Airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing recently spent five days of wildland fire training with the Oregon Department of Forestry in preparation for their role in assisting with the 2023 fire season.
Air National Guard Magazine featured a story about ODF firefighters lighting a controlled blaze during training for the 173rd Fighter Wing Airmen at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
“We are tasked with training Guardsmen on Operations Plan Smokey,” said Jake Barnett, protection supervisor for ODF. He said this initial training consists of 32 hours of in-class and hands-on instruction. Airmen are ready to assist the state of Oregon if called up during emergencies and natural disasters. Operation Plan Smokey provides extra resources to the state from the National Guard via an interagency agreement between the Oregon Military Department and the ODF. Training covered fire behavior, tool use, and communications. The last day included a burn in sagebrush and tall grass. Oregon red-carded 20 new firefighters for the state, and Col. Lee Bouma, 173rd FW commander, said they trained an extra three crews this year.
The National Firefighter Registry (NFR) officially opens its enrollment portal today after a few months in pre-launch testing and years of preparation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Wildland and structural firefighters who register and share their exposure histories at NFR.cdc.gov will help support the NFR’s goal of understanding and reducing cancer in firefighters.
The registry seeks comprehensive participation and notes four objectives that firefighters will support by enrolling:
“Help protect your brothers and sisters in the fire service from developing cancer
“Help lessen the impact of cancer on firefighters’ families and friends
“Pave the way for new health and safety measures to keep the next generation of firefighters safe
“Improve understanding of cancer risk among minority, female, and volunteer firefighters, as well as groups like wildland firefighters”
To develop comprehensive and ongoing analyses of risks and illnesses, the NFR encourages participation by all firefighters, structural and wildland, and all statuses — volunteer, on-call, seasonal, full-time, retired, disabled, with or without a cancer diagnosis.
Bill Gabbert wrote many articles in Wildfire Today covering the genesis and progress toward the National Firefighter Registry (also referred to as the “cancer registry”). One article shared Kathleen Navarro’s “A Brief Look” at cancer and health risks for wildland firefighters, which notes an estimated 8-43% increased chance of lung cancer and a 16-30% increased risk of heart disease mortality among wildland firefighters. Gabbert died of cancer in January.
For agencies and organizations seeking to support enrollment, a communications portal offers a range of print and social media messages.
One suggestion when registering: gather up your experience records first. I completed the first three registration stages (the “profile” stage) in around 10 minutes and then took a break to collect some notes on seasons of service and types and amount of exposure. A registrant can step aside from the profile stage of the portal and continue later, but once you enter details of your fire experience in the “experience” stage of registration, you aren’t able to edit it.
Recording an accurate representation of work and fire experience is a core component of the registry, which seeks to create a database of fire experience, firefighter’s risk exposure and long-term health effects. This has proven a challenge for researchers examining the higher prevalence of cancer occurrence among firefighters.
This can be particularly challenging with wildland firefighters serving on seasonal assignments (and with seasonal exposure to many varieties and quantities of smoke and other potential fireline-related carcinogens). The registry includes questions that may assist in determining wildland smoke exposure, including a firefighter’s role in fire — such as hand crew, engine crew, aviation, etc.; firefighter or fire manager; and the duration and type of fires (wildfire vs. prescribed) that a firefighter responded to on average, by the specific positions held. The experience questionnaire includes most varieties of fire experience, including wildland-urban interface as compared to wildfires. The experience and personal demographic sections may take from 20-30 minutes to complete, longer if you’d had a variety of positions and fire experience in your career.
The document below shares a step-by-step process. Note that the consent is in-depth, in part to ensure participants that their shared information will be kept confidential. Survey questions include general health and demographic questions, including a history of tobacco or alcohol use and workplace but non-fire exposure to potential carcinogens.
Once a firefighter is registered, an anonymized tracking system in state cancer registries will link a cancer diagnosis (if one occurs) to the last four digits of a social security number, which will then correlate the diagnosis with the NFR data that includes the firefighter’s experience and exposure. In some cases, NIOSH may connect with a registered firefighter to seek voluntary participation in additional research.
A West Virginia Department of Forestry employee, Cody J. Mullens, 28, was killed by a falling tree while fighting a wildfire on April 13 near Montgomery, West Virginia.
The firefighter’s death was announced by West Virginia governor Jim Justice, who said he and his wife were “heartbroken by the tragic news of losing one of our own. Our state foresters are some of the most dedicated workers in our state, putting their lives on the line to protect our communities from wildfires, and we owe them all, especially Cody, an enormous debt of gratitude.”
Mullens was from Mt. Hope, Fayette County. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported that he was part of a response unit working a brush fire along Route 61 in Armstrong Creek, around 30 miles southeast of Charleston.
West Virginia has statewide burn restrictions in effect and is midway through their typical wildfire season.
Fire shelters that are not manufactured to specs are being advertised and sold as meeting Forest Service (FS) specification 5100-606 requirements. These shelters are made from unknown materials and components that have not been tested and certified, and the materials could affect the performance and safety of the non-specification fire shelter if deployed on a fire.
These shelters are sold as the M-2002 fire shelter. The National Technology and Development Program (NTDP) was alerted on February 22, 2023 about these fire shelters by a contractor who inspected their shelters upon delivery.
Subject matter experts with NTDP evaluated the shelters and determined they did not meet FS specifications that govern the materials and components deemed safe for fire shelter use. Specification fire shelter materials have been extensively tested for toxicity; they do not release toxicants that would harm a shelter occupant. Shelters constructed with materials that don’t meet requirements have not been tested and may release hazardous toxicants to a shelter occupant. NTDP has not yet completed testing of the thermal performance of these non-specification fire shelters, but a visual inspection shows deviations that will mean the shelter does not deploy as intended. Any non-FedMall (open market) fire shelter purchases should be inspected to verify that they are built to specification 5100-606.
Any non-specification fire shelter should be removed from service and NOT CARRIED ON THE FIRELINE. IN THE EVENT OF AN ENTRAPMENT OR BURNOVER, SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH COULD OCCUR.
The noticeable differences between specification and the non-specification fire shelters can be identified by the following.
> Carry case:
• Absence of hard plastic liner
• Missing stenciling on Use Instructions pocket
• Missing sewn-in label
> Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bag:
• For the Large fire shelter, the pull strap is missing LARGE stenciling (FYI the pull strap for Regular fire shelters is yellow and not labeled)
• Missing paper insert label
> Fire shelter:
• Missing LEFT HAND and RIGHT HAND stenciling on shake handles
• Uneven and loose folding of the shelter not in a brick shape
The non-specification fire shelters are made from unknown materials and components that do NOT meet specification 5100-606. Use of the non-specification fire shelter during an entrapment or burnover may result in serious injury or death. For federal agencies, the Interagency Standards for Fire and Aviation Operations (Red Book), Chapter 7: Safety and Risk Management specifies that firefighters must carry an M-2002 fire shelter built to FS specification 5100-606 while on the fireline.
All federal firefighters should purchase shelters directly from FedMall. State and local government firefighters may be able to register for FedMall access through the State and Local Government Purchasing Program. Those purchasing outside of FedMall should ensure they purchase fire shelters from reputable suppliers.
The fire shelters identified in this Safety Warning are the only known non-specification fire shelters currently sold on the open market, but that does not mean there aren’t others.
All fire shelters, regardless of supplier, should be inspected upon receipt to ensure that all components are accounted for, the shelter meets specification requirements, and that no damage has occurred during shipping or storage. Contact NTDP if you suspect you have purchased or stored a non-specification fire shelter.
Additional information on shelters is posted on the Fire Shelter and Personal Protective Equipment Subcommittee website.