As our work on the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary continues, we’ve got some more analysis to share with you. Read this. Do the Exercise and give us some feedback. The final version of the 2017 Annual Incident Review Summary will be out soon!
By Travis Dotson
There it is – the 2017 season boiled down to a few lines and numbers. These are all of the “outcomes” from reports submitted to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. (You can see incidents sorted by “Activity” in last week’s post: “Smokeless Danger“) I made up the categories and sorted them all. For this particular boring graph I tried to simplify everything as much as I could, lumping categories so I had fewer categories (like combining Hit by Tree, Hit by Straw, and Hit by Vehicle).
I’m a lumper…you may be a splitter. I’m ok and your ok (so I’ve heard), but I’ll go into a bit of detail for all you splitters out there. Let’s just go right down the list starting from the “top.”
Exertion – This was almost exclusively made up of Rhabdo and Heat Illness reports (28 out of 31) mostly because there is a specific reporting mechanism (Rhabdo/HRI) for those types of reports. This does not change the fact that the incidents did indeed occur, I just think it’s fair to acknowledge the reporting does seem to follow what we focus on. Nonetheless, HRI and Rhabdo will put you or your crewmembers in the hospital. Plan for it.
Fuel Geyser – Another specific reporting form (Fuel Geyser) helped us get more data on the danger of fuel in your face. So while it’s still happening, it’s fantastic to note that we are seeing significantly fewer injuries associated with the geysers. Is this the result of awareness and education actually working? We would like to think so. Either way, keep pointing that cap away from your vitals when you go to open the tank. Better yet – cover it with a rag, because the geyser remains a distinct possibility.
Entrapment – Big year for entrapments. Heavy equipment got caught the most. They get stumped and they move slow. Fire does not get stumped and it can go from slow to fast very fast. Firing Ops is the other time we often get entrapped – playing with fire is just that. One interesting note, in 2017, of the 20 reports that met the NWCG definition for “Entrapment”, only four chose to describe the event as an entrapment. Why do we avoid that term? (Get busy in the comments y’all.)
Vehicle Accident – Pretty standard. Driving is double-digit danger. We had a few rollovers and a chase truck vs power pole. But what stood out this year was the wheels coming off, or almost coming off. Three different instances of loose lug nuts. Go check your wheels right now (and get serious with those morning PM checks!)
Hit by Stuff – Mostly trees and branches from trees, but also straw from a helicopter. Most of the hit by tree instances involved chainsaw ops, but not always. Those trees will fall on you or throw their big branches at you randomly sometimes. Don’t hang out under them if you don’t need to.
Equipment Damage – Now there’s a broad category. This is usually vehicles being burned. This year there were three of those fire-damaged vehicles plus a couple big rigs (dozer transport and a skidgine) that rolled into trees – super close calls in both instances. Also, one engine’s light bar fell off on the way back to the barn. Check your brakes and the screws on your light bar.
Burn Injury – This bucket always shows up, but this year it wasn’t as full as in previous years. We had multiple instances of folks falling into hot ash, as we do every year. A fire-whirl rolled over an engine on a prescribed fire, someone grabbed a pump exhaust pipe in the dark, and one of those many fuel geyser’s did end up with a fuel ignition/burn injury. There was also one instance of a blown hose spewing hot water resulting in serious burns. In terms of burn injury lessons, this is the one you should read: Temple Fire Burn Injury
Medical Emergency – Super broad category, but it loses its umph when you take out the “exertion” events. What’s left is exactly what you would suspect – cardiac events, seizures, and other unpredictable, high stakes scariness. It might even happen while you are in travel status. Get ready.
Close Call – I didn’t have enough room to call this the “No s#!t there I was” category – but that’s what it is. When you end up cartwheeling over a dozer blade. When you’re driving down the road and your brakes fail. When a boulder rolls between two trucks. That kind of stuff. Random exists whether we want it to or not.
Chainsaw Cut – This is a super sneaky category. There were only three chainsaw cuts this year, but the significance cannot be overstated. Someone died from a chainsaw cut.
All the cuts were to swampers. And it’s going to happen again. Go slow. Be careful. Respect the spinning chain.
Other – There is always “Other.” This year it was a fall off a ladder during structure prep, hazmat exposure during mop up, and a PT session turned search and rescue. Don’t hate…you could be next.
Ok, there’s all the dirty details you pesky splitters. Please do something with all of this information, at least do this exercise:
- Get with two other firefighters and write down which category above means the most to you.
- Talk with each other about why the category matters to you.
- Take turns describing what kind of incident you are most likely to experience based on the numbers and your brand of exposure.
- Write down three ways to prepare for your bad day.
3 thoughts on “Sorting the Lumps”
How many of these can be be the result of fatigue? It would be interesting to see on which day of the the 14 day roll these incidents happened.
What are the fatigue management guidelines of the wildland fire service? Are they adequate? In my opinion – no. As much as we all love that 14 day paycheck you are not ‘in the game’ the same amount on Day 1 vs Day 14.
How about working a 24 hour shift, sleeping for 4 hours and then resuming day shift the next day. You will return to your 2:1 the following day but on that short rested day how out of it are you going to be?
The wildland fire service in the US needs to have a serious look at our fatigue management guidelines and how they are related to these incidents.
Thoughts on “entrapment.”
It’s a reality check, even if you get out of it unscathed. It means the fire did something you did not expect, you are not as smart or as good as you thought. If we knew, or even strongly suspected, that the would go here, at this time, we would make sure to not be there at that time. I have yet to hear of someone into trouble because of expected fire behavior.
Entrapment gets defined differently for a lot of people. We may be slow to call our situation an entrapment because, on a gut level, it feels like failure and reminds us of our mortality.
Great article. I am ok with the 2:1 but after 8hrs of rest it seems a bit excessive. Can’t make up for lost sleep. If you need more time off, yourself or crew, take the time off. Camp conditions are also to blame for some of this fatigue. Don’t mind sleeping in the dirt IF we need to. If we can get our folks into better housing facilities we should make every effort to do so. We should treat everyone as if they were a pilot. We all have a job to do and they are all important.