Entrapments are…

By Travis Dotson

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NWCG Definition of “Entrapment”

I have been entrapped – multiple times.

It feels awful to say that and I know exactly why – to most of my peers that statement means I’m a bad firefighter.  Entrapment is a bad thing, and if it happens to you it means you didn’t have LCES in place – it’s YOUR fault.

OK, I can handle that.  What I want to talk about is how common entrapment is and howScreen Shot 2017-05-25 at 7.32.42 AM hard we try to convince ourselves it didn’t happen to us.  You ever had to “scramble”?  Your engine ever “take a little heat”?  Ever had to “look for a hole” or heard someone urgently barking “RTO!” on crew?  More than likely the events unfolding in those instances were unexpected.

I was serving as a lookout one time and my safety zone was back along the ridge to some granite.  A finger of the fire made a big run between the granite and my lookout spot.  I spent the rest of the afternoon “buffing out” my lookout spot with black.  That was not the plan – that means it was an entrapment.

I was firing boss on a prescribed fire and took a four wheeler interior to see how things were coming together.  I said over the radio to the lighters “hey, don’t close the box on that south end, that’s my way out” I got a “copy” from both sides.  When I came back the box was closed – I had to do some creative ATV ducking and weaving to find a way out.  Again, not planned = entrapment.  (Yes, I had a stern talk with a few folks about what “copy” means.)

What is my point here?  I’m trying to get us all to acknowledge how common this scenario is.  Right now it seems as if we treat “entrapment” as some sort of outlier or anomaly that only happens to the deserving bad firefighter when in reality it’s a regular occurrence we choose to minimize.  Why?  We have to minimize these events to keep alive the folk-tails regarding predictability in our environment.

We are amazing at forecasts, but LCES requires precision predicability to work – and we don’t have it.  Nobody predicts their ATV tipping over or being ignited by embers as the fire front approaches.  Nobody says “theres no way we can make it to the ranch before the fire gets us, but lets go anyway.”    Uncertainty is rough ain’t it?

The benefit of acknowledging this is revealing a more accurate accounting of the risk we face and exposure we take on.  The accuracy in our words enables a more honest dialogue about “what is worth it.”

Don’t lie to yourself, don’t lie to each other – just call it what it is so we can get better at deciding when to accept the risk.



6 thoughts on “Entrapments are…

  1. I agree with you brother. We as a culture of firefighters are still struggling to create a true learning environment that would allow us to talk openly about entrapments. Like you, I have been “cut off,” “boxed in'” and several other things on fires and there was nothing learned from it. I appreciate you writing this article. Maybe it will spark the right discussion.

  2. From my days as an Air Controller in the Navy and my biggest pet peeve. I hear copy, roger, and affirm used in fire interchangeably. Affirmative means Yes and yes only, nothing else. Roger means I have heard your message, understand your message and will comply with your message, hence in the old days of aviation before my time it was roger wilco, “will comply”. Copy really has no place in phraseology.

    • Actually, “Roger” is not an adopted term in fire management. “Copy” is. Maybe consider spending some time in this profession before posting related comments online. Thanks.

  3. Based on the NWCG definition you provided, I have been entrapped a few times when my Escape Route was compromised. And I learned a good lesson from each one of them. Moreover, I never had to convince myself (or anyone else) it never happened to me. Each time, I had LCES and utilized it. It was because I was unaware of the local weather factors (Watch Out #4) and underestimated the ensuing fire behavior. Just a matter of hunkering in place in a predetermined Temporary Refuge Area (TRA) and waiting for the fire to pulse.

    I find it difficult to understand how someone was “cut off,” “boxed in’” and several other things on fires and there was nothing learned from it.” Nothing learned from it? Sounds like some valuable lessons were unrealized there.

    I found it interesting that you posed this comment and question: “Nobody says “theres (sic) no way we can make it to the ranch before the fire gets us, but lets go anyway.’ Uncertainty is rough ain’t it?”

    On the contrary, there was an experienced HS Crew that very likely made that or a very similar statement one afternoon. And they had at least 52 minutes to decide if that was a good idea. Blowup to Burnover ( https://www.nwcg.gov/committee/6mfs/escape-routes-1 )

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