From the Corner Office – Kansas Forest Service Article

By Ross Hauck, Fire Management Coordinator
August 2017

It is now August, 2017 and as our memory of the spring of 2017 becomes a little more blared, we may need a reality check. August tends to be a very hot and dry month of the year and while the grass may look green, with every passing day of near 100 degrees and no rain, the fuel moisture is getting lower and lower. Green may become the new red with the addition of a bolt of dry lightning. While controlling a summer fire can be easier than a March fire, it is every bit as dangerous. Saying it is easier to control and just as dangerous sounds like double talk. Most times it doesn’t burn as aggressively as a spring fire or have the high winds, but having been on some summer fires, my experience has been that smoke is more dense, more irritating to your eyes and respiratory system and because the air temperature is approaching the century mark, makes for a very dangerous scene.

These are the scenarios that puts the red X through the old philosophy of “we wear our structure PPE on every fire because we never know when the wild fire will become a structure fire” and “we go to the head fire, knock it down first then work up the flanks, because the longer the head fire burns, the more grass is lost”. I am an old farm boy and understand that grass lost in late summer won’t regrow in time for fall pasture. However, when we signed on to be a firefighter we said we would “protect life, suppress fire and reduce financial loss.” To “protect life” includes yourself.

This spring’s large wildfires taught us some more lessons on how we manage wildfire. One of the topics that keeps coming up is the fatigue experienced by many firefighters. The bulk of the firefighters on all Kansas fires are volunteers, just like they have been since we started trying to control wildfires in the state. As I listen to the comments, one common thread is use of bunker gear on wildfires. While I only have my own observations, it seems that those that were wearing bunker gear suffered more fatigue than those that wore lighter wildland PPE. Again, this may be one of the issues the department needs to address as money becomes available.

I have absolutely no problem with you throwing your bunker gear on the truck. If your department routinely dispatches a brush truck as the first engine out the door that is a department decision. However with current construction materials, to carry SCBA and bunker gear on a brush truck that pumps one hundred gallons per minute for three minutes might need to be reevaluated. If structures are threatened, send the pumper to provide structure protection, it’s an important piece of the overall incident. When that crew arrives on scene, they can focus on preparing the structure to “stand on its own”, receive some firefighter intervention or determine that it is not savable and move on to another structure. If you can’t save it with the resources on the truck, it will be lost in spite of your best efforts.

While we’re on the subject of firefighter safety and fatigue, the subject of heat stress comes to mind. I’m not a research scientist and don’t want to act like one, but there is some good evidence that body core temperature is controlled not only by hydration and sweating, but by the temperature of the fluids you drink. Warm water hydrates you, cold water cools and hydrates you. Keeping the core temperature lower, reduces need to sweat and there fore lessens the dehydration. So, it is more beneficial to keep the drinking water on ice that we once thought.

But when we look at firefighter safety, lack of training and improper equipment is near the top of the list of things that we can correct. Notice I said “some standard”, that has yet to be determined and the fire community probably has as many opinions as to what that standard should be as there are fire departments in the state. That is a subject that is being wrestled with as we speak and I’m sure will hake out at some level before long.

Before I go any further, let me be clear, the standardized training I am referring to is for deployable resources only. What you do at home, how you fight fire, what PPE you wear, etc. is your right. I will try to keep you all posted on the progress being made on this subject in future articles.

Going back to this spring’s incidents, many counties or groups of counties are looking to establish Strike Teams or Task Force groups that could be dispatched as a unit. The firefighters in those groups will need some “standard” of training. They will also be outfitted with the appropriate PPE, usually wildland gear unless requested for structure protection. Is this bringing selective, absolutely. But if I can make one phone call and get five engines or make five phone calls and get five engines, you get the point.

I think in the last edition of the Firewire I talked a little about the resource dispatching and deployment issues once state resources are requested. That, too, is a work in progress and hopefully there is some forward momentum on that subject. It is yet to be seen where it will be in the coming months. For sure, we need to have some improvements in place before next spring and the way the weather seems to be changing, spring may start in January!

And with that, remember number ten of the Standard Firefighting Orders, “Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.”

If you are not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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