A new slide for your file

When firefighters use their past experiences to affect how they make present day decisions at a fire, sometimes the process is compared to having photos, or slides, in a file or slide tray (for those of us who remember when a photograph could be developed on transparent film, to produce a slide which could be shown on a large screen using an analog projector). Having years of experience with each emergency incident represented by an image or slide in your memory, guides a person on what to expect when a similar scenario is presented. “I have seen this situation before, so I have a good sense of how to deal with it, safely and efficiently”.

Big Sur Kate’s photo above is a situation that not every firefighter has encountered. You’re on a bridge 50 to 75 feet above a fire. The fire can burn under you. What do you consider about how to be in that situation safely? What are your trigger points when your safety begins to be compromised and you move to a different location? I’m not criticizing the tactics of the firefighters in the photo. It just makes me think, since I’ve never been in a similar situation. I have no similar slide.

Kate’s photo is of the Front Fire that was reported around 1:30 p.m. PDT Sunday. As of mid-morning on Monday it has burned approximately 1,000 acres and is being fought by 700 personnel. It is 20 air miles northeast of Santa Maria, California on Highway 166.

Not every part of the country, like Southern California, has the luxury of having 700 firefighters on a fire 18 hours after it starts. The 7,835-acre Howe Ridge Fire north of West Glacier, Montana that has been burning for 10 days has destroyed 27 structures and is causing evacuations. The Incident Management Team can only muster 191 personnel. Part of that fire is in “less than full suppression” mode, with the probable exception of the areas that are being evacuated and where structures burned.