Videos for 2016 wildland firefighter refresher training

(Updated March 17, 2016)

There are 12 videos on YouTube that are described as being part of the Wildland Fire Refresher training for 2016. Most but not all have WFSTAR in the title (we left it out below), which stands for Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher.

We embedded 11 of them here. (Added another one at the top of the list below, March 17, 2016.) It’s possible that some of these will not be part of the 2016 refresher and that others will be added. We’ll modify this list as we hear about the changes.

*“Unmanned Aircraft Systems”

*”2015 Season Summary”

*“Situation Awareness”

* “Crew Boss (Historical Film re-edit)”. We can’t find a detailed description, but this 11-minute film appears to be a much-shortened version of two films made in the 1940s, “Crew Boss Part 1” and “Crew Boss Part 2” which combined were 35 minutes long. It’s fun seeing what firefighting was like 70 years ago. Check out the semi-portable radio carried on the Crew Boss’ back at 1:55. That’s also when he says, “Leave the headlights on the truck, Johnny, I don’t think we’ll need them.” It was similar thinking that resulted in the El Cariso Hot Shots not having their fire shelters with them when 12 were killed after being overrun by flames on the 1966 Loop Fire in southern California.

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New videos: Smoke, and South Canyon

The National Interagency Fire Center has released more videos to be used during this year’s annual firefighter refresher training. The title of the first one is 2014 WFSTAR: Smoke: Knowing the Risks. They don’t tell you what the acronym “WFSTAR” means, but apparently it stands for Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher.

I have always felt it was important to attempt to manage firefighters’ exposure to smoke and on some prescribed fires I issued carbon monoxide detectors.

The next two videos, 2014 WFSTAR: Parts One & Two, 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, are about the lessons learned after 14 firefighters were killed July 16, 1994 on the fire near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. In the video, 11 firefighters that survived tell their stories.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Preston and Greg.

Firefighter refresher videos from NIFC

In the last month the National Interagency Fire Center has uploaded 10 videos with “WFSTAR” in the title, which apparently stands for Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher. We have nine of them embedded here. Earlier we wrote about the Analysis of Burnovers video, and why we think firefighters should arrive at their fire assignment 30 minutes before sunrise.

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Firefighters — Don’t squander the early morning hours

night firefighting
Barry Koncinsky running a chain saw with the El Cariso Hotshots in 1971. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The folks at the National Interagency Fire Center have produced a video titled WFSTAR: An Analysis of Burnovers. They do not tell us what “WFSTAR” stands for, but our best guess is Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher.

The video presents findings from an analysis of fatalities on wildland fires. One of the more interesting pieces of information was the time of day that many of the fatalities occurred.

Time of fatal burnovers on wildland fires

Sixteen of the burnover incidents occurred during a two hour period, between 1448 and 1642. The blowups that led to the fatalities occurred an average of 24 minutes earlier.

Experienced firefighters know that large fires are typically most active in the mid-afternoon. Solar heating has reached it’s peak. The ground, vegetation, and air are as hot as they will be all day. It is not uncommon for firefighters to have to pull back and abandon what they were doing in the afternoon and retreat to a safety zone because the fire threatens to overrun their position. Firelines painstakingly constructed can be lost. It is the hottest part of the day, sapping the energy of personnel and reducing their production while putting them at risk of heat-related injuries.

All of those factors can result in firefighters being least productive in the mid-afternoon. But if they are exhausted or hunkered down in a safety zone at 1500, what was going on at 0500? On some fires most everyone would still be asleep, or maybe slowly moving around looking for a cup of coffee, or standing in a chow line. At the same time out on the fireline, typically the fire would also be moving at a very slow pace. The ground, vegetation, and air are as cool as they will be all day. The relative humidity and the fine fuel moistures are at their peaks. This is the perfect time to take advantage of decreased fire behavior. The cooler conditions are better for the personnel, who can be more productive, and they will have the advantage over the slower moving fire — the opposite of what happens in mid-afternoon.

Don’t squander the early morning hours.

Sometimes firefighters do not arrive at their work assignment on the fireline until mid to late morning. They may have squandered the time of day when the working conditions and the fire behavior were best suited for productive, safe work.

Incident Commanders and Incident Management Teams need to change their thinking on this. Firefighters should ARRIVE at their fireline assignment 30 minutes before sunrise.

For example, in July in Prescott, Arizona sunrise is at about 0530. The schedule for the day operational period could be something like this:

0230 or 0300 – Firefighters get up and eat breakfast
0330 – Briefing (lasting no more than 30 minutes)
0400 – Begin travel to fireline (assume one hour; it can be longer)
0500 – Firefighters arrive at their fireline assignment; helicopters can begin flying troops in if needed, air tankers can fly.
0530 – Sunrise
1630 to 1930 – off the clock back at fire camp

With this schedule firefighters could accomplish up to nine hours of actual fire suppression work before the least productive and most dangerous period of the day begins at 1400, compared to three to six hours with a typical schedule.

Fighting fire at night

The schedule above assumes that the fire managers, for whatever reason, have an aversion to fighting fire at night. In the last one to two decades, there have been fewer incident management teams willing to commit firefighters to the fireline after sunset. There can be good reasons for this, such as steep terrain with rolling rocks and logs that can difficult to see and avoid during darkness, or falling snags could be a serious hazard. But if these or other dangerous conditions do not exist, fire managers should consider that firefighters can frequently gain more ground when environmental conditions are better for working, and the fire is moving more slowly.

Firefighter refresher, 2009

I just finished the 2009 version of the “Fireline Safety Refresher Training”.  I thought it was pretty good, but leave a comment if you have taken it and have an opinion.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • I think it’s great that the National Wildfire Coordinating Group “coordinates” this annual nationwide refresher by preparing a DVD, instructor materials, and a student workbook.  It’s a good way to be sure we get consistent, quality information out there.  Before they did this, some organizations, if they did any annual refresher at all, would just put on “Standards for Survival” or some other canned, repetitive program every year.
  • The DVD included a talk by Jennifer A. Ziegler, PhD., Department of Communication, Valparaiso University. She is well-known in the wildland fire community for her work on the human factors of fighting fire and has spoken at many wildfire conferences.  In fact Wildfire Today quoted her on February 26 when we introduced our series of articles about the 13 Watch Out Situations.  On the refresher DVD, Ms. Ziegler gives some excellent information about the genealogy of the 10 Fire Orders.
  • There was an entire unit devoted to “Fire Operations Doctrine”.  Doctrine was developed by the U.S. Forest Service and was unveiled at their Pulaski Conference a few years ago.  The video in the refresher training talked about it, but never did define it.  The Department of Interior firefighters I was training with were left scratching their heads trying to figure out what it was. But the student workbook did give some basic information about Doctrine.  Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know, the Department of Interior Agencies have not adopted Doctrine.  I have some calls in to try to confirm this.
  • Here is a passage from the student workbook about Doctrine:  “In order to generate effective decision making in fire operations and to cope with the unpredictable nature of fire, commanders’ intent must be lucid and unambiguous, and lines of authority must be clearly articulated and understood.  Subordinate commanders must make decisions on their own initiative based on their understanding of their commanders’ intent.”
  • The DVD had a lengthy video about the Idaho City Hot Shots.  It had some great footage of fire, tree felling, and action shots, but other than being entertaining it added little to the training.
  • A lot of time was spent on weather.  I have seen many presentations in fire classes by meteorologists who got far too technical, showing, for example, charts that were undecipherable by firefighters.  But in the DVD a TV weatherman (from I believe Channel 6 somewhere) provided great information about “sky watching” and interpreting clouds.  He showed some time lapse films that were very interesting.  This was a good example of a speaker analyzing his audience and presenting technical information in a manner that could be easily understood…..a quality of a good TV weatherman.  Fire instructors should take note.  Later in the unit other time lapse films taken in Australia were less useful.  We were asked to predict the weather based on the films, which was asking a little too much of the average firefighter.
  • A section on communicating with aircraft was succinct and very worthwhile.
  • A case study of a situation on the Indians fire on the Los Padres National Forest in California last year was very thought provoking.  On that fire, which burned for many weeks, an engine crew and some members of a hot shot crew that were conducting a burn out were in a sort of burn-over when a massive fire whirl, or fire tornado as I would call it, caused the fire to change direction. One firefighter estimated they were exposed to 80 mph winds blowing burning embers and large tree limbs around. Several firefighters received some serious burns.
  • We were told that the maximum time allowed for getting into a fire shelter has been reduced to 20 seconds.  And I have to admit I did not make it on the first try, missing it by 2 seconds.

I want to thank the fire staff at Wind Cave National Park for putting on a great class today.

So, what were your impressions of the 2009 firefighter refresher?

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.
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