IN THE ZONE... LCES (#2 28 APRIL 2011) - Fire Engineering Training Community

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 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 - often 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. During 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
wind can burn HOT and FAST! IF your triageing 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
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 fire cutting off your escape
route. Firefighters, always pay attention to what is going on, and
if something seems strange or wrong or changing, 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, Communications, 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 while
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 rebroadcast. 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
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 wildfire
risk assessment 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*)

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