REALITY CHECK By Scott Cook
How fast can you run?
On Friday, April 15, Eastland, Texas, firefighter Gregory Simmons died in a wildland fire. Simmons’ death was initially thought to be the result of being overrun by the fire, but a later report from the medical examiner relates that he died from blunt-force trauma.
Standing in front of a burned out fire truck, volunteer firefighter Steve Forbus pauses while he talks about the firefighter that was killed while trying to escape a wildfire that burned the truck in Eastland County near Gorman, Texas, Saturday, April 16, 2011. "It was a very emotional day for us," said Forbus. Volunteer firefighter Gregory M. Simmons, 51, died as he and other firefighters fled the truck as it was being overrun by flames.
(AP Photo/LM Otero)
Following the initial report of Simmons’ death, when it was thought he was overrun by the fire, there were discussions on how fast a fire can move. With high winds in North Texas on April 15, news reports related that the fire was moving at 8–10 mph. That might not appear that fast, but looks can be deceiving.
An 8-mph fire is moving at 704 feet per minute—almost 12 feet per second—while a 10-mph fire is moving at 880 feet per minute (nearly three football fields)—almost 15 feet per second.
For that matter, a 3-mph fire moves at almost a football field per minute and almost 4½ feet per second.
Now this might not seem like too much of a challenge until you consider the fact that the average speed for a person running in appropriate running attire on flat level ground is 6 mph, when running a mile or more. I do not dispute that running for one’s life would make one run faster but would it be fast enough?
Just how fast can a firefighter run in wildland gear and heavy boots over uneven ground, blinded by, and choking on, smoke? How long do you think that same firefighter can run at that speed? One minute? Two minutes? More?
Put simply: You can’t hope to outrun a wildfire. To stay safe, you must remember your basic fundamentals of wildland firefighting. It’s not as simple as spraying water on things that are on fire. And if you don’t know the fundamentals, meet with your state’s forestry service and get some training. Soon.
Wildland firefighting can be dangerous and unpredictable. It is imperative that you receive the necessary training to keep yourself safe so that we don’t suffer the loss of another firefighter.
Editor’s Note: Firefighter Gregory Simmons lost his life in the service of his community. Our thoughts are with his family and with all the responders answering the call to protect lives and property in the Texas wildfires.
Scott Cook is the former chief of the Granbury (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department and a fire service instructor. He’s also a member of FireRescue’s editorial board.
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