What THEY Said

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

In 2017, the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center gathered information on more than 130 incidents. Most of these incidents have some sort of report. Many of these reports contain lessons from the perspective of those involved. Here are a few of those lessons – straight out of the reports. Click on the links to the reports if you want more context.

Fallers?Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 6.24.36 AM

“It’s always nice if fallers have an opportunity to assess and fell hazard trees in an area prior to other firefighters coming in. This is not always available or convenient.

When receiving your assignment, do you always ask if fallers have been through the area?

-What specific scenarios will trigger you to not work in an area until a full hazard tree assessment has been done?”

Tree Strikes Parked Engine

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Plan for Slow

“When establishing trigger points, considerations have to be made for the slow operational speed of heavy equipment (2-3 mph), the slow process for loading and transporting heavy equipment, and the length of the escape route.”

“Effective communications and lookouts ensured that personnel escaped prior to being overrun by the fire. However, there was little margin for error.”

Sheep Gap Heavy Equipment Burnover

Use the LessonsScreen Shot 2018-01-25 at 8.20.33 AM

“ ‘Previous FLAs that I found on a quick Google search helped me make my decision to go to the ER. They were a good resource.’ Ricky cites the following document—created for Crew Leaders to carry with them and take to the hospital when presenting someone with a potential case of Rhabdomyolysis—as being especially helpful in his case: Rhabdomyolysis in Wildland Firefighters

IHC PT Rhabdo Case

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Get Gone or Look Up?

“Do you focus on escape and not pause to look back? Or do you take a few steps and pause for a quick glance back to make sure everything is good? You will have to make this decision for yourself. Use this incident as a way to discuss this ‘where to look’ dilemma with fellow sawyers.”

Sawyer Hit by Tree Top

Don’t Trust Your BrainScreen Shot 2018-02-21 at 10.06.09 AM

“When it comes to assessing fatigue, listen to your body and what it is telling you, not your mind. It may be necessary to accept low-quality rest in order to eliminate driving exposure when your body is tired. The lack of sleep adversely affects sound decision making.”

Return from Initial Attack Vehicle Accident

There you have it, just a few lessons from the front.

Remember, these are just words. YOU choose if they become action.

Circle up and do this simple exercise:

Do the exercise.



  • Identify one of these five lessons that is most important to you.
  • Write down two steps you can take to implement/practice your chosen lesson.


  • Share your top-priority lesson and implementation steps.
  • Discuss what you do with lessons that can’t be implemented until you’re out on the fireline…how can you improve the likelihood of remembering the lesson?



3 thoughts on “What THEY Said

  1. Regarding having fallers come in to assess and fall hazard trees prior to others working in an area, it makes me think of the ETTO Principle: the Efficiency-Thoroughness Trade-Off. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0754676781/ref=ox_sc_act_title_3?smid=A33XGQP3QUGQ36&psc=1. Thoroughness in this case relating to how thorough we are willing to be in assessing how safe it is to work. There is always a trade-off in terms of efficiency and sometimes in terms of whether or not to engage at all. What tools do we have to make better trade-off decisions?

    • Great post, Ryan. In my experience, we usually only snag as much as we think we really need just to get the line punched in, and then we come back and do more thorough snagging for the holding/mopping phase. The primary goal is to get the line in where we want it, so the balance is heavily tilted towards production with just enough snagging built in to make us comfortable to pass through the area. What if instead, we always built in thorough snagging of every hazard tree that could threaten the perimeter as a standard part of deciding where to build line, and a standard requirement before putting in the line? How much risk should we be taking with peoples’ sons and daughters, when the fire is rarely a threat to the lives of non-firefighters?

  2. About “Don’t Trust Your Brain” – Your asking folks to make the right decision when they are in a state that the quote itself indicates adversely affects individuals sound decision-making. This seems to suggest applying the problem as the solution.

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