The Pole Creek Fire Bucket Extraction took place in September of 2012–ten years ago from the time of this writing. This was a much talked about event. The incident involved a Task Force Leader (TFLD) who was out scouting and directing bucket drops when fire conditions worsened. The pilot performing the bucket work expressed grave concern about the threat of the TFLD being overrun by fire. The pilot suggested the best option was for the TFLD to get in the bucket for extraction–which they did.
If you have not read this report, or it’s been awhile since you looked at it, it’s worth pulling it back up. There are some great discussion points about numerous topics–including LCES and how we use it.
Here is a short excerpt from the report’s “Lessons” section:
The TFLD confirmed to DIVS that “I’ve got LCES” when both understood that there was no lookout:
- Does “LCES in place” now serve as short-hand for “I am confident that I’m in a safe situation”?
- Or does it mean something specific about each element of LCES?
Norms are changing, have changed, and are situational:
- Years ago, it was common for an experienced single resource to scout fire alone.
- Today it’s not uncommon to have multiple lookouts on the same hill.
- The order “Post lookouts when there is possible danger” includes a strong implication that the need for lookouts depends on the situation and risk.
Without a lookout or a partner, TFLD had to rely on his own judgment, experience, and observations:
- When it became necessary to make time-critical decisions, there was no second set of eyes that he could turn to for backup or confirmation.
- The pilot, similarly, was on his own. With Air Attack on the ground, there was no second set of eyes in the air, and the pilot had to rely on his own experience, observation, and instincts.
- The decisions they made were the best they could do without third party support and confirmation.
- The TFLD said, in the end “I can’t see what you see; I’m going to defer to your judgment,” and got in the bucket.
Those are some great discussion starters for a training session on LCES, scouting, and crew protocol surrounding single-person missions.
It’s important to note there was a similar instance of an aerial extraction in 2021: The Gales Fire Entrapment and Extraction.
In this more recent instance, an Division Supervisor Trainee was out scouting when fire behavior picked up and he was entrapped. A short-haul mission was executed to extract the Division Supervisor Trainee before he was overrun by fire.
The lessons in this FLA report focus on several elements of the short-haul, communication, Incident Within an Incident (IWI) process, relationships, briefing times, and fuel conditions. There is no discussion about scouting and LCES.
One super useful portion of the report talks about the importance of having a strobe:
“All the aviation resources involved believe if Riley had not had a strobe light that they would not have been able to locate him. Strobe lights are an easily obtainable inexpensive safety device, ranging from $30-$50 and available in convenient small sizes.”
“Strobes should be standard issue to everyone.”– Short-Haul Pilot
In yet another instance from 2020, Field Observers on the Woodward Fire found themselves in a precarious position as fire behavior increased and the sun went down. The Division Supervisor requested a local rescue helicopter from a nearby county to short-haul the firefighters off of the fireline to safety. The entire process, once initiated, was completed in less than an hour.
This extraction was recorded on video by the short-haul team and can be viewed here:
The lessons in this RLS bring up some important discussion points regarding language. Two of the bullets from this report:
- Constantly revaluate your Situational Awareness and LCES. Recognize the difference between a “travel route” and an “escape route”.
- The term “Temporary Refuge Area” or “TRA” was used by local responders when discussing this incident. This term is not commonly used in the wildland community. Its use should therefore be avoided to prevent confusion.
Comparing these three incidents, what are some discussion points worth going over with your fellow firefighters?