Share a few hours for cancer awareness (and help fund our profession’s response)

NFPA1851 training, Vector video. Areas of operation include wildland firefighting.
Screenshot of NFPA 1851 training video by Vector Solutions, focused on areas of operation where carcinogens can impact PPE and increase firefighter exposure.

For the past day or so I’ve been dropping into a cancer awareness training video hosted by Vector Solutions. I was recruited in part by Vector’s pledge to donate to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network for every completed course. About halfway through the two-hour course, guided by NFPA 1851’s “Cancer-Related Risks of Firefighting,” I paused the screen, as I have many times, this time at the list of cancers linked to firefighting … and typed out the systemic locations and types of cancers … genitourinary, kidney, testicular, brain, head and neck, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, thyroid, and — as the narrator notes — “skin cancer, especially in wildland firefighters.”

After that I stopped taking breaks, following the chapters that explored the risks and protective actions we can take against them — all the time noting that while fire is fire, NFPA 1851 is by definition a standard focused on “Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.” While many in the field are cross-qualified in structure and wildland firefighting, of equal concern — whether we’re responding in turnouts or wildland PPE — is that many key cancer risks are shared across the structural and wildland communities.

For instance, there is the caution in this training against skin exposure. While those in wildland fire are so often cautioned to protect our airways, the skin exposure to airborne carcinogens and char can be significant in wildland firefighting. The training notes the formidable cocktail of chemicals released in structural fire suppression — and though the vectors and hazards are different, take a moment to compare the protective components of turnouts and SCBAs to wildland Nomex and bandanas. And as the training notes, “For every 5 degrees F increase in skin temperature, there is a 400% increase in the absorption capability of our skin.” And exposed skin is a conduit for carcinogens to bioaccumulate in fat cells and lipids.

Skin exposed to carcinogens can lead to bioaccumulation in fat cells. Screenshot: NFPA 1851 Section training.
Skin exposed to carcinogens can lead to bioaccumulation in fat cells. Screenshot: NFPA 1851 Section training.

To explore the connections between cancer and firefighting, Vector Solutions connected us with Chief Todd LeDuc (@ToddJLeDuc), retired from Broward County Fire Rescue, board member for the International Association of Fire Chief’s (IAFC) Safety Health & Survival Section, and editor of “Surviving the Fire Service.” We’ll have more from our conversation with Chief LeDuc in upcoming posts, but what’s key for now is the importance of awareness noted by LeDuc. Firefighters — structural and wildland — face increased cancer risk, and we should prioritize early detection and treatment while integrating immediate risk reduction. Leduc’s core advice for structural and wildland firefighters?”Get the carcinogen off the body as soon as we can.” He shared the concept to “Shower within an hour” after exposure to clean carcinogens from skin exposed to smoke — or more immediately (and more timely and feasible in wildfire work) is to use wet wipes to clean off during a break.

Another shared yet often hidden fire-service carcinogen is diesel exhaust, a Group 1 carcinogen (as is benzene). As the training notes, the state of California states that “diesel exhaust provides the highest cancer risk of any contaminate.” And as the narrator notes, diesel exhaust is “A real threat that is by and largely preventable, but for the cost” — the cost being that of pollution-trapping entrainment systems or finding alternative fuels and procedures for heavy-engines and generators.

And don’t forget to think of the impacts of 24-hour shift work has on our overall health, including an increased risk of cancer.

We will share additional posts during Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, but in the meantime you might put aside two hours for the training. Complete the test (I passed at 80%) and “$1 will be donated [by Vector Solutions] to the American Cancer Society and Firefighter Cancer Support Network for each completed course.” Complete the PTSD course for another donation — and consider a matching donation to support firefighter safety in 2023.


Legislation allows wildfire training and employment of Alaskans in rural areas

Can include fuel reduction projects

Native Alaska Firefighters – On The Fireline – Cooling Off – In Training in McGrath Photos by Mike McMillan/AK Division of Forestry

By Alaska Fire Public Information Officers

Alaska’s “emergency firefighter act” – House Bill 209 – signed into law June 20, 2022, by Governor Mike Dunleavy enables the Division of Forestry and Fire Protection to train and employ wildland firefighters and project crews in rural areas.

Native Alaskan wildfire crews have historically been a vital part of village life and culture in Alaska, offering temporary employment to several hundred emergency firefighters (EFFs) throughout the summer months. But in recent years, limited opportunities for village fire crews and rural firefighters has been discouraging.

Alaska EFF wildland firefighters
Emergency Firefighter (EFF) Candidates Celebrate the End of their first Training Week at McGrath DOF in 2022. Photo: Gene Boyd/Alaska Division of Forestry

The purpose of the recent legislation is to alleviate many of the economic and logistical barriers to retaining rural firefighting crews throughout wildfire season – running from April to August. House Bill 209 empowers the Division of Forestry to utilize firefighters in non-emergency capacities – namely fuel reduction projects. Tree cutting, brush clearing, debris removal and pile burning helps crews learn valuable firefighting skills, building cohesion while earning a steady income.

“We want to keep people working in their communities,” said Andres Orozco, Helitak Operations Foreman at McGrath Forestry. “Our goal is to create reliable employment by investing in and building our workforce with well-trained, hard-working firefighters.” Andres predicts McGrath Forestry will train 20-30 new firefighters by year’s end – a number he hopes will double in 2023.

Angeles National Forest conducts four-week Firefighter Academy

For 100 people hired as GS-5 permanent seasonals

Angeles National Forest Firefighter Academy
Angeles National Forest Firefighter Academy. USFS photo.

The Angeles National Forest in Southern California recently conducted a four-week Firefighter Academy. The 100 trainees were hired under a fairly recently granted authority of direct hiring for GS-5 Senior Firefighters. This hiring process was approved in order to help mitigate recent challenges in recruiting firefighters. Most of the Academy participants previously had multiple years of experience in wildland fire working for the US Forest Service or other agencies in California or across the country.

Another method for placing personnel into Senior Firefighter positions that has been used for years is the Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program, a 3,000 hour on-the-job learning program, which includes a two month-long residential firefighting academy at the Wildland Fire Training Center in McClellan, California.

The direct hire process and the Academy help make it more feasible to achieve the agency’s goal of increasing the number of firefighters in permanent positions to 80 percent, with only 20 percent in seasonal positions. Many of the seasonals who were limited to working only 1,039 hours a year, not counting overtime, will now be in “permanent seasonal” 18 and 8 jobs, with guaranteed employment and full benefits for 18 of the 24 pay periods each year.

A person with knowledge of the program who was not authorized to speak on behalf of the Forest Service told Wildfire Today that the goals of the Academy were to level the playing field, to cover the curriculum the trainees would have had if they had gone through the Apprenticeship program, and to ensure that they all had at least an intermediate level of training along with exposure to multiple aspects of the fire management program.

There were many logistical issues that had to be accomplished before the four-weeks of training began. Those were handled by a Battalion Chief with Engine Captains and Hotshot Captains from throughout the Angeles National Forest. One of the most time-consuming projects was to provide uniforms for each of the 100 trainees upon their arrival. That required collecting clothing size data from everyone, then ordering, receiving, and finally sorting and issuing the garments at the beginning of the training.

The courses completed in the Academy included:

  • L280 – Followership to Leadership 
  • S131 – Firefighter Type 1 
  • S219 – Firing Operations 
  • S260 – Interagency Incident Business Management 
  • S270 – Basic Air Operations 
  • S290 – Intermediate Wildland Fire Behavior 
  • Applied Skills Wildland Firemanship
        • Incident Size-ups 
        • Sand Table and Simtable Fire simulations
        • Helicopter Target Descriptions 
        • Avenza Setup and Use 
        • A219 Prerequisites
            • A100 – Basic Aviation 
            • A110 – Aviation Transportation of Hazardous Materials 
            • A117 – Fixed Wing Hand Signals 
            • A200 – Mishap Review 
        • Physical Training Test (1.5mi run, Pushups, Situps, & Pullups) 
    • CRM – Crew Resource Management (7 Skills) 
    • Work Capacity Test Arduous Level 
Angeles National Forest Firefighter Academy
Angeles National Forest Firefighter Academy. USFS photo.

New Fire and Emergency Management program at Clackamas Community College

Taylor Creek-Klondike Fires
Taylor Creek-Klondike Fires, Rogue Siskiyou NF, Oregon, August 11, 2018 by Kari Greer.

Celeste Prescott, Instructor and Project Manager for the Fire and Emergency Management program at Clackamas Community College near Portland, Oregon, sent us information about a new Emergency Management Professional program at the college. Registration for the first term closes December 15, 2021.

Clackamas Community College (CCC) is launching a new Emergency Management Professional (EMP), Associates of Applied Science (AAS), degree program. The first term starts January 3, 2022 and is being offered entirely online! 

CCC is aiming to help make this degree attainable for anyone interested in helping build a culture of preparedness and ready communities for catastrophic disasters. The program allows for students to take the full course load each term, or one class at a time. In addition, students can apply for up to 22 credits towards the degree for previously completed and approved wildland fire or FEMA courses. 

This degree program is being taught by highly qualified instructors who continue to be engaged in different facets of incident management, and it’s being offered at the low cost of $111 per credit hour. The program is designed to provide meaningful learning opportunities for current emergency management professionals as well as foundational skills for those just getting started.

CCC originally began teaching Emergency Management courses in 1996 and began offering Wildland Fire and Incident Command System (ICS) courses in 2006. Over the years the instructors have honed their skills in the classroom, while continuing to work in and grow their experience and knowledge in their respective fields of expertise.

The first term course offerings and details are listed below. Please follow the link at the end for additional information.

Registration for the first term closes on Dec 15, 2021. 

EMP Winter Term Offerings | January 3 – March 19, 2022 

EMP-201 Introduction to Homeland Security and Emergency Management 4 credits 

This course introduces Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) as a profession. The course begins with the historical context of HSEM and provides a foundation for the many disciplines within the field including threats and hazards analysis, hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. The course also provides an overview of current issues, policies, best practices, and lessons learned. 

Tuesdays from 6:00 – 9:20PM (PST) Virtually on Zoom. 

EMP-202 Threat and Hazard Assessment for Emergency Management Professionals 3 credits 

This course demonstrates the importance of risk reduction programs and the history of Threats and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA). Emergency management professionals must assess weaknesses and establish programs to reduce risks during preparedness for the whole community. This course will give students a basic understanding of risk management and risk prevention in emergency management. Thursdays from 6:00 – 9:20PM (PST) Virtually on Zoom. 

EMP-204 Foundations of Emergency Planning 4 credits 

In order for a community to be truly prepared to respond to any type of natural and/or man-made disaster, it must develop effective emergency planning. This course will introduce the multiple aspects of disaster planning. It explores the patterns of human disaster behavior, social psychology, and communication as well as the basics of generic planning actions, planning concepts, implementation, and action. Wednesdays from 6:00 – 9:20PM (PST) Virtually on Zoom. 

More information.

Questions, contact or

Workforce resilience presentation for emergency management crews

December 8, 2021 at 3 p.m. MST

Dr. Preston B. Cline
Dr. Preston B. Cline

The International Association of Wildland Fire will be hosting an Ignite Talk designed for mission critical teams of 4 to 12 people who must make decisions and take action quickly. It will be held online December 8 at 3 p.m. MST. Here is the link to register in advance.

More information:

YOU are part of Mission Critical Teams: Reflection, Reset, and Residue in Wildland Fire Management
December 8th at 3:00 pm MST

Mission critical teams are small (4-12 agents) integrated groups of indigenously trained and educated experts who leverage tools and technology to resolve rapidly emergent complex adaptive problems in an immersive but constrained (300 seconds or less) temporal environments where the consequence of failure can be a catastrophic loss. These teams are able to consistently innovate as fast, or faster, than the evolving problem sets by moving their focus from trying to predict future problem sets to building the capacity of the team to resolve whatever problem set emerges.

Reflection: MCTs are made up of experts like you who hold the requisite skill and solutions but may lack the language to pass that knowledge on to the rest of the team, such as knowing how to ride a bike, but being unable to explain it to someone else. Leaders in Wildland Fire need to find the language to pass on their experience and navigate between critical and routine environments.

Reset: Wildland fire is about having one experience after another, throughout your career. The question is how do we make meaning of those experiences in such a way that they fuel us, rather than distract us from the next experience. Part of this is about taking the time to find purposeful meaning with After Action Reviews which actually influence the story that team members will tell about themselves, and their team, after an event.

Residue: You are not broken. You are not a victim. You are not a survivor. You have chosen the hard path—a path full of extreme experiences, both good and bad, which leave memories. These memories, in turn, leave a residue within you, which if processed can serve as the fuel that moves us to wisdom and joy. If unprocessed, however, it will begin to build up, to harden, until you can no longer move or breathe, until all you know is pain and sorrow. MCTI rejects the idea that Operators, in Medicine, Fire, Law Enforcement and Military, must sacrifice their lives and souls, in exchange for living a life of service.

Presented by Dr. Preston B. Cline
Co-founder and Director of Research and Education at the Mission Critical Team Institute; Senior Fellow, Center for Leadership and Change Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Visiting Scholar in the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative (WiN), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Preston spent 30 years in the field of Adventure Education leading expeditions on all seven continents. These journeys became the catalyst for a lifelong academic investigation on how humans learn to interact with uncertainty. Along the way, Preston has received a B.S. from Rutgers University, focusing on professional youth work, a Masters of Education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education on risk and uncertainty, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education on the training and education of Mission Critical Teams: Small (4-12 agents), integrated groups of indigenously trained and educated experts that leverage tools and technology to resolve complex adaptive problems in an immersive, but constrained (five minutes or less), temporal environments, where the consequence of failure can be catastrophic. In 2018, after 10 years serving as the Director of the Wharton Leadership Ventures, at the Wharton School, Preston founded the Mission Critical Team Institute, which is an applied research institute focused on the development of an international collaborative inquiry community made up of Instructor Cadres within Military Special Operations, Emergency Medicine, Tactical Law Enforcement, Aerospace, and Urban and Wilderness Fire Fighting Organizations within Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States. When he is not working with Cadre, he resides in Annapolis with his extraordinary spouse Amy.

Training material for wildland firefighters 70 years ago

Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals publication
Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals, title page

John Hawkins, retired CAL FIRE Unit Chief and County Fire Chief, sent us a .pdf copy of the publication, Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals, which I had not seen in many years. It may have been considered part of basic training for wildland firefighters, written by the US Forest Service and the agency then known as California Department of Forestry (CDF).

I’m not sure when the 58-page document was first published. As you can see above, it was received on the Medicine Bow National Forest in 1953. The National Museum of Forest Service History says it was published around 1945 (“1945 ca.”), but I wonder if there were multiple editions throughout a couple of decades.

Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals publication
Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals, p. 23

There are many hand-drawn illustrations, many of which are attention-grabbing or funny, which may have made it easier to retain the lesson being taught.

Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals publication
Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals, p. 32

There are no chain saws or air tankers, but you will see a dozer and a very early model helicopter. Numerous times it mentions “men” being used to fight fire, “Only physically fit men should be used,” for example.

Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals publication
Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals, p. 40

It mentions aggressive initial attack, saying that when using direct attack, “You either ‘hit the head’ (point of most rapid spread) or start at the rear and work forward on both sides (flanks) at the fire edge and thus pinch out and control the head.”

Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals publication
Forest Fire Fighting Fundamentals, illustration on page 39

It is very out of date in many respects, but the physics of fire and general principles of fire suppression and firefighter safety remain basically the same. It has been a while since I looked at what rookies are shown in basic firefighter training, S-130/190, but it would not hurt to let them peruse this document to help reinforce some fundamentals.

You can download the 2.3 MB document.