How Thorough and Creative “What If” Thinking Led to Safety Successes
By the 2016 Fire Safety and Learning Teams, U.S. Forest Service Southern Region
[Note: As part of the historic 2016 fall fire season in the Southeastern United States, the U.S. Forest Service deployed teams throughout the Region to capture learning opportunities.]
IMT personnel at the Knoxville Mobilization (MOB) Center during the 2016 fires in the Southeast were proactive.
Instead of saying: “We had an accident and then we changed our procedures,” they thought through intricate scenarios about how things might go wrong—so that they would go right.
The intent here is not only to share the specific lessons, but also to encourage this type of thinking.
Procedures and Innovations
- High visibility vests were worn by all command and camp help for safety and to also ease recognition of leadership.
- One-way traffic was established at ICP to streamline the mob/demob of crews.
- Safety was emphasized during loading and unloading buses and boarding planes. They eliminated access to the active runway through the positioning of buses.
- Driving in the area was particularly dangerous. Crews were informed not to try to convoy.
- They reduced the potential for off-duty incidents by having crews turn-in rental vehicles the night before they flew out and established hotel shuttles. They were also mindful of housing crews in areas that had restaurants and laundry facilities nearby.
- The Emergency Phone Number for the airport ambulance was conspicuously posted around the MOB center so that people would NOT call 9-1-1. Calling 9-1-1 would have sent an ambulance from the city, which was much farther away.
- Intake materials were printed in Spanish and English.
- They also set up a text message system and email account to communicate with crews about departure times.
- To enhance and ensure optimum communication between the IMTs and airport, one person was assigned as a single point of contact.
- This liaison was extremely important in working with airport personnel to get access to secure areas. For example, the secure snow bay was used to keep crews dry during loading and unloading, which helped with safety and morale.
- The liaison formed relationships with the pilots and flight crews, which allowed the opportunity to weigh-in early and fly when ready instead of sticking to a rigid schedule.
- The liaison worked with the rental car company and the airport to identify alternative parking options to accommodate the high volume of rental vehicles being returned at the same time.
- The National Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation spoke to incoming crews on the apron which provided a clear boost in morale, and emphasized Life First.
- IMT personnel were flexible about roles and tasks. When it was time to load or unload, everyone in the ICP, except for Finance, would put on a vest and go help.
- They weighed crews in the night before they were scheduled to fly and allowed them to shed excess weight in a less stressful environment.
- They assisted fire victims by donating excess items that had been shed to the Red Cross.
- They ordered a 10-person module for the MOB center specifically to streamline loading and unloading of cargo and personnel.