Fighting fire in Afghanistan

ATV fire vehicleEJ Metals, a fire apparatus manufacturer in Wisconsin, has delivered 31 firefighting all-terrain vehicles to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. The company calls it the “Assault Force 70 Fire-Rescue Rough Terrain Utility Vehicle” (FRRTV), which is a name that only the military could love. The Army uses them to provide fire protection for soldiers and facilities at forward operating bases in the region.  In September, 2009 the company delivered six of these vehicles to the Army in Afghanistan. They must like them because they ordered an additional 25 which were delivered this month.

ATV fire vehicle

Interestingly, the water-foam system is powered by hydraulics. One of the optional accessories is a hydraulic chain saw. The vehicle is based on a Kubota RTV900 which has a 21.6-hp diesel engine. According to EJ Metals, the features of the firefighting system are:

  • Hydraulically driven, high-pressure firefighting system
  • 70-gallon water tank; 5-gallon foam cell, Class “A” compatible
  • 6 gpm of water/foam discharge @ 1500 psi delivers about 12 minutes of discharge time
  • High-pressure hosereel with 150’ of 3/8” high-pressure attack hose, 4000 psi rating
  • Patented triple-discharge, water-foam nozzle with straight stream, light mixture and heavy mixture settings
The photos are from EJ Metals.

Snowfall does not determine fire season severity in Alaska

When I am asked to predict the severity of the next wildland fire season, I usually say: “Ask me in August and I’ll have a better answer”. If the weather during the fire season is hot, dry, and windy, you will have a busy fire season. If it is not, you won’t.

That is basically what meteorologists in Alaska are saying when they are asked about this winter’s weather which produced one of the lowest snowfalls there in the last 100 years. Here is an excerpt from an article in the News Miner:

FAIRBANKS — The lack of snow this winter doesn’t mean more wildfires this summer.

Despite one of the lowest snowfalls on record in more than 100 years, weather experts say summer weather, not the winter’s snow accumulation, will dictate what kind of fire year Alaska has in 2010.

Studies by the Alaska Fire Service in Fairbanks and fire experts in Canada show there is no relation between winter snowfall and summer fire danger, she said.

“It has more to do with the weather during the fire season,” Sharon Alden, a meteorologist at the Alaska Fire Service, said. “We could have a really low snow year and a really dry spring and then it rains the rest of the summer.”

Meteorologist Mike Richmond, who specializes in fire weather at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, agreed.

“In the boreal forest of Alaska and Canada there is no relationship between winter snow pack and summer fire danger,” he said.

For example, during the winter preceding Alaska’s biggest fire season on record in 2004, when more than 6.7 million acres burned, Fairbanks received

62.2 inches of snow, which is only about 10 inches below normal.

“We had a near average snow pack and we had our worst fire season ever,” Richmond said.

The picture was much the same the following year, when approximately 4.7 million acres burned after an above-average winter snowfall of 77.4 inches.

Conversely, only 28 inches of snow fell at Fairbanks International Airport during the winter of 2006-07, the third lowest snowfall total on record since 1904, but only 550,000 acres burned in the summer of 2007.

Last winter, Fairbanks received 71.5 inches of snow and approximately 2.95 million acres burned last summer.

With only 24.8 inches of snow as of Friday, Fairbanks is on track for one of its lowest winter snow accumulations since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1904.

Up to this point, there have been only two winters — 1918-19 with 12.0 inches and 1952-53 with 22.9 inches — in which Fairbanks has recorded less snow than this year.

Fairbanks is experiencing one of its driest winters on record, Richmond said. Only 4.54 inches of precipitation has been measured at Fairbanks International Airport since the start of July.

“This is the fourth-driest period in Fairbanks recorded history from July until now,” Richmond said. “We are in a drought basically.”

But it’s a matter of how dry it is in May, June and July that dictates what kind of fire season Alaska will have.

“It’s all short-term weather process driven,” Richmond said. “If we have rains every two or three weeks or closer together, we don’t get a fire season.

“We have to have periods of three weeks or longer of dry weather for there to be a fire season (in Alaska),” he said. “When we get a dry season, that’s when we get the fires.”

Andrew Palmer’s brother offers suggestions aimed at reducing fireline fatalities

Andrew Palmer.
Andrew Palmer. From the NPS report.

When Andrew Palmer was killed in a tree felling accident on a fire in northern California July 25, 2008, and especially when the report on the accident was released on November 2, 2009, it shook the wildland firefighter community. Not only was one of our own lost, but after reading the report, a person has to wonder how it would have turned out if Mr. Palmer had been transported to an appropriate medical facility during the “golden hour”, as opposed to the three hours and 20 minutes it took to transport him from the accident site to the Redding, California airport where he was pronounced dead.

The coroner determined the cause of death to be “blood loss due to blunt force trauma to the left leg”. He bled to death.

We offered an opinion about it last November, but we recently discovered that in January, 2009, Andrew Palmer’s brother, Robert, wrote a very well researched and very reasoned paper about the accident and what we could do to reduce the number of  fatalities that occur on the fireline. The first two pages of the eight-page document are excerpted below with his permission; the entire document is HERE.


2009 National Wildland Fire Reform, “The Palmer Perspective”
January 29, 2009
by Robert Palmer

Short History

My world changed on July 25, 2008. I lost faith in the “fire world’s ability to help one of their own”.

I had just returned from a 14-day wildland fire assignment in Northern California, when my Fire Management Officer meet me in the parking lot to tell me about my younger brother, also a member of a wildland fire staff; “Rob, Andy was hit by a tree this afternoon and isn’t doing well. I’m going to drive you to the airport and fly you back down to California.” I made it to the airport, 15 minutes away, when I received a call informing me that Andy had died en route to the hospital.

He was 18 years old, a recent high school graduate, enrolled in college for the fall, and lived a vigorous life. After a couple of weeks of training, this was his first fire assignment and first day of real work when he died. Andy’s incident provided me with a very raw and a very distinct perspective considering my experiences. I now understand what it means to lose a loved one tragically. I know what it is like to watch a falling tree kill a fellow crewmember and the frustration of not being able to change anything. I also know how Fire Management operates after serving over 10 seasons in fire and as a crew supervisor with the National Park Service (NPS).


I have protected our national lands, I have lead some of the finest employees in this country, and I have fought for their interests. I now need your support as I fight for my brother’s; we have a National Fire Management Program that cannot provide for the safety of its most important resource, its employees. Several weakness’s and human factors contributed to Andy’s death, but Andy is not alone. One would be naïve to attempt to focus corrective actions on one factor, for we have a much larger problem. We aggressively engage too many fires. We need to ask the questions, “Why are we doing this? and Why are we here?”

Objective: Golden Hour Response

Determine response and engagement based on the capability to deliver any injured fire personnel to an appropriate medical facility in less than 60 minutes. This will:

  • Decrease engagement to SAFELY mitigate risks during response
  • Establish Emergency Medical Standards on an Incident
  • Dramatically decrease costs associated with wildland fire
  • Decrease impacts to the ecosystem

We must decrease our engagement because we do not have the capacity to evacuate injured fire staff safely.

Necessary Actions

Given a lack of rescue and prompt evacuation capacity, we must decrease our engagement until our emergency evacuation capacity complements our engagement. In the short term, we will therefore limit our exposure until we have the capacity to rescue any fire personnel to an appropriate medical facility within 60 minutes, the golden hour. The “golden hour” of trauma defines that if one suffers massive life-threatening injuries reaches an appropriate receiving hospital within 60 minutes, the individual has the greatest survival rate. “Historically, wound data and casualty rates indicate that more than 90% of all casualties die within the first hour of severe wounding without advanced trauma life support.” Instead of reacting and floundering through an emergency within an incident, we will determine future wildland fire response tactics based on the principles of the golden hour, invoking the first radical change in the history of wildland fire.

You can read the rest of the document here.

3 Japanese volunteer firefighters die in prescribed fire

Three volunteer firefighters died in Japan on Saturday when they were conducting a prescribed fire on a military base training area in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture (map). The three local residents, all in their 30s and members of the fire department, became trapped by flames driven by strong winds.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said winds in the area on Saturday morning were around 18 mph and became stronger in the afternoon. The prescribed fire started at 10 a.m.

Mega-sized wind tunnel to test homes against 140 mph winds

A huge testing facility is being built in South Carolina that will be able to test the effects of winds up to 140 mph on full-size homes. In addition to testing for category 4 hurricane conditions, the lab will simulate the spread of burning embers in a vegetation fire. Researchers will evaluate the ignition potential of embers and look at ways to make homes less likely to burn when exposed to flaming debris.

The facility will use over 100 huge fans which consume so much electricity that it will only be used at full strength during off-peak hours, because it will draw enough electricity to power 9,000 homes.

Here is a video from WISTV. (If the video is not visible below, go to WISTV and on the right side of the article, click on the little red video symbol.)