NIMO teams to accept temporary trainees

NIMO teamThe Washington office of the US Forest Service sent a memo to the field announcing a pilot program in which the National Incident Management Organization teams will accept up to four trainee or “journeymen” individuals in order to “streamline and build capacity”. Here is an excerpt from the memo, which was signed by James Hubbard, Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry, and dated March 4, 2010.

As cited in the Fire and Aviation Management (FAM) 5-Year Strategy for Large Fire Management (Jacobs Report), there is a need to streamline training and build capacity.  As a result, FAM is initiating an accelerated incident management training and qualification pilot program.  This pilot program will assign and cover the expense for up to four trainees/journeymen to each National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team for up to 120 days.  The trainees/journeymen will be given a development plan that focuses on accelerated training and experience necessary to enhance incident qualifications.

Each trainee/journeyman must be available for up to 120 days to complete the training and experience requirements.  There are no prerequisite expectations in terms of current qualifications.  This opportunity will require a commitment over team assignments/single resource assignments to ensure a focused experience.

This may be related to the January announcement that the National Wildfire Coordinating Group was going to re-think the “number, type, and configuration of the national Incident Management Teams (Type 1, Type 2, and Area Command).” And both announcements may be a result of difficulties in filling positions on IMTeams and consistently having team members available for multiple two to three week assignments throughout a fire season.

A couple of the terms and statements in the memo are interesting. The term “journeyman” is not commonly used in incident management organizations. Usually it means someone has served as an apprentice and is qualified for the position, such as a plumber’s apprentice advancing to become a fully qualified, but minimally experienced, plumber. Maybe in this case they mean an applicant for one of these positions could be fully qualified for the position for which they are applying. But why do this? To obtain more experience? A little more clarity would have been helpful.

The other surprise is this:

There are no prerequisite expectations in terms of current qualifications.

Does this mean that a trainee Resource Unit Leader would be considered for a temporary position on a NIMO team that is comprised only of Command and General Staff positions two levels higher than a Resources Unit Leader?

As we said on January 22, we support substantially increasing the size of NIMO teams, but adding four trainees will not accomplish that goal. But it may help a few people to gain some experience and perhaps get some task books signed off.

CalFire air tankers get new paint job

CalFire air tanker new paint job
CalFire photo

According to @CalFireSanDiego the photo above shows a new paint job for CalFire’s air tankers.

Here is a link to a YouTube video from a year ago that describes the winter maintenance of their air tankers. The screen grab below is from that video, showing the older paint job. The differences appear to be very subtle. Maybe they are referring to just a single aircraft being painted, rather than a new design… other than the “CAL FIRE” below the side window.

CalFire air tanker old paint job

And speaking of paint jobs, remember to vote every day for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation NASCAR race car paint job. There are six days left to vote. More information.

Mark Twain NF igniting 7,000-acre prescribed fire today

The Mark Twain National Forest is igniting the 6,971-acre Brush Creek and Clayton Ridge prescribed fire today. The project is in southwest Missouri, about 15 miles southwest of Ava. Much of it will be lit with Redding Air Service‘s helicopter 57Z, a Bell 206 L4.

Brush Creek and Clayton Ridge project map
The Brush Creek and Clayton Ridge project is shown in red. USFS map.

Here is a link to a more detailed map.

The objectives of the project are to maintain and improve glade and savanna ecosystems by prescribed burning every three to five years. Encroaching eastern red cedars are removed mechanically by USFS personnel.

This is a huge prescribed fire. Does anyone know of any other large prescribed fires recently completed or planned in the near future, say, larger than 3,000 acres?

Reminder: 10 days left to vote for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation

We first posted this on February 28, but remember, you need to vote every day until March 14. If it wins, in addition to garnering a great deal of priceless publicity for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, the designer is going to donate the cash value of the prizes to the WFF.

We have some serious competition… as of today another design has over 37,000 votes, compared to the 6,743 for the WFF design. (UPDATE March 6: As Ken explained in a comment below, if the car makes it into the top 10 in the first round we still have a great chance of winning.)

Wildland Firefighter Foundation
NASCAR is sponsoring a contest in which you can design a paint scheme on one of their drivers’ cars, then anyone can vote once a day on their favorite design. The winning paint scheme will actually get painted onto a car and will help pace the field at the 2010 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 22.

Tom Stein and his wife, of Boise, Idaho, designed this car to benefit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation which assists the families of fallen and injured wildland firefighters. Tom’s father was an air tanker pilot at Hemet-Ryan air tanker base in southern California and Tom has been a big supporter of the WFF.

If this car wins it will result in a lot of recognition for the WFF and could help support the families of our fallen and injured firefighters.

VOTE once a day for the car.

Report released on USFS rappelling fatality

Thomas Marovich died on July 21, 2009 when he fell while performing routine helicopter rappelling proficiency training while assigned to the Backbone fire near Willow Creek, California. On October 2, 2009 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued “serious” and “willful” violation notices to the U. S. Forest Service for the incident.

The USFS has just released their Preliminary Aircraft Accident Investigation Report which was completed on October 19, 2009, and a Safety Action Plan dated February 1, 2010. The report is 63 pages long, but I will mention a few of the key points. [UPDATE 9-13-2011; the Lessons Learned Center removed the two reports from their site at the direction of the U. S. Forest Service, who said they were not intended to be released to the public. They replaced the two reports with the National Transportation Safety Board narrative.]

A proficiency rappel is required every 14 days to maintain technical competency. Marovich was in his first season rappelling and was about to make his 11th rappel.

Before the rappelling training, Marovich noticed that the Kong clip on his Tri-link was broken. The Kong Clip is used to center the “J” hook at the forward corner of the Tri-link. It is a nice piece of equipment to have, but is not essential. Kong clips are prone to breaking and are not popular. He sought assistance from a spotter trainee who replaced the Kong clip with an “O” ring, which was an authorized substitution. If I interpreted the report correctly, the “O” ring was installed incorrectly.

Here are some photos from the report showing for illustration purposes examples of a correct and then an incorrect installation of an “O” ring on a Tri-link.

O Ring, correctly installed
“J” hook, Tri-link, and an “O” Ring, correctly installed. USFS photo.
O ring, incorrect
“J” hook, Tri-link, and an “O” Ring, incorrectly installed. USFS photo.
Rappelling rigs
Three different equipment rigging set ups. The top set up is rigged correctly using a Kong clip. The middle set up is rigged correctly using an O-ring. The bottom set up is rigged improperly using an O-ring. USFS photo.

Before the rappelling attempt, four people looked at or inspected Marovich’s rappelling gear: the spotter trainee who installed the “O” ring, Marovich, and in the helicopter a spotter, and another helitack crewperson who did a “buddy check”.

Rappellers just before accident
This photo was taken seconds before Marovich fell, unarrested. He is on the left side.

Marovich fell, unarrested, shortly after stepping out onto the helicopter skid. He was pronounced deceased about 30 minutes later.

The Human Factors section of the report, beginning on page 33, is particularly interesting. Written by Jim Saveland and Ivan Pupulidy, it discusses, along with other issues, the concept of not seeing elements in our visual field, or “blindness”.

Below are some quotes from that section:

Continue reading “Report released on USFS rappelling fatality”

Launching systems for ignition spheres

Green Dragon
Burning with the Green Dragon at Merritt Island NWR in Florida. Photo: SEI

At least three different devices have recently become available that launch or shoot ignition spheres from the ground, making it possible to remotely ignite prescribed fires or burn outs. For several decades ignition spheres (aka “ping pong balls”) have been dropped from helicopters, but these new launchers, co-developed by SEI Industries and Field Support Services, are designed to be either hand-held or mounted on ATVs or trucks.

They all use a new generation of ignition spheres sold by SEI Industries called Dragon Eggs, which are smaller than earlier versions and fall 20% faster when dropped from a helicopter. They cost about 25-cents each when bought in bulk. All of the launchers inject a liquid chemical into the spheres, which are manufactured with a dry chemical inside. When the two chemicals mix, ignition occurs and they burn for about 60 seconds, setting fire to the surrounding vegetation.

None of these launchers are designed to totally replace hand-held firing devices like a drip torch or fusee, but would supplement them, making it possible to remotely ignite vegetation in places that would be difficult or unsafe to light with a hand-held device.

Green Dragon

The Green Dragon is shown in the above photo. It is an automated ground launcher which uses compressed gas to propel the spheres up to about 210 feet at a rate of up to 32 spheres per minute. Both the rate of fire and the range are adjustable. It must be mounted on an ATV or truck.

Pyroshot FBS-1

Pyroshot FBS-1. Photo:

The Pyroshot FBS-1 is a hand-held launcher that is spring-powered and will shoot a sphere about 75 feet. The magazine will hold 10 spheres and the unit sells for about $1,900.

Pyroshot FBS-HS

Pyroshot FBS-HS prototypes, with 15" and 30" barrels. Photo:

The photo above is the best one I can find of the Pyroshot FBH-HS which is still in beta development and should be released in its final version in September. It is designed to be hand carried and is gas powered, with a range of 300 feet. Some firefighters have experimented by adding BB’s to the spheres to add weight, making it possible to launch the spheres up to 900 feet, depending on the number of BB’s added and the amount of gas pressure used. The selling price will be $2,175.

These devices should be fun to play with good tools to add to the firefighter’s toolbox.