CHP officer arrests Battalion Chief for “blocking” highway at accident scene

This amazing story is from Firefighter Close Calls.

Last week (February, 15, 2010) on Highway 101 in Montecito, California there was a traffic crash and all the usual traffic crash attendees responded included the fire department, EMS and in this case, the California Highway Patrol. The crash occurred on the center divide, there were 2 vehicles involved, 6 patients, 1 known minor injury. The squad crew pulled past the fire engine, then it blocks the lane to provide a safe working area, (per FD SOP). Before we go further, it should be noted that the MFD normally have-and are quite proud of-the excellent relationship they enjoy daily with the CHP and area law enforcement officers. This is an isolated and rare incident.

At this point the recently assigned (very new to that area) CHP officer tells the Battalion Chief that the apparatus cannot block the lane because it will cause too much traffic backup, and to move the rig. The Battalion Chief tells him no, that he needs his crew protected until they take up from the run. About one minute from the time the BC goes on scene, the BC is now on the radio asking for a CHP supervisor to be sent to the scene. Next thing the crew saw was the CHP officer handcuffing/arresting the Battalion Chief.

Continue reading “CHP officer arrests Battalion Chief for “blocking” highway at accident scene”

Update on U.S. firefighters in Australia

The second contingent of wildland firefighters from the United States and Canada has arrived and replaced the first group, both of which are assisting our down under brothers and sisters during Australia’s 2009-2010 bushfire season. Here is a press release from Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment that was issued yesterday, February 22.

A new team of 17 forest fire experts from the United States and Canada has arrived in Victoria to replace the 15 who have spent the past month based across the state.

Two firefighters, Miriam Morrill and George Sheppard, are joining the effort in the Otways and will be based at the Colac centre.

Department of Sustainability and Environment Otways District Manager Andrew Morrow said the firefighters in the first contingent made a valuable contribution to DSE’s firefighting efforts.

“The US and Canadian fire experts shared their experience and skills with firefighters across the state,” Mr Morrow said.

“Here in the Otways, Jeff Gardetto and Mark Struble contributed their information and aviation skills in pre-formed teams at Colac and this helped build the local capacity.

“We welcome this new team as it arrives to continue that good work and give the existing crew a spell after a month of hard work.”

“Fourteen members of the new team will be posted to the same regional locations as the fire experts they are replacing – Otway Ranges, Ballarat, Orbost, Traralgon, Woori Yallock, Bendigo and Alexandra,” Mr Morrow said.

“The remaining two members of the new contingent will be based in Melbourne as part of the team in the State Control Centre (SCC) working on coordination for firefighting effort across Victoria.

The experts have skills in aviation, planned burn management and execution, field operations, wildland urban interface and information management.  It is a valuable program to enable the sharing of information and experiences.

Mr Morrow said the CFA, DSE and its partner agencies have firefighting skills which are recognised around the world and this exchange program is adding to those technical abilities as well as increasing the state’s level of preparedness.

“The knowledge, experience and technical know-how that the US and Canadian personnel bring to Victoria will also improve future fire management operations by providing excellent mentoring, development and learning opportunities for our own people during this fire season,” he said.

The program also complements existing international agreements in place for general firefighting personnel that Victorian agencies will continue to call upon if necessary.

Thanks Roberta

Martin Mars to perform at Olympics

The Martin Mars, very large air tanker, will be making a demonstration drop at the Olympics today. At 1 p.m. it will fly over the city of Vancouver and drop up to 7,200 gallons of water over Coal Harbour near the Olympic rings. That harbor and its sea plane base is what you see in the background occasionally when Brian Williams and other NBC commentators are broadcasting from the Olympics. The best viewing area will be Harbour Green Park, at the foot of Bute Street downtown.

I am not certain what an air tanker has to do with the Olympics, but it should be fun to watch regardless. It is unlikely that NBC will include the demonstration in their Olympic coverage, but I could be wrong, because Brian Williams is an aviation buff. The other day he and another talking head were commenting on a sea plane that was taking off during their broadcast, and Williams said it was a Twin Otter.

Here is some airtankerporn, a file photo of the Martin Mars taken by Steve Bosch of the Vancouver Sun. It is one of the best photos of the aircraft I have seen.


Here is a video of the Martin Mars at Vancouver on January 16 (edit: in 2009). It was doing a demonstration during a loggers convention, perhaps a dry wet run for the Olympics demonstration. Turn up the sound if you play it. There’s nothing like the sound of those 4 huge radial engines. At least I think they are radials.

UPDATE: Feb. 24, 2010

We posted a great video of the Martin Mars dodging skyscrapers and dropping a load of water in Vancouver on February 23, 2010.

Report on wildland fire fatalities, 2007-2009

Dick Mangan wrote Technical Reports in 1999 and 2007 about wildland firefighter fatalities. Now he has updated those with a report on fatalities between 2007 and 2009. We owe Dick some thanks, and maybe a beer, for putting this information together.

The entire report is 13 pages, but here are the Observations and Recommendations, reproduced here with Dick’s permission.


Some Observations and Recommendations

Although this report only looks back at a narrow window of 3 fire seasons, and has less than fifty (50) total fatalities to consider, I believe that there are some important lessons learned and observations that can be made:

First, there was only one (1) burnover fatality in a three (3) year period. The reasons could be better training and awareness, quieter than normal fire seasons (at the National level), or more safety-conscious fire management under critical fire weather/fire behavior conditions. Whatever the cause, this is a significant improvement over the sixty four (64) burnover fatalities that had occurred in the previous seventeen (17) years. Continued emphasis in Entrapment Avoidance in the Annual Fire Refresher training classes is warranted since fire shelter deployments continue to occur.

The number of aircraft accident involving all classes of aircraft (helicopters, SEATs, single engine observation planes and multi-engine air tankers) gives increased emphasis to the most basic question concerning air operations safety: Is this flight really necessary? We must minimize the risks involved in air operations on wildfires by only using those resources when there are no other feasible alternatives: is a spike camp or coyote camp better than transporting crews morning and night by helicopter; is the risk such that heli-mopping is really necessary; will a load of retardant from a SEAT or multi-engine air tanker really slow the fires spread, or is just a “media drop”; and is medical evacuation by air really necessary given the patient’s condition?

Vehicle accidents were one of the top causes of firefighter fatalities in 1990-2006, and continue to be a significant cause in this 3 year period. Heavy smoke conditions contributed to five (5) fatalities: smoke will often be a factor on wildfires, and we must insure that drivers apply the principles of “not over-driving your headlights” in smoke conditions as well. Three (3) individual fatal vehicle accidents killed fire personnel who were returning to their home stations from training or a prescribed burn: one event occurred in mid-afternoon, one occurred at 2000 hours (in darkness), and one did not indicate the time of the accident. Multiple-fatality vehicle accidents in the 1990-2006 period occurred with crews going to or returning from an incident. Continued attention to driving hour limitations, driver fatigue and defensive driving techniques can help reduce these events. The sizes of the vehicles involved in these fatal accidents were light trucks rather than heavier engines or tenders: this may reflect the fact that no special training or licensing (such as a Commercial Drivers License) was required.

Two (2) heavy equipment rollover fatalities are not included in the vehicle accident numbers, but are reminders of the risks of operating such equipment in rugged terrain and on narrow mountain roads.

Heart attacks and other medical conditions continue as a leading cause of firefighter fatalities: ten (10) fatal events occurred, five (5) of them on the fire ground. Of the 10 fatalities, six (6) were volunteer firefighters ranging in age from 45 – 63 years old. An inmate and a 46 year old prison guard also died of medical conditions. The aging workforce, coupled with the national trend towards increased weight and lower fitness levels, make it imperative that a good health screening process is used by all personnel who may be involved in wildfire suppression efforts, regardless of age or affiliation.

Unexpected falling trees and tree felling activities again took three (3) lives in 2007-2009. With the forest health conditions that exist throughout the western States, and the continued need to remove hazardous trees from the fire scene and in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fringe areas, these deaths may be on an upward trend that requires monitoring and increased emphasis. Hazard tree awareness training should be an on-going part of the Annual Refresher classes.


Dick Mangan is the owner/president of Blackbull Wildfire Services in Missoula, Montana. He retired in 2000 after 30+ years with the US Forest Service; his last assignment was Program Leader for Fire, Aviation & Residues at the Missoula Technology & Development Center.  He is a qualified Operations Section Chief 1 and Safety Officer 2. He has authored 2 previous Technical Reports on Wildland Firefighter Fatalities in the United States (1999, 2007).

Is prescribed fire science still developing?

Last week the Secretary of the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) in Victoria, Australia told the Royal Commission that is looking into last year’s Black Saturday fires that he would not support a 4 to 6 percent increase in prescribed burning, partly because the science was still developing.

But a seven-member panel made up of fire ecologists, CSIRO fire researcher Phil Cheney, and Jerry Williams, former Chief of the U. S. Forest Service, said there is plenty of science available to support burning 5 to 10 percent of Victoria’s forests each year.

Cheney said a good prescribed fire will stop a bushfire for one to two years, and after three years will have a “profound effect” in reducing the rate of spread. For as long as 20 years embers and flame height will be reduced.

Jerry Williams said prescribed fire had an effect even in extreme conditions.

A person might say the science of prescribed burning has been developing for many centuries since indigenous people began routinely setting prescribed fires to enhance the habitat for the plants and animals they needed for survival. In 1804 and 1805 Lewis and Clark documented the use of prescribed fire by native Americans (but at least one of them had an unfortunate result). At some point we have to admit that the science has reached a level of maturity.

Abraham Lincoln said:

Things may come to those who wait…but only the things left by those who hustle.

From the DSE’s Fire Ecology web page:

Fire is a natural part of the Australian environment and has been so for millions of years. Natural ignition (lightning) and indigenous burning practices have shaped our ecosystems over tens of thousands of years.

From Bill Gabbert, February 22, 2010:

Prescribed fire, when applied wisely by experienced fire management personnel, is an essential land management tool.

via @FireInfoGirl

Crews to burn piles on frozen lake

Pactola reservoir, during warmer times.
Pactola reservoir, during warmer times.

UPDATED @ 1:35 MT, Feb. 22, 2010

I talked with the dam keeper at the lake. He said he has never seen piles burned on a lake before. It was done at Pactola about 15 years ago, he said, but no one currently in the area with the Bureau of Reclamation was around then to see it. According to the dam tender, crews from the Rapid City Water Department will actually do the burning. The piles have already been constructed and are near the dam.

The burning is expected to take place on Tuesday, Feb. 23, beginning sometime between 8 and 10 a.m.

UPDATED @ 2:28 p.m. MT, Feb. 22, 2010

The Bureau of Reclamation has postponed the pile burning that was going to occur tomorrow. It turns out that they still have some details to work out, and they want to get the Rapid City Fire Department and/or the U. S. Forest Service involved in the project.

UPDATE @ 12:20 p.m. MT, Feb. 23, 2010

The latest plan is for them to begin burning the piles between 8 and 10 a.m. tomorrow, Feb. 24. There are only six piles and they will be ignited with  a propane torch or “brush burner”, rather than gas and diesel, as Ray suggested in the comments. I am thinking that they will use an attachment something like this one, which is sold by Harbor Freight for $25 and burns at 3,000° F.

Propane Torch

UPDATE Feb. 24, 2010

They burned the piles today.


The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages a lot of dams and lakes around the country, plans to burn driftwood that they will pile onto the frozen Pactola Reservoir this week. Pactola is 15 miles west of Rapid City, South Dakota.

Has anyone ever done this, or heard of burning piles on a frozen lake? My first impressions:

  • The piles would be difficult to light, unless you carefully placed a lot of small branches, twigs, or dry leaves at the bottom. Or, used a great deal of an accelerant to get it going.
  • It is typical to ignite burn piles using a drip torch, using a mix of gasoline and diesel as the fuel. Depending on the content of the pile, it can take a fair amount of the fuel to get a pile going. Some of that burning fuel from the drip torch would fall to the ice and most likely be extinguished. Then when the ice melts you introduce these petroleum products into the lake.
  • When the pile is burning, the heat from the fire will melt the ice, then it becomes a question of which will occur: the ice melts and the burning pile falls into the lake, or the ice is so thick that a significant portion of the burn pile is consumed by the fire before the ice melts completely. So how thick must the ice be to burn a significant portion of a pile?
  • Even if the ice does not completely melt all the way down to the water, the bottom of the pile will be sitting in water soon after the pile is lit, so the wood at the bottom will not completely burn. And as the pile burns and settles, the burning wood will fall into the water on top of the ice.
  • Burn piles with medium to large logs, like driftwood, need to burn for hours for the larger logs to be consumed. I can’t imagine this happening on top of ice.
  • Even if the pile completely burns, which is unlikely, you will be left with a bunch of ash on the ice. Is this what you want in a reservoir that is used as a source for drinking water? On the other hand, if a fire burns near a reservoir, ash can sometimes be washed by rainfall into the lake.