Changes in helicopter contracting and management

Tom Harbour, the Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service, sent a memo dated yesterday to the Regional Foresters. It covers some changes that will be made in the contracting and management of helicopters used on fires.

Usually initiatives like this are the result of a specific incident or accident. The federal fire agencies are more likely to enhance safety after fatalities occur rather than being proactive to prevent them. Of course the memo does not identify what precipitated these changes, but one has to wonder if the accident on August 8 last year that involved the Type 1 helicopter and the deaths of 9 firefighters on a fire in northern California had anything to do with it. As far as we know those accident reports, USFS and NTSB, have not been made public.

Date: July 7, 2009

To: Regional Foresters

This memo is to inform you of the operational safety enhancements in the Aviation program for 2009. The key actions are in progress and listed below:

  • Multiple contract changes are being made to the national helicopter contracts.
    • Aircraft will be weighed with FS maintenance inspectors present to verify weight submitted with contract bid.
    • More stringent standards for seating and restraint systems.
    • Contract scope now contains active safety management requirements.
    • A copy of the performance charts submitted for bid will be onboard each helicopter to allow the helicopter manager to verify the correct performance charts are being used.
    • Increased number of vendor training pilots will be allowed to accompany less experienced pilots during incident operations to provide tactical training and increased oversight.
  • Contract compliance inspection teams will be dispatched during field operations.The Department of the Interior Aviation Management Directorate is a partner in this initiative and will enhance capability and the number of teams that can be deployed.
  • As helicopters are activated for early use, compliance teams will be dispatched to conduct spot inspections and weight verification.
  • Performance planning charts for all contract helicopters will be available via the web to allow helicopter managers to ensure the accuracy of load calculation allowable payloads.
  • Continue to utilize more Exclusive Use (EU) helicopters and minimize use of Call-When-Needed aircraft.EU helicopter managers are generally better trained and more experienced and provide safer and more efficient operations.
  • Independent contractors will be hired to develop an Operational Risk Management (ORM) risk/benefit analysis process.
  • A formal risk assessment of Type I helicopter passenger transport has been completed by a professional aviation safety consultant. Assessments of Type 2 and 3 operations are planned.
  • Formal program reviews for the seven national Type 2 helicopters will be completed this season.

Regional Foresters

These items are critical for the continued safety and success of our aviation program and are underway. If you have any questions please contact Karyn Wood, Assistant Director for Operations.

(signed by Tom Harbour)

“13 Situations That Shout Watch Out”

The evolution of the “13 Situations that Shout Watch Out” and the “18 Watch Out Situations”.

From a paper by Jennifer A. Ziegler, PhD., Department of Communication, Valparaiso University:

Although it is still a mystery about precisely when, where, or how the original 13 Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’ were developed, there is good reason to believe that they originated in the late 1960s, and most likely after 1967. Officially, there were 13 “Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’” in effect through the summer of 1987.

Then, five items were added to the list when NWCG developed the “Standards for Survival” course later that year (1987). At that time, the name was also changed to 18 “Watch Out Situations,” and the sentence structure of each item was altered from the subjective “You are…” to a more objective description of each situation.

1987 was also the year the Fire Orders were reordered, and the Standards for Survival course and subsequent trend analyses of the Watch Out Situations emphasized how the two lists were supposed to work together. Although the Fire Orders were reordered (again) in 2003, the list of Watch Out Situations has remained unchanged since 1987.

“Basic 32” wildland fire training

In 1972, when I was on the El Cariso Hot Shots near Elsinore, California, the crew, led by Superintendent Ron Campbell, saw the need for standardized basic training for wildland firefighters. At the time, there was nothing, just collections of papers, research, and some books. Some people had written some lesson plans, but there was no widely available, organized training curriculum that could be used to take someone off the street and put them through a structured multi-day course in wildland fire suppression.

In what is now seen as a remarkable accomplishment, the crew created a 32-hour course, complete with lesson plans, a slide-tape program, tests, and a student workbook, to fill this need. Over the next several years, dozens of copies of the program were made and distributed, mostly around the Cleveland National Forest and other areas in southern California. Later it was converted to video tape which made it a lot easier to put on the training, and the popularity spread even further.

Tom Sadowski and I took most of the photos, the slides, that were used in the program. Recently I converted over 800 of my slides, prints, and negatives to digital form, including some copies I had of some of the original slides that I took that were in what became known as the “Basic 32” training.

13 Watch Out Situations from the 1970s

The photo at the top of this post is from that “Basic 32” program, and was one of the 13 images of what was then the “13 Situations That Shout Watch Out”.

I will post the other 12

From March 19 through 30 I will post the other 12 of the color images from the “13 Situations”, one each day.

Here are the 18 Watch Out Situations as they are today.

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.
3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.
6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
7. No communication link with crewmembers/supervisors.
8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.
13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
14. Weather is getting hotter and drier.
15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
18. Taking a nap near the fire line.

Jennifer Ziegler
Jennifer A. Ziegler, Ph.D., at the 9th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Pasadena, Calif., 2006; Photo: Bill Gabbert
Dr. Ziegler will be presenting a follow up poster at the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Phoenix, April 27-30, regarding the origin of the original 13 Situations, called “Help Uncover the Mystery of the Original 13 Situations That Shout Watch Out”. One aspect of the Situations that has captured her interest is that they were originally intended to be operational tactics and not safety guidelines.
A question she will be asking at the Safety Summit will be “What is the 19th Watch Out Situation?”