefighters constructing direct fire line did not have fire shelters readily available. Firefighters constructing fire line were wearing denim and work pants not rated as fire resistant. Proposed penalty: $4,200.
The U.S. Forest Service Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions was for the following:
Serious Violation: 7 of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders were violated, and they did not mitigate 9 of the 18 Watch Out Situations.
Repeat Violation: employees engaged in wildland firefighting were exposed to being struck by hazard trees while constructing fire line.
If the violations are not contested they must be abated by various dates in March, 2013, and the fine must be paid within 15 working days.
The National Interagency Fire Center has released a video about the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) on a wildland fire. It features Bob Knutson, the state safety manager for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada. He points out that there have been a number of burn injuries over the last few years that have a common denominator — the lack of PPE or the inappropriate use of PPE.
One thing missing from the video was the use of PPE that is seldom washed and is so contaminated with chain saw oil or other filth that it is no longer fire resistant.
The Salt River Project, an Arizona utility company, collaborated with the Coconino National Forest to produce the training video below that discusses dangers and safety practices for wildland firefighters working near powerlines. The Missoula Technology Development Center reviewed the video and found it suitable for training wildland firefighters.
The video explains:
The roles and responsibilities of the utility company.
How water, foam, retardant, or smoke can conduct electricity to the ground or across powerlines.
Aircraft safety near powerlines.
The difference between “step potential” and “touch potential” and how to respond accordingly.
How to safely exit and move away from a vehicle energized by a downed powerline.
An injured firefighter is moved using a “conveyor belt” technique on the Deer Park Fire. Screen grab from the video.
In August of 2010 Wildfire Today covered the Facilitated Learning Analysis about a serious injury complicated by a helicopter incident that occurred on the Deer Park Fire on the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho.
On that fire a member of the Flathead Hotshots suffered a broken femur caused by a rolling boulder. The initial treatment and extraction was complex and became an incident within an incident. A Life Flight helicopter that was going to fly him out landed on the edge of a small helispot and tipped back, resting on its enclosed tail rotor, in danger of sliding down a steep slope. This put the helicopter and the helispot out of commission — thus becoming an incident within an incident, within an incident.
The Life Flight helicopter on the Deer Park Fire, after landing, and in danger of sliding down a steep slope. Screen grab from the video.
The fire overhead, the Flathead Hotshots, and some smokejumpers on the fire organized to deal effectively with these three incidents — the fire, the medical emergency, and the aviation incident, and the successful results became a case study that firefighters can learn from.
The National Interagency Fire Center produced a video which features three of the firefighters involved in the incident, plus a telephone interview with the injured hotshot. The video includes a lot of photographs and video shot by firefighters during the incident. It is very well done and is worth 20 minutes of your time.
The Flathead Hotshots have been mentioned at least two other times on Wildfire Today. In 2008 several members of the crew were struck by lightning. And last August they turned down an assignment on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino, Idaho because of unresolved safety issues, including falling snags. The next day Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old firefighter from Moscow, Idaho working on the fire was killed by a falling tree.
A facilitated learning analysis has been released for a serious injury that occurred while firefighters were taking suppression action on an extremely steep slope above the Columbia River Gorge on the border between Washington and Oregon.
That portion of the Milepost 66 fire was too steep for firefighters to work without some form of protection or a fall arrest device. An engine crew from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area certified in tree climbing and low angle rope use was assigned to work the slope using ropes. The CRGNSA is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Two crew members rappelled down the slope, taking action on hot spots they ran across. They arrived at a bench and mopped up more of the fire. When finished, they rappelled down to the highway below. What happened next is in the excerpt below:
…As crew member #2 reached the edge, or lip, of the 70’ cliff, he though “it’s a little loose,” meaning that rock was falling from the slope below the bench. The loose rock was also noticed by someone watching from below. Crew member #2 continued his descent down the rope when his hand tool got stuck about 20’ below the lip. He reached back to make an adjustment and continue his descent. At the halfway point crew member #2 called crew member #1, “I just got hit by a rock.” Crew member #3 was at the HWY taking photos and witnessed a rock fall and hit crew member #2. Crew member #3 didn’t see where the rock came from but estimated the rock was the size of a small melon or softball. This happened approximately 30’ above the HWY. Crew member #2 paused and then continued the descent to the HWY. Crew member #3 called out to #2, “are you OK?”, received no response and started moving toward #2. By the time crew member #3 arrived, #2 said he wasn’t doing well. Crew member #2 was bleeding and had some deformity on the left side of his face. Crew member #3 removed #2’s harness and called for the trauma kit from the engine. Crew member #3 said it was obvious that Crew member #2 was in serious pain.
Photo from the FLA
According to the report, the injured firefighter was treated on scene by two paramedics and transported to a hospital within 17 minutes of the injury. There are no details provided about the diagnosis of the injury or the patient’s recovery, but the firefighter was admitted to the Hood River County Hospital and later referred to Oregon Health Science University hospital for a more complete evaluation.
Some of the conclusions, lessons learned, and suggestions in the report included:
Implement the use of heat-resistant ropes.
The applicability of the USFS Tree Climbing training to the fire environment Rope Belay Program should be more fully evaluated.
There is a need for a written operating plan, SOP’s, safety checklist and/or risk analyses.
Depending on the level of risk identified by the team and duty officer during the risk analysis process of each particular mission, approval for the operation might be bumped up to a higher management level (Fire Engine Operator -> Fire Management Officer -> Agency Administrator).