Above: WFF Executive Director Vicki Minor and NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki. Screenshot from the video referenced below.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) is announcing a new initiative directed toward wildland firefighters. Today with the support of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (WFF), they are introducing the Everyone Goes Home in the Wildland program. It is an offshoot of the Everyone Goes Home® (EGH) program established by the NFFF in 2004 featuring the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. Their goal was to “help the U.S. Fire Administration achieve its objective of reducing the number of preventable firefighter fatalities”.
In 2017 the NFFF began a series of six listening sessions around the United States asking firefighting personnel for their ideas about how to reduce line of duty deaths and injuries on wildland fires. Input was also obtained from natural resource management organizations that have not traditionally identified themselves as part of what we know collectively as “the fire service.”
Drawing from their success in reducing LODDs among structural firefighters through programs under the Everyone Goes Home® umbrella, the NFFF now proposes to leverage their strengths and resources to do the same for wildland firefighters.
Nine of them were monitored by University of Idaho researchers
This study conducted by researchers at the University of Idaho followed 9 smokejumpers over the course of a fire season. This is not a representative sample of wildland firefighters and the many different jobs they perform, but it is interesting nonetheless. This year they are monitoring 18 additional smokejumpers and hope to expand it to more firefighters in the future.
University of Idaho study looks at firefighter diet, sleep in an effort to curb impaired work
By Sara Zaske, U. of I. College of Natural Resources
Wildland firefighters are working long shifts this summer all across the West. And they are getting really tired.
Randy Brooks knows exactly how tired. The University of Idaho professor is closely tracking 18 smokejumpers with the help of advanced motion monitors that use an algorithmic fatigue model originally developed for the U.S. military.
This is not just an academic exercise — Brooks is aiming to save lives.
“Wildland firefighters need to be alert and vigilant of their surrounding situation because something could happen at any moment,” he said.
Both of Brooks’ sons fight fires. And the need for great situational awareness hit close to home in 2015 when a fire shifted directions on one of his sons.
It started with a late-night text — his son, Bo Brooks, let him know the crew was heading to work the next day on the Twisp fire in north central Washington. He was nervous because high winds were forecast.
The next day, Brooks got a phone call instead of his typical text.
“My son called me at 4 in the afternoon,” Brooks said. “I knew something was wrong because they usually just text me to let me know they were all right.”
This time everything was not all right. The winds kicked up suddenly, and the fire crew had to “bug out” – run out of an area as quickly and efficiently as possible. Not all of them made it. Three firefighters died and another was badly burned.
After the tragedy, some members of the team quit firefighting. Bo Brooks stayed on but wanted things to change: “He said ‘Dad you’re a forestry researcher — is there anything you can do to help us?’” Randy Brooks said.
So Brooks, who works in U of I’s College of Natural Resources, and Callie Collins, a doctoral student in environmental science, conducted a survey of more than 400 wildland firefighters. The majority indicated that the main contributors to accidents in fire operations were inadequate sleep and fatigue, both mental and physical.
The researchers followed the survey with a pilot study of nine firefighters to closely assess sleep, fatigue and body composition.
They outfitted the smokejumpers, firefighters who parachute from planes to battle wildland fires in remote areas, with Readibands — motion monitors made by Fatigue Science that keep detailed data on sleep and activity. The data was then analyzed using the algorithm model developed by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to obtain an “alertness score,” which quantifies the wearers’ reaction times and relative accident risk.
In the pilot study, Brooks and Collins found firefighters spent more than 42 percent of one month working in impaired conditions with reaction times slowed by as much as 34 to 100 percent – equivalent to having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05 to 0.11 or higher. That’s on the cusp of the legal limit for driving at 0.08.
Professor Randy Brooks wearing a Fatigue Fitness Readiband holds a tablet that is monitoring the alertness scores of 18 wildland firefighters currently in the field.
The researchers also had the firefighters’ body composition measured, before and after the fire season, and looked at their hydration and diet. Despite their high level of physical activity, the smokejumpers maintained their weight but gained fat over the summer — and lost muscle mass.
Brooks and Collins believe this may be because of the quality of their diet, which is high in carbohydrates and sugar and lower in protein and healthy fats like those found in eggs, nuts and fish. They hope to test that hypothesis in future studies.
Always a challenging profession, wildland firefighting has become even more difficult in recent years as the wildfire season in the West continues to grow in intensity and duration – today the fire season is about 30 days longer than it was three decades ago.
“It’s like they used to be running a 100-yard dash 30 years ago and now they’re running a marathon with the longer fire seasons,” Brooks said.
And if they are running a firefighting marathon, he argues, the crews may need to eat and drink like elite athletes do as well.
This summer, Brooks doubled the sample size of his pilot study to 18 smokejumpers. He wants to expand the project further in the future, and nearly 200 firefighters have volunteered to participate in his studies. His research was only limited by the expense of the motion trackers, which cost close to $1,000 each at the start of the study.
Still, Brooks hopes whatever data he gathers will help make this dangerous profession safer.
“I think we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about fighting wildfires at all cost and place a greater emphasis on personal safety over protecting resources,” Brooks said. “Trees grow back, homes can be rebuilt, but lives can’t be replaced.”
If left untreated, severe rhabdo may be fatal or result in permanent disability.
Too many wildland firefighters have suffered from rhabdomyolysis (often referred to as rhabdo) in recent years. In some cases they could have been treated much earlier if the victims and those around them had recognized the symptoms.
Firefighting, both structural and wildland, involves tasks in environments that place fire fighters at increased risk for this condition. Rhabdo is a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood stream and can cause heart and kidney damage. If left untreated, severe rhabdo may be fatal or result in permanent disability. Heat exposure and intense physical effort are just two of many known risk factors for rhabdo.
NIOSH has developed two sets of factsheets and wallet cards—one for structural firefighters and their healthcare providers and another for wildland firefighters and their healthcare providers—to increase awareness about the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and help fire fighters get early treatment to prevent more serious medical problems.
Factsheets for wildland firefighters and their healthcare providers:
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.
Above: Heather Heward, one of 13 people interviewed, describes a catastrophic event on a wildland fire that led to a positive change.
Chief John Hawkins (@JhawkFire) of CAL FIRE/Riverside County wrote a tweet recently that mentioned the “Law of Catastrophic Reform”, meaning a positive change following a catastrophe on a fire. He gave examples including positive pressure breathing apparatus, fire shelters, keeping personal protective equipment clean, enclosed vehicle cabs, and moving sirens farther away from occupants in a vehicle.
While attending the Fire Continuum Conference in Missoula this week, I asked some of the attendees if they would describe a catastrophic event on a wildland fire that led to a significant change. The video has short (in most cases less than two minute) interviews with 13 people from several countries:
Mike Norton, and
I really appreciate the 13 folks that contributed to this, who in some cases told a story of how they were personally affected.
Senate Bill 2209 would enhance situational awareness for firefighters
Two U.S. Senators are co-sponsoring a bill that would enhance the safety and situational awareness of wildland firefighters. Senate Bill 2290 would be an important step toward what we have called the “Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety”. This concept would provide the real time location of a wildfire and the resources working on the incident. Too often fatalities have occurred when firefighters did not know where the fire was or overhead personnel were not aware of the position of firefighters who were endangered by the quickly spreading fire. Or both at the same time.
The legislation would require the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to jointly develop and operate “a tracking system to remotely locate the positions of fire resources assigned to Federal Type 1 Wildland Fire Incident Management Teams”.
A complimentary requirement in the bill is “unmanned aircraft systems to [supply] real-time maps, detect spot fires, assess fire behavior, develop tactical and strategic firefighting plans, position fire resources, and enhance firefighter safety”.
The sponsoring Senators are a Democrat and a Republican, Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO). Since the bill was introduced January 10, 2018 no further action has taken place and no additional Senators have signed on, so it appears there is not much momentum pushing it through the process.
Washington D.C. —U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017, a bill designed to bring firefighting agencies into the 21st century.
This bill will increase firefighter safety by requiring the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to begin providing GPS locations for crews on wildfires and to begin using Unmanned Aircraft Systems to scout out and map wildfires in real-time. Wildfire Today refers to the simultaneous use of mapping aircraft and GPS locators as the ‘Holy Grail’ of firefighter safety.
It is nice to see that at least two Senators are thinking about firefighter safety.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean. Typos or errors, report them HERE.