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Fire Origins
Remember. Learn. Share.

On Protection of Towns from Fire — Benjamin Franklin, 1735

On Making Official History Honest — Kent Robert Greenfield, 1954

LCES—a Key to Safety in the Wildland Fire Environment — Paul Gleason, 1991

Attitude Check — Bill Fish, 1995

TriData Phase IV, “Developing a Cooperative Approach to Wildfire Protection” — Charles Perrow, 1998

Lessons From Thirtymile: Transition Fires And Fire Orders — Jerry Williams, 2001

Loop Fire Disaster Brief — November, 1966

1967 Task Force Report

2005 Fire Prevention and Safety grant application


Risk Assessment

Jeff Allen. Shane Heath. Josh Oliver. Bill Buttram. Steven Rucker. Eva Schicke.

These names mean something to Colorado Firecamp. These names mean something to the people who visit our website and read the accounts of firefighter deaths. These names mean something to those who read fatality investigation reports and want things to change in the fire service.

These six names represent our target audience of at least 500,000 firefighters in the United States.

They are six names from four fatality incidents: the Point Fire of 1995, the Cramer Fire and Cedar Fire of 2003, and the Tuolumne Fire of 2004. Included in this list are two volunteer firefighters, a career fire engineer, a state firefighter and 2 federal firefighters. They happen to fit the demographics of our formal assessment.

In 2000, the U.S. Forest Service compiled the statistical analysis, “Wildland Firefighter Entrapments 1976 to 1999” which concluded:

“Selected variables were highlighted to show a general picture of firefighter entrapments, shelter deployments, and burnover fatalities. Any agency, organization, or person fighting fire can experience a burnover. Burnovers can also occur at any time of year and with any resource on any scale of incident. In other words, anyone fighting a wildland fire can become a victim of an entrapment. There has always been a risk, no matter what you do, whom you work for, or where you are located. Complacency may be the most difficult factor to overcome. Becoming aware of the hazard of entrapment is a key step in reducing the risk.” - (Mangan/Munson, 2000)

That complacency apparently runs deeps, as shown in “A Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service” conducted by the U.S Fire Administration and National Fire Protection Association in December 2002. Complacency almost screams in this statistic:

“An estimated 41% of fire department personnel involved in wildland firefighting lack formal training in those duties, with substantial needs in all sizes of communities.” (USFA/NFPA, 2002)

Two of our six names fit that category. They are part of this statistic:

“In 16 percent of the incidents firefighting resources were minimally qualified for their positions or did not meet qualifications for their position.” (Mangan/Munson 2000)

The actual number fire department personnel involved in wildland fire is unknown. The USFA/NFPA survey questions did not gather that information. It seems safe to say that it is something over half a million firefighters. It is known that the federal agencies employ or contract an average of 30,000 firefighters and support personnel each wildfire season.

Another formal risk assessment was conducted by the U.S. Forest Service in 2004. A briefing paper written by USFS training coordinator Jim Cook, entitled “Trends in Wildland Fire Entrapment Fatalities” provides a statistical analysis of 329 firefighter deaths attributable to wildland fire entrapment during a 71 year period, with an average of 4.6 deaths per year.

“An analysis of fire entrapment fatalities in relation to significant doctrinal and organizational changes in wildland fire suppression from 1933 through 2003 is the basis of this paper. Since 1933, U.S. Forest Service firefighter entrapment fatalities decreased from an annual rate of 3.65 per year (1933-1956) to 0.67 per year (1995-2003). During this same period for all wildland firefighting agencies combined, the rate of firefighter entrapment fatalities decreased from 6.39 to 2.0 per year.” (Cook, 2004)

Our six names died in three years (1995, 2003 and 2004) accounting for exactly 2.0 deaths per year.

During the time period of 1933-2003, fire entrapments accounted for 35% of all firefighter fatalities on wildland fires. The other 3 major causes of death are “gravity (hazard trees, rolling rocks, and falls), transportation (vehicle and aircraft incidents), and fitness (heart attack and heat stress).” (Cook, 2004)

The “Firefighter Fatality Retrospective Study” published by the U.S. Fire Administration in April, 2002 furthers clarifies the risks:

“Wildland firefighters are far more likely to be killed by traumatic injuries than are non-wildland firefighters. Conversely, they are significantly less likely to die of a heart attack for a variety of reasons including that wildland firefighting agencies typically have extremely high standards of physical fitness. Wildland firefighters also tend to be younger than non-wildland firefighters; nearly 70 percent of part-time wildland firefighters are under the age of 30.”

Five of our six names were under the age of 30.

With regard to current and future risk, the “Trends” briefing paper states:

“Wildland firefighters today are spending more hours fighting fires than ever before, and they are tackling fires of historic magnitude. The risk environment associated with wildland fire is being re-defined, and firefighters too have begun to redefine their own culture as a professional endeavor. This exercise of redefinition is not new.

“With the upcoming 10-year anniversary of South Canyon and the impacts from the Thirtymile and Cramer Fires still fresh, the interest in lessons learned in the past will be intense, and scrutiny of the safety and effectiveness of wildland firefighting agencies will continue to increase. Part of this process requires we examine our hard won lessons in a different light.” (Cook, 2004)

In April, 2004, a report was released by the Firefighter Life Safety Summit. The report included 16 initiatives to reduce the national rate of 100 firefighter fatalities per year. The report states:

“The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosted the Summit as the first step in a major campaign. In cooperation with the United States Fire Administration, the Foundation has established the objectives of reducing the fatality rate by 25% within 5 years and by 50% within 10 years. The purpose of the Summit was to produce an agenda of initiatives that must be addressed to reach those milestones and to gain the commitment of the fire service leadership to support and work toward their accomplishment.” (NFFF/USFA, 2004)

One of the 16 initiatives (which have evolved into the “Everyone Goes Home” project) is #9: “Thoroughly investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries, and near misses.” The report further explains:

“The need for more consistent and comprehensive investigations and data collection to analyze the causes of fire fighter fatalities was also identified as an important priority. …. The same type of investigation should be conducted for serious injuries and near-miss incidents to focus on preventing future occurrences.” (NFFF/USFA, 2004)

The usefulness of learning lessons from fatality investigations was the basis of a paper presented at the Eighth International Wildland Fire Safety Summit, in April, 2005. J. A. Thackaberry, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Communication at Purdue University, wrote a presentation entitled, “Wisdom in the Lessons Learned Library: Work Ethics and Firefighter Identities in the Fire Orders.”

“The creation of a lessons learned library provides organizational members with easy access [to] historic texts for deliberation and discussion. But lessons learned libraries do not just contain charts, graphs, and numbers; they also contain texts that carry a moral force, and potentially contradictory ones at that. Therefore, they also carry with them the dangers of information overload as it may be unclear how to navigate one’s way through the library. Furthermore, historic texts require interpretation in light of the contexts in which they were written before they can be applied to present day circumstances. As such, the creation of a lessons learned library also carries with it a need for skills in humanistic analysis and interpretation.” (Thackaberry, 2005)

We believe the texts of our six names carry a moral force. With some work, we hope to bring forth the moral force of other names. In a collaborative, “open source” effort, we will cut through information overload and interpret historic texts to apply to present day circumstances. Lessons will be learned.

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