december, 2005 wildfire blog archive
According to my step-daughter, this whole website is “pretty depressing.”
There's probably no use arguing with that assessment. Fatality fires and entrapment reports don't readily lend themselves to upbeat web-browsing. I'm reminded of the scene from a Clint Eastwood movie:
(Actually, as I recall, she thought that movie was pretty depressing, too.)
Gradually though, Clint's observation is taking hold in the fire service: dyin' really ain't much of a living. Efforts to change things over the years have included the Safety First initiative, the Agency zero tolerance declaration on the Fire Orders: “We don't break them; we don't bend them,” and the NIFC SafeNet reporting system. More recent initiatives include Everyone Goes Home, Firefighter Close Calls, and Firefighter Near Miss.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs promoted an event last summer called the Stand Down for Safety. The idea was to suspend normal operations on June 21st, 2005 to focus on firefighter safety.
Maybe what we need to do for 2006 is to take a cue from the country band Sugarland (I'm not sure how many of their fans, except for me, fit the demographic of Eastwood fans?) and their song Stand Back Up (.wmv format, 30 sec. audio clip.) Even though it's pretty depressing, we must focus on not feeling so tough — the times when one of us gets hurt or killed. We should modify our 'normal' operations 365 days a year to “stand back up” for firefighter safety.
The Kentucky Division of Forestry does have a computer simulation loosely based on the Island Fork Fire. It's not exactly a case study of this particular incident, but more of a general wildfire in their typical fuel model and terrain.
I guess all the fatality fires start out like that — "just another fire, just another day."
A single case study could be made of the Island Fork and Point Fires, which each killed two volunteer firefighters. Although the fuel type and terrain differed, both incidents had the fatal combination of a lack of proper PPE, crews that split up, and poor situational awareness related to weather.
The Kentucky folks use an interagency wildland fire simulator trailer to assist with training for Kentucky volunteer fire departments.
Yesterday afternoon, with about an hour and a half to spare, we submitted Colorado Firecamp's first grant application. (pdf file)
We're asking for $147,262 from the Fire Prevention and Safety component of the Assistance to Firefighters grant program. We want to help the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center create a web-based archive of 50 wildfire entrapment fatality investigation reports, revise the PMS-490 “Lessons Learned: Fatality Fire Case Studies” curriculum, and host a 2-day annual safety refresher event called “Wildfire Safety Drill: Mobilizing Lessons Learned.” (pdf file)
During the writing/review/comment process, Mark McFall from the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation program asked if I had seen their report of a 1999 Kentucky entrapment that killed 2 volunteer firefighters. It tells what happened although not as thoroughly as their newer reports. There are only three pictures and no maps or diagrams.
I was starting to unwind last night but just couldn't walk away from the computer. Through the USFA fallen firefighters database I found out the incident was named the Island Fork Fire. The interagency investigation report is not on-line. Here's an article from Wildland Firefighter magazine.
It made me sick to my stomach to read this interagency report recommendation, which I'm guessing was never acted upon:
We'll find out on Monday whether that was ever done. I have a feeling that, with or without this grant, there is a new project in our future.
I had hoped to be updating the blog today from somewhere along the road to Idaho. Kelly Close had e-mailed last week inviting me to hike the Cramer Fire site with him and a couple other friends. We made plans to meet there tomorrow, on what will be 2 years and 2 months after the fatal fire.
I made plans to visit some Firecamp contacts in Grand Junction on the way out and afterwards drive down to Boise to visit the national memorial. I had planned to camp over the weekend at the Snake River Birds of Prey wildlife area. The road in and out would take me past the Point Fire, where I believe two white crosses still stand.
If I had enough time, I would detour on the return trip to near Glenwood Springs and hike the trail up Storm King.
However, I'm writing this from my desktop computer and not the laptop. I missed this opportunity to stand where brother firefighters stood, imagine what they saw, and wonder if I would had suffered the same outcome. Of course, I'm still left to wonder. Am I any different?
I called and left Kelly a voicemail yesterday. Said I had to cancel. Things had come up. “Collateral duties” in my life could not make room for this 5-day camping trip. Among those was another meeting for divorce proceedings that began six months ago. While I am missing this chance to stand where Jeff and Shane stood, I am getting to walk a little in the shoes of the Cramer IC.
I'm sure Kelly will be disappointed that I backed out. But, while Kelly is the guy who knows best what the fire did at Cramer, he is also convinced that the human factors on and near that ridge were more critical to the tragedy. He wrote about his beliefs last April for the Missoula Safety Summit, “Fire Behavior vs. Human Behavior: Why the Lessons from Cramer Matter”
I believe the lessons matter. And one day, I'll get out there to learn what I can from that ridge.
Nature's halftime has come to the Colorado wildfire season. Our trees were treated to a saturating drizzle overnight and fog this morning. All in all, it's a good thing, but like most halftime shows, not really entertaining for firefighters.
This has not been an entertaining year for the California Department of Forestry. First, with the Cedar Fire and now the Tuolumne Fire report, the CDF has had to own up to shortcomings with the fire program.
CDF has handled a difficult situation well — balancing the privacy and emotional well-being of those involved, against the need for candid enquiry into what went wrong. The result is a final report that will serve as a tremendous training aid for firefighters around the country. A 7-page executive summary was released on Wednesday, the remaining 180 pages should be available within a couple weeks.
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