2014 wildland fire incident summary

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has released a summary of incidents that occurred on wildland fires in 2014. The document only includes incidents that were reported to the LLC. Unfortunately the LLC does not define the term “incident” but it appears to be a serious injury or accident on a wildland fire, perhaps including serious near misses.

Below we have a few graphic highlights. The complete report can be found HERE.

2014 wildland fire incidents by activity

2014 wildland fire incidents by activity. (click to enlarge)

The chart above represents wildland fire incidents from various agencies that were submitted to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (LLC) during 2014. Half of the physical training incidents were Rhabdomyolysis cases.

2014 wildland fire incidents by outcome

2014 wildland fire incidents by outcome (click to enlarge)

wildfire Vehicle rollovers by type of vehicleIt would be interesting to know how many of the rollovers of water tenders, engines, and crew carriers involved vehicles that were over the allowed weight (GVW) or were top-heavy. In other words — were they disasters waiting to happen.


Grass fire tactics and safety

In a comment regarding the earlier article about the fires in Logan County, Oklahoma, Dick suggested some videos that shed light on the subject of fighting fire in grass —  “Attack from the Black” and “Oh, it’s just a Grass Fire”. We found those videos.

The first one, below, is “Attack from the Black”, which covers the tactics and safety of suppressing grass fires. Produced by the Texas Forest Service, it is actually a series of six videos, with each one being one to seven minutes long. It was uploaded to YouTube in 2011. If you play the one below, it will automatically keep transitioning to the next until you have watched all six.

The next video is “Oh, it’s just a Grass Fire”, uploaded by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center in 2011. Here is how it is described:

Because grass fires often burn in short, light fuels, some firefighters may tend to encounter them with their “guard down”—without taking adequate safety precautions. Using lessons learned from actual grass fire incidents, this video illustrates why such a mindset can have disastrous outcomes. Don’t believe it? Hear a severely burned firefighter explain what he now wants you to always remember.


Still another revision of safety zone rule

safety zone

A safety zone constructed on a wildfire in 2014. Is this like a tactic used in the Vietnam war? “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” (Screen grab from the video below.)

In May of this year Bret Butler, who works in the Fire Behavior Research Work Unit at the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana, issued a new rule on the size of a safety zone. Mr. Butler revised it two months later in July, and after an additional four months he changed it still again in November.

The calculation of the size of a safety zone is somewhat complex for a firefighter in the heat of battle, and these various guidelines can only be used if the firefighter on the ground is carrying the latest written directions about how to do the math. While it is laudable that researchers are working to improve the safety zone guidelines, changing them every two to four months is too confusing.

In the video (webinar) below the new revision is discussed in detail in the one hour and 15 minute presentation, including questions. (A three-minute executive summary version would be very much appreciated.) This new November, 2014 version of the “Preliminary Proposed Safety Zone Rule” appears at 44:00. The fact that it is called both preliminary and proposed leads us to believe there will be still more changes in the near future.

Below is the description of the December 2, 2014 webinar, presented by Mr. Butler.

Current safety zone guidelines for wildland firefighters are based on the assumption of flat ground, no wind, and radiative heating only. Recent measurements in grass, shrub and crown fires indicate that convective heating can be significant especially when wind or slope are present. Measurements and computer modeling supports this finding and suggests that convective energy transport should be considered when assessing safety zone effectiveness any time wind or slope is present. The results of the research are presented along with recommendations for modifications to current safety zone guides.


Study: Risk factors for injury among federal wildland firefighters

A student working on her PhD at the University of Iowa wrote her dissertation in 2010 after studying the records of injuries to wildland firefighters. Carla Lea Britton titled her paper “Risk factors for injury among federal wildland firefighters“. We will not attempt to summarize the entire document, but below are some quotes that we thought were interesting in the Conclusions section:


P. 67: The wildland fire community should expand its focus beyond the investigation of fatalities and embrace new methodologies to evaluate and mitigate the impact of non-fatal occupational injuries in wildland fire.

P. 70: Comprehensive surveillance: The resources currently available to estimate and evaluate the burden of injury in firefighters are found in a diversity of situations and are not, in many cases, suitable for linking. Fire managers should work toward developing a new comprehensive occupational injury surveillance system to capture fire-related injuries, illness and fatalities across the spectrum of wild- and prescribed fires, training activities and types of employment.

P. 70-71: Partnerships: Guidance on the safety and health of wildland firefighters is provided by the NWCG’s Safety and Health Working Team (SHWT). The SHWT’s mission is to improve health and safety through workforce development, leadership and the development of standards using data collection and analysis to validate and prioritize safety issues. While the mission is commendable, the SHWT lacks both the resources and expertise to fully realize its goal. The SHWT is comprised of representatives from the NWCG member agencies. Most of the committee members are the national-level fire safety managers for the agencies they represent. While all have extensive backgrounds in fire suppression, few, if any, have any formal training in occupational health and safety. The SHWT should actively pursue partnerships with either the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or with university-based researchers to provide additional expertise, particularly in the area of injury epidemiology and prevention, topics on which there have been little research emphasis in the past.

P. 71-72: This project has shown that, even with sub-optimal data collected for other purposes, systematic evaluation of existing data can provide useful hints for prevention and point to areas where further inquiry is likely to be fertile. To move forward, the wildland fire community needs to commit to using existing data to the best advantage possible and to developing new surveillance methods to provide comprehensive information about all wildland firefighter injuries and their circumstances.


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


Safety meeting topic: taking calculated risks

Firefighters — at your next safety meeting, here is a topic worthy of discussion: taking calculated risks on a fire.

On October 2, 1943 on the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego 11 people fighting the fire, mostly Marines, were killed on the Hauser Creek Fire.

Below, is the second paragraph from the Recommendations section of the official report on the fatalities. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Hauser Creek Fire

What  do you think about taking “calculated risks”?


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


Three accident reports: two heavy equipment rollovers and a bucking incident


The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has posted three Rapid Lesson Sharing reports. The photos above are from two rollovers of heavy equipment, a forwarder and a hydro ax. Click on the image to see a larger version.

The photo below is from a report on a serious bucking accident in which two people were injured. Both were transported to a hospital, one in an ambulance and the other in a helicopter.

Bucking accidentAs Sgt. Phil Esterhaus said, “Let’s be careful out there.”