Firefighter refresher, 2009

I just finished the 2009 version of the “Fireline Safety Refresher Training”.  I thought it was pretty good, but leave a comment if you have taken it and have an opinion.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • I think it’s great that the National Wildfire Coordinating Group “coordinates” this annual nationwide refresher by preparing a DVD, instructor materials, and a student workbook.  It’s a good way to be sure we get consistent, quality information out there.  Before they did this, some organizations, if they did any annual refresher at all, would just put on “Standards for Survival” or some other canned, repetitive program every year.
  • The DVD included a talk by Jennifer A. Ziegler, PhD., Department of Communication, Valparaiso University. She is well-known in the wildland fire community for her work on the human factors of fighting fire and has spoken at many wildfire conferences.  In fact Wildfire Today quoted her on February 26 when we introduced our series of articles about the 13 Watch Out Situations.  On the refresher DVD, Ms. Ziegler gives some excellent information about the genealogy of the 10 Fire Orders.
  • There was an entire unit devoted to “Fire Operations Doctrine”.  Doctrine was developed by the U.S. Forest Service and was unveiled at their Pulaski Conference a few years ago.  The video in the refresher training talked about it, but never did define it.  The Department of Interior firefighters I was training with were left scratching their heads trying to figure out what it was. But the student workbook did give some basic information about Doctrine.  Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know, the Department of Interior Agencies have not adopted Doctrine.  I have some calls in to try to confirm this.
  • Here is a passage from the student workbook about Doctrine:  “In order to generate effective decision making in fire operations and to cope with the unpredictable nature of fire, commanders’ intent must be lucid and unambiguous, and lines of authority must be clearly articulated and understood.  Subordinate commanders must make decisions on their own initiative based on their understanding of their commanders’ intent.”
  • The DVD had a lengthy video about the Idaho City Hot Shots.  It had some great footage of fire, tree felling, and action shots, but other than being entertaining it added little to the training.
  • A lot of time was spent on weather.  I have seen many presentations in fire classes by meteorologists who got far too technical, showing, for example, charts that were undecipherable by firefighters.  But in the DVD a TV weatherman (from I believe Channel 6 somewhere) provided great information about “sky watching” and interpreting clouds.  He showed some time lapse films that were very interesting.  This was a good example of a speaker analyzing his audience and presenting technical information in a manner that could be easily understood…..a quality of a good TV weatherman.  Fire instructors should take note.  Later in the unit other time lapse films taken in Australia were less useful.  We were asked to predict the weather based on the films, which was asking a little too much of the average firefighter.
  • A section on communicating with aircraft was succinct and very worthwhile.
  • A case study of a situation on the Indians fire on the Los Padres National Forest in California last year was very thought provoking.  On that fire, which burned for many weeks, an engine crew and some members of a hot shot crew that were conducting a burn out were in a sort of burn-over when a massive fire whirl, or fire tornado as I would call it, caused the fire to change direction. One firefighter estimated they were exposed to 80 mph winds blowing burning embers and large tree limbs around. Several firefighters received some serious burns.
  • We were told that the maximum time allowed for getting into a fire shelter has been reduced to 20 seconds.  And I have to admit I did not make it on the first try, missing it by 2 seconds.

I want to thank the fire staff at Wind Cave National Park for putting on a great class today.

So, what were your impressions of the 2009 firefighter refresher?

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