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.

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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:

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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.

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

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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”?

Resources:

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

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

Rollovers

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.”

 

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Wildfire briefing, August 24, 2014

U.S. Forest Service on hauling firefighters in cargo trucks

We asked the USFS to comment on the California National Guard’s practice of hauling their firefighting troops in the back of cargo trucks, which we wrote about earlier.

National Guard troops In cargo truck

National Guard troops in cargo truck in Yreka, California, August 14, 2014.

A spokesperson for the agency, Mike Ferris, said:

This is not an activity that the Forest Service practices. The California National Guard was deployed on three different incidents in Northern California: Little Deer; Log; and Lodge fires. National Guard resources were ordered and managed by Cal Fire.

When we asked if the USFS was concerned about firefighters being injured if there was a truck rollover or another type of accident, Mr. Ferris said:

Firefighter and public safety are the top priorities in wildfire management. Safety Officers at large fire incidents identify and address known risks and implement mitigations consistent with incident objectives.

We offered the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) an opportunity to weigh in on the issue, but they declined.

Florida motorists warned about wildfire smoke

Smoke from a wildfire has prompted the Florida Highway Patrol to issue a warning for motorists in St. Johns County. The agency issued a Travel Advisory for travel on Interstate 95 south of International Golf Parkway.

Smoke from a wildfire nearby might affect roadways. Visibility may deteriorate quickly due to smoke or fog-type conditions especially during the evening and early morning hours. Motorists should reduce their speed as necessary to avoid a collision, and use their low-beam headlights in order to adapt to the changing weather conditions, according to the highway patrol.

Efforts continue to pass wildfire funding bill

In spite of several failed attempts over the last several months to pass a bill that would fully fund wildfires in a manner similar to other natural disasters, some senators and representatives in Idaho and Oregon have not given up.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Spokesman-Review:

…The House version of the bill has 131 co-sponsors, including Idaho 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador. The Senate version has 18 co-sponsors including [Idaho Senator Jim] Risch.

In the House, “Some folks are concerned about changing the spending matrix, primarily Paul Ryan, head of the budget committee,” [Idaho Senator Mike Crapo’s press secretary Lindsay] Nothern said. “We did go out and get a CBO report that showed it is budget-neutral, because we already spend disaster money on disasters such as this.”

He added, “There is support for it among leadership in both the Senate and the House, on both sides of the aisle.” But on its first attempt at passage, Nothern said, the proposal got lumped in with other issues including the president’s border proposal, and it didn’t pass. “We are hoping for a stand-alone bill, and then the only opposition we have is Ryan.”

The Onion’s parody kills off Smokey Bear

The Onion, a parody website, is “reporting” that the “U.S. Forest Service Kills Off Smokey Bear To Get People Serious About Fire Safety”. The images in the video of the iconic bear being killed may not be suitable for children.

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Using “margin” for safety analysis

Fighting wildfires is dangerous, in spite of reports that some firefighters don’t see it that way. In  Matthew Desmond’s book, On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, he quotes one:

If you know, as a firefighter, how to act on a fire, how to approach it, this and that, I mean you’re, yeah, fire can hurt you. But if you can soak up the stuff that has been taught to you, it’s not a dangerous job.

An industry has grown up around on-the-job safety. People with advanced degrees frequently come up with new ways of analyzing conditions in the workplace and how to prevent accidents and fatalities. Some of their products are useful.

A system that is new to us is called “margin”. In an article posted this month on the Wildland Fire Leadership webpage, it is described as: “The influence that conditions have on decisions and actions.”

Below is an excerpt from the article, which included the video above.

Comparing the Swiss Cheese Model (SCM) and Margin is not a direct “apples to apples” comparison. The SCM was introduced to the wildland fire community through the L-380 curriculum and is intended primarily, as an “ innovative framework for thinking about human error…[that] scrutinizes all levels in an organization when looking for the causes of human error” (Mission-Centered Solutions Inc., 2007, p. 55). It was designed to pinpoint the causes of an accident or error by describing the holes in defenses that, when aligned through multiple levels, create an error chain. Margin, is focused on the influence that conditions have on decisions and actions; it does not attempt to describe a linear causal relationship among conditions at various levels, rather it describes the collective influence of these conditions. The focus can then shift from cause to understanding the capacity to cope with uncertainty, error and surprise. SCM is intended to make sense of an accident after it happens, whereas margin, while it can be used in accident analysis, is designed to help users describe the potential for the system to do harm before an accident occurs…

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