New way to share lessons learned

Alabaugh Fire
Alabaugh Fire, July 7, 2007. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has added a new lesson sharing tool to their bag of tricks. Using the 18-minute video about the experiences of the two firefighters that were entrapped in one fire shelter on the 2007 Alabaugh Fire south of Hot Springs, South Dakota, they created a new training experience using a system developed by TED, called TED-Ed. The way it works is that you view the video, then answer or discuss 12 questions. (Link to the final TED-Ed product.)

In case you’re not familiar with TED, it is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

(UPDATE: there is another TED-Ed that the LLC created. It’s for the Mudd Fire, where an engine crew survived an entrapment.)

The video below is not the TED-Ed product, it is the original lesson sharing video in which the two firefighters tell their story about the entrapment. This video is the foundation for the TED-Ed product which can be found HERE.

New book about Alabaugh Fire

Alabaugh fire
Alabaugh Fire, July 7, 2007, west of Hot Springs, SD. The photo was taken about 1 hour after the fire was reported. Photo: Bill Gabbert

Few people know (until now) that the photo in the masthead at the top of every page on Wildfire Today was taken by this writer at the 2007 Alabaugh Fire near Hot Springs, South Dakota. The fire burned 10,324 acres, destroyed 33 homes, killed one resident, and forced two firefighters to take refuge in one fire shelter.

Cascade of Flames Book

In one of the 33 homes lived Mary Goulet who has just released a book she wrote about the fire called Cascade of Flames. The “Cascade” part of the name comes from the nearest paved road, Cascade Road which runs south out of Hot Springs (map).

During the first couple of years after the fire, it gained some attention when it was featured in the annual wildland fire refresher before the 2008 fire season. It was also the topic of a Staff Ride.

There were several lessons to be learned from the fire and the initial attack incident Commander, Al Stover, was very willing to answer questions and to tell his story in the video produced for the refresher course. Al’s house was in the fire area and he no doubt had a lot on his mind during the first few hours as the fire raced through his neighborhood.

At the time of the fire Al worked for South Dakota’s Wildland Fire Suppression Division, but currently works for the National Park Service’s Northern Great Plains Fire Management area.

More information:

  • Cascade of Flames is available at the two book stores in Hot Springs, Black Hills Books, and The Wild Burro, as well as at Amazon. (UPDATE 12/27/2010: I talked with the book’s author, and she said she will ensure that the Borders bookstore in Rapid City has copies of the book. Luckily, a friend gave me a copy for Christmas!)
  • The Hot Springs Star has an article about a book signing, and has a photo of Al Stover and Mary Goulet.
  • Wildfire Today articles that mentioned the Alabaugh Fire.
Alabaugh Fire
Alabaugh Fire, July 7, 2007. Photo: Bill Gabbert

Alabaugh Fire Staff Ride

It was a little surreal today standing in the snow trying to picture what a very intense fire was doing in that very spot 9 months ago. The 40 of us participating in a “Staff Ride” for the July, 2007, Alabaugh fire near Hot Springs, South Dakota, were recreating in our minds what two people entrapped by the fire were going through last summer.

(As usual, click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Alabaugh Fire, July 7, 2008. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The all-day experience began with a couple of hours of classroom time, where we got some information about staff rides in general, and some basic information about the Alabaugh fire, including a portion of the video segment about the fire that is in this year’s wildland fire refresher. We wrote about this year’s refresher training HERE on March 23 where I modestly mentioned that some of my photos of the fire are being used in the training.

Then we spent most of the rest of the day in the field, walking in the very footsteps of the people who on July 7, 2007, were fighting a very complex, rapidly developing, wildland-urban interface fire. Many of those firefighters were with us out there today, telling us what they saw, what they were thinking, and giving us the opportunity to experience the fire through their perceptions–but while standing in 2″ of snow, rather than 100+ degree temperatures, 7% relative humidity, and strong shifting winds gusting out of thunderstorm cells.

Al Stover, Initial Attack Incident Commander, showing us the point of origin. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Jim Cook, Staff Ride Facilitator. Photo by Bill Gabbert
At the entrapment site. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Two firefighters had to share one fire shelter, since one of them forgot his line gear, leaving it in his vehicle while he got out to direct a structure protection operation. Then he became engaged in the some firing, got entrapped, and lived to tell about it.

This hard hat was blown off the head of one of the persons entrapped. It was left on the ground while he was sharing a fire shelter with another firefighter. Photo by Bill Gabbert

An interesting facet of the staff ride was that it served as the 8-hour annual wildland fire refresher that is now required by many agencies. And yes, we practiced getting into a fire shelter in 30 seconds….. with a twist. We all shared a shelter with one other person! WHAT? Yes, it’s true!

2008 Annual Wildland Fire Refresher Training

Wildland firefighter Refresher TrainingHaving returned from Roatan Island, today I had a chance to review this year’s Annual Wildland Refresher Training. As usual, it is well done and of high quality. The sections about the fire behavior, the Alabaugh Fire entrapment, and treatment for burn injuries are very interesting. Several interviews contributed a great deal to the DVD, including those of Dr. Bret Butler, Kelly Close, Dr. Ted Putnam, and Tom Boatner. The DVD even includes a copy of the piece that “60 Minutes” did on “Mega Fires” last summer.

Alabaugh Fire

There are quite a few issues related to the entrapment that could be opportunities for learning related to this fire which burned 10,324 acres and 27 homes. One homeowner died when he went back to try to save his belongings. The fire started from a lightning strike on July 7, 2007.

Some of the issues are mentioned only briefly in passing, perhaps to avoid criticizing the personnel who were involved. Some of the firefighters assigned to the fire were kind enough to step forward and discuss on camera their ordeal. They deserve our thanks for helping others to avoid a similar situation down the road. I hope the facilitators putting on the training this spring can allow enough time for some of these issues to be expanded upon.

Treatment for Burn Injuries

One of the units in the video describes the horrific situation that two federal employees faced after being burned on wildland fires…. and unfortunately I am not only referring to their burn injuries. The injuries are of course terrible to have to experience, but what could have made them even worse were the delays in being able to obtain adequate medical care.

Burn injuries are very complex and can’t be properly treated by a primary care physician, a trauma center, or an emergency room, even if they have access to a plastic surgeon. Burn injuries require immediate treatment by trained specialists who deal with burns every day. Every day. In many cases, burn injuries will not heal properly or the healing will take much longer if the injuries are not treated quickly by the staff at a “verified burn center”. Waiting days or weeks is not acceptable. The American Burn Association has more information about the verification process and also has a list of burn centers that qualify for this status.
Continue reading “2008 Annual Wildland Fire Refresher Training”

Alabaugh fire staff ride planned

Alabaugh fire
Alabaugh fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The Alabaugh Fire burned 10,324 acres and dozens of structures near Hot Springs, SD in July of 2007. During suppression operations, two firefighters were entrapped and they deployed inside one fire shelter.

There will be staff rides featuring this fire on April 8, 9, and 10 at Hot Springs. One interesting thing about the staff ride is that it will serve as the required 8-hour annual fire refresher.

Alabaugh Fire to be Part of 2008 Refresher Training

Every spring the national wildland fire agencies produce and distribute a standardized training package designed to meet the requirements for 8 hours of refresher training for wildland firefighters. The training usually includes a description of unique incidents or near-misses that occurred in the previous season. This year the training will feature an entrapment of two firefighters on the Alabaugh fire in July of last year. On the fire, which started 5 miles southeast of Hot Springs, South Dakota, the firefighters escaped serious injuries by sharing one fire shelter.

In addition to the photo with this post, the photo in the header at the top of this page is of the Alabaugh fire. In December the producers of the refresher training shot some video interviews at the houses that you can see in the header photo.
(Photo of Alabaugh fire by Bill Gabbert)