As I sat here contemplating what to write about this week, thinking about our fellow firefighters that have been injured or have paid the ultimate sacrifice on fires in or near wildland-urban interface areas already this year. Two firefighters injured in North Central Nebraska, A firefighter injured in Arizona, Two firefighters killed and I believe the total injured at one point was 8 firefighters injured on separate incidents here in Texas. And I have been wondering what is similar... and I fall back to one of the first things I ever was taught about wildland fires.
The Four Common Denominators on tragedy fires.Now a tragedy in my eyes doesn't have to be a fatality. I think it is just as tragic when one of our own is going to the hospital. Its still not home. So Id like to share these few simple key point reminders with you.We will discuss some mitigation tactics at the end.
1. On smaller fires or isolated portions of larger fires - oftenly in the zone, the interface we find ourselves working as just our engine company. We may be part of a strike team or task force, but for the specific assignment it might be us and a structure, or us and a few structures. I have been on a engine where we were assigned to provide protection for 3 side by side structures. Or you may be out trying to catch the spot fires that are threatening to spread to the structures.... Or if its really going and blowing you might find your self doing mobile attack inside of a developed area, putting out spot fires on roofs, decks, and lawns. Yes folks Lawns. Durning the Valentine fire, in 2006 local volunteer units reported that developed lawns in a few spots were actually becoming receptive fuel beds for embers. (spot fires)
2. Light flashy fuels - grass and brush.....plainly said... yes it is grass but never think it is just another grass fire!!! Grass and brush, especially with even a light wind can burn HOT and FAST! IF your triaging structures in this fuel, always think worst case scenario.In some fuels such as the South Western US Chaparral, the Manzanita of Northern California, the Mesquite of Texas, the Palmetto of South Eastern US, Eucalyptus of Australia and etc... These plant burn hot, with rapid rates of spread and can act as ladder fuels to the canopy.
3. Fire response to topography - now I modified this one a bit, cause topography does not only have to mean big mountains. A relatively small hill, that has grass and a good slope to it can burn fast... Drainage's can influence fire behavior also. the landscaping around structures can effect the fires behavior also. Even a slight long some what gentle change in slope can change how the fire behaves.
4. During mop-up (aka overhaul) operations - Flare ups, spot fires, stump holes, hot ground, burnt trees are just a small portion of hazards during mop-up. Don't get complacent. Don't let your guard down. Yes the fire may be close to out, but don't forget that it can still hurt you. the call is not over till the apparatus is back in the station/fire hall/barn.
Now there are things we can do to mitigate these common hazards.... Situational awareness...keep your head on a swivel when on a fire in the zone. Officers, plan for worst case scenario, be prepared. Don't let something like a small spot fire in a back yard, allow you to miss a spot that will cut off your escape route. Firefighters, always pay attention to what is going on, and if somethign seems strange or wrong or changeing, let your officer know.... they might not see it at first... but you might notice that your getting more spots, or that you can hear the fire approaching....and be prepared to follow your officers orders in a instant. IF the order to fall back, pull out or load up is given, pay attention to it. A delay can be costly. LCES, Look outs, Communcations Escape Routes and Safety Zones. A lookout is a competent firefighter who can see both you and the fire, and can communicate with you easily. Communications with command, your crew and any adjoining forces...remember if its not good enough for you to stay, it might be time for other companies to pull out also... pass the word if it becomes necessary to pull out. Escape route...THE WAY OUT! The paths ( notice plural) for you to escape from the fire if needed. Safety Zones.... Something that I like to define as a area large enough for your company and any other company working in your area, to drive into the middle of, and get out wearing board shorts and flip flops and whiel drinking a cold bottle of water watch the fire pass by. Now...Granted please don't actually do the board shorts and flip flops part...stay in your wildland PPE, but it is a great time to hydrate, regroup and plan what your next actions will be. Also, if you must make an escape to a safety zone, Make sure you communicate it! Let the IC know what is going on, or if you are the only unit on scene, communicate it to other incoming companies, and dispatch so the message can be rebroadcasted.
Also let the IC know when you have reached your safety zone and take a PAR check... make sure you have all your people.
Again I will say that prevention is one of the best things we can do to reduce and prevent firefighter injuries and fatalities. We should be always working towards putting ourselves out of work. use the Fire Wise program that is operated by the NFPA, US Forest Service, US Bureau of Land Management and National Association of State Foresters. This program can be a great program even if your not in the US. Their website is at www.firewise.org and is accessible all the time, with information for responders, and residents/occupants of buildings in the zone. Get out there and learn what types of flashy fuels you have in your response area. Learn what type of local weather patterns there are. Use the widefire risk assesment forms on the fire wise website as part of your home safety surveys. Get the property owners to do their part to save there land from wild fire risks. Paid or Volunteer, the fire does not consider this and all of our jobs are dangerous in the zone. Do your best to make sure everyone makes it home. 1*
(In the zone blog will be on hold for the next couple of weeks as I am attending a training academy, but never fear, I shall be back and have another IN THE ZONE for ya in a few weeks. Be safe, take care and watch out for each other. 1*)