Report released on prescribed fire burn injury

Burned pants

Burned pantsA 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.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Report released on prescribed fire burn injury”

  1. It’s easy to focus on the Drip Torch as hte cause of the problem, but this event may be the “canary in the mine shaft” regarding the potential for other burn injuries. I’m specifically talking about the blackened, filthy, dirty, oil and gas-soaked yellow fire shirts that some firefighters wear. These are time bombs ready to catch fire, and are a visible symbol of managerial failures at the crew boss level, throughout the Operations Section and by Safety Officers who are all afraid or unwilling to confront the wearers. Yeah, it’s really cool to look like a seasoned veteran on the fireline, but it’s also dangerous and unnecessary. Washing a fire shirt does NOT reduced its fire resistance (unless you use bleach), and it will get dirty again soon enough that you don’t have to fear being mistaken for a “rookie”. Cops don’t continue to wear uniforms with blood from their last shootout, and most structural fire department stations have laundry facilities to wash their PPE when it gets foul: why are we in the wildland world different?

  2. More then once I have had fuel containers/torches leak and suffered from burned boots and or the cuffs of pants. Even had the caps on saws/weed-eaters come loose and put fuel on me. Check them once and once again.

    From the report they did a great job on dealing with the situation. Good planing pays off. Glad to know the firefighter foundation was there to help. Time to write that check to them.


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