Alaska emergency firefighters to undergo medical exams starting in November

Alaska EFF firefighters
The Kobuk River #2 Type 2 EFF Crew working on a fire in the Lower 48 in 2018. AFS photo.

The Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service in partnership with the Department of Interior Medical Standards Program (DOI MSP) will soon provide medical exams to federal Emergency Firefighters (EFF). The goal of the exams is to increase safety by identifying pre-existing conditions that could be aggravated by the arduous duty of wildland firefighting.

The medical exams will be provided in approximately 28 Alaska villages through mobile medical units and by scheduled appointments at 18 facilities throughout the state.

Starting in November EFFs in Alaska who are hired on an as-needed basis will need medical exams once every three years and self-certify in between years. The medical screening established by the DOI MSP will screen EFFs for any disqualifying medical conditions prior to participating in the Work Capacity Test (WCT), otherwise known as the pack test. Only wildland firefighters performing arduous duties are required to undergo medical exams and pass the WCT.

Schedules for the exams will be posted on the BLM AFS EFF webpage .

For the past two years, Alaska EFFs were granted exemptions to these medical screening requirements. The first phase of implementation of the medical exams began in 2015 and only included regularly employed Department of the Interior wildland firefighters. Applying the requirements to Alaska EFFs was originally planned to begin in 2017, but implementation was delayed until measures were in place to provide mobile units in rural Alaska to conduct the medical examinations. The exams do not include drug testing or affect State of Alaska EFFs.

There is no cost to the EFF for the examination, however, if the individual chooses a location other than their local village BLM AFS will not cover the associated travel costs. After the exam is completed, a determination will be made regarding the candidate’s eligibility to participate in the pack test and the arduous duty of wildland firefighting.

The BLM AFS provides wildland fire management for the Department of the Interior and Native Corporation lands in Alaska and provides oversight of the BLM Alaska aviation program. Firefighter safety and the safety of the public are core values and are fundamental in all areas of wildland fire management.

For more information, EFF candidates can email AFS_EFF@blm.gov or call EFF Program at 1-833-532-8810 or (907)356-5897.

 

British Columbia firefighters beginning their wildfire season with the fitness test

British Columbia wildland fire personnel are coming back to work for the season and one of the first things Type 1 firefighters do is take the Canadian fitness test. The WFX-FIT, which first saw widespread use in 2012, is described as “a valid job-related physical performance standard used to determine whether an individual possesses the physical capabilities necessary to meet the rigorous demands encountered while fighting wildland fires.”

Canada firefigher fitness test

The components of the  WFX-FIT, after pre-participation screening are:

WFX-FIT circuits

Firefighters must complete all of the tasks within 14:20 or 17:15 minutes, depending on the province and the location (in or out of the province) of the assignment.

We wrote more about the Canadian fitness test last year.

Canada firefigher fitness test Canada firefigher fitness test

The photos were provided by the British Columbia Wildfire Service.

Good weather for the Pack Test in Arizona

While a blizzard was hitting the eastern U.S. on Friday, firefighters in Arizona were taking the Pack Test.

Pack Test Arizona
Members of the Tribal Nations Response Team take the pack test in Sacaton, AZ January 22, 2016. Photo by Tom Story.

There was no snow slowing down the members of the Tribal Nations Response Team who took the pack test in Sacaton, Arizona on Friday. The team, which supplies personnel for Type 2 IA, Type 2, and camp crews, draws many of its members from the Gila River, Fort McDowell and Salt River-Pima-Maricopa Indian Communities in the Phoenix area, as well as the Pascua Yaqui Tribe south of Tucson.

All the participants easily completed the test and after their safety refresher or S-130/S-190 class will be ready to go.

pack test Arizona
Members of the Tribal Nations Response Team take the pack test in Sacaton, AZ January 22, 2016. Photo by Tom Story.

 

Entrapments is the fourth leading cause of wildland firefighter fatalities

For the last several days we have been writing about fatalities on wildland fires —  the annual numbers and trends going back to 1910 and some thoughts about how to reduce the number of entrapments (also known as burnovers). Often when we think about these accidents, what automatically comes to mind are the entrapments. When multiple firefighters are killed at the same time it can be etched into our memory banks to a greater extent than when one person is killed in a vehicle rollover or is hit by a falling tree. Much of the nation mourned when 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun and killed by the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013. A fatal heart attack on a fire does not receive nearly as much attention.

When we discuss ways to decrease deaths on fires, for some of us our first thoughts are how to prevent entrapments, myself included. One reason is that it can seem they are preventable. Someone made a decision to be in a certain location at a specific time, and it’s easy to think that if only a different decision had been made those people would still be alive. Of course it is not that simple. Perfect 20/20 hindsight is tempting for the Monday Morning Incident Commander. Who knows — if they had been there with access to the same information they may have made the same series of decisions.

An analysis of the data provided by NIFC for the 440 fatalities from 1990 through 2014 shows that entrapments are the fourth leading cause of fatalities. The top four categories which account for 88 percent are, in decreasing order, medical issues, aircraft accidents, vehicle accidents, and entrapments. The numbers for those four are remarkably similar, ranging from 23 to 21 percent of the total. Number five is hazardous trees at 4 percent followed by the Work Capacity Test, heat illness, and electrocution, all at around 1 percent. A bunch of miscellaneous causes adds up to 4 percent.

NIFC’s data used to separate air tanker crashes from accidents involving other types of aircraft such as lead planes and helicopters. But in recent years they began lumping them all into an “aircraft accident” category, so it is no longer possible to study them separately. This is unfortunate, since the missions are completely different and involve very dissimilar personnel, conflating firefighters who are passengers in the same category as air tankers having one- to seven-person crews — from Single Engine Air Tankers to military MAFFS air tankers.

The bottom line, at least for this quick look at the numbers, is that in addition to trying to mitigate the number of entrapments, we should be spending at least as much time and effort to reduce the numbers of wildland firefighters who die from medical issues and accidents in vehicles and aircraft.

Name released of Pack Test victim

The Student Conservation Association has released the name of the person who became ill while taking a firefighter fitness test, the Pack Test, and passed away shortly thereafter. Below is the text of the SCS news release:

SCA mourns the loss of member Ian Haxton

With great sadness, SCA reports that Ian Haxton of Winchester, VA and a member of our Veterans Fire Corps, has passed away unexpectedly while serving at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Sasabe, AZ.

The Veterans Fire Corps trains recent-era military veterans for careers in wildfire mitigation. Ian, a veteran of the US Army, was participating in a federal fire fighter pack test on Saturday, June 6, when he collapsed near the end of the course. Emergency medical teams on site for the exercise responded immediately. Regrettably, despite their best efforts, Ian died en route to a nearby hospital. Results of an autopsy are pending. Ian was 31.

Under the fire fighter pack test, individuals are required to complete a three mile course while wearing a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes. Ian entered into the Fire Corps program on May 17th, 2015.

SCA is providing all available support to his family, his corps mates, and our Fish and Wildlife partners. We are also cooperating with local authorities, and ask that you join us in keeping Ian and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

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The U.S. Fire Administration issued this information about the fatality:

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has received notice of the following firefighter fatality:

Name: Ian Haxton
Rank: Veteran Fire Corps Crewmember
Age: 31
Gender: Male
Status: Wildland Part-Time
Years of Service:  Pending
Date of Incident: 06/06/2015
Time of Incident: 0800hrs
Date of Death: 06/06/2015
Fire Department: Student Conservation Association – Veteran Fire Corps

Incident Description: Veteran Fire Corps Crewmember Haxton suffered a medical emergency and collapsed 200 yards from the finish line while participating in the Wildland Firefighter Work Capacity Test. Medical care was immediately rendered by local emergency medical responders who had been staged on-site for the test. Crewmember Haxton was transported to an Advanced Care Facility where he passed away from a nature and cause of injury still to be determined. At the time of the fatal incident, Haxton was serving at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Sasabe, AZ, preparing for a series of prescribed burns scheduled to take place at the Refuge.

Incident Location: Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Sasabe, AZ

Tribute is being paid to Veteran Fire Corps Crewmember Ian Haxton at http://apps.usfa.fema.gov/ firefighter-fatalities/

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We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of Mr. Haxton.

The Veterans Fire Corps is hosted by the Student Conservation Association. More information about the program.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Veterans Fire Corps”.

The fitness test for Canadian firefighters

WFX-FIT test ramp
The ramp used in the WFX-FIT test

The two articles about the fitness test for wildland firefighters in the United States published yesterday on Wildfire Today have generated significant interest so far, judging from the number of comments left by our readers in the last 24 hours. The fitness test we are referring to is the Pack Test version of the Work Capacity Test which requires carrying 45 pounds (20.4 kg) for three miles on flat ground (4.83 km) in less than 45 minutes. Federal land management agencies in the U.S. and some fire departments require that firefighters pass the test each year in order to work on the fireline.

It was a coincidence that the two articles appeared on the same day. Rae Brook’s piece about a possible new and tougher version of a fitness test for hotshot crews had been in the pipeline for weeks and was just completed yesterday, about the same time that we received word of the unfortunate fatality of someone who was attempting to take the test two days earlier.

We learn a lot from comments left by our readers. “BC Initial Attack” informed us about the fitness test required of Type 1 Firefighters in Canada. The WFX-FIT, which first saw widespread use in 2012, is described as “a valid job-related physical performance standard used to determine whether an individual possesses the physical capabilities necessary to meet the rigorous demands encountered while fighting wildland fires.”

The components of the  WFX-FIT, after pre-participation screening are:

WFX-FIT circuits

The pump, or simulated pump, weighs 62.7 pounds (28.5 kg). The simulated hose that is dragged is represented by a 40.7 pound (18.5 kg) weighted sled. The hose pack weighs 55 pounds (25 kg).

WFX-FIT hose drag

Firefighters must be able to complete the test within 14 minutes and 30 seconds to be eligible for the National Exchange. The  Ontario Provincial Standard is 17 minutes and 15 seconds, the Alberta Provincial Standard is 14 minutes and 20 seconds, and the British Columbia standard is 14 minutes and 30 seconds. A score between 14 minutes and 31 seconds and 17 minutes and 15 seconds will meet the Ontario Provincial Standard but will not permit deployment outside of Ontario.

The photos are from the WFX-FIT website and the above video.