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Thoughts in Times of Change

Thoughts on Cramer, the professional wildland firefighter, the rule-bound system of so-called accountability, commander's intent (a better way), and ...our district rangers and forest supervisors more and more at risk for criminal negligence.

From theysaid on 12/13/04.
By Mellie et al.

I have been thinking hard on these topics in light of the Firefighter Safety Awareness Study made following Storm King, abatement items on 30-mile and Cramer, the changing litigation environment and the IMPLICATIONS of the legal stuff. I feel that unless serious change is made, when the next fatalities occur (and they will), fire will be removed from the DOA and DOI and formally placed under a Fire Organization led by a fire professional, and probably overseen by Homeland Security. I do not know if taking Fire out of the Forest Service, BLM, and NPS would serve the Public well. Here are my thoughts... beginning with info from the Tri-Dat Study, pertinent citations from OSHA and the Agency's response.

Tri-Data Study Phase 3, Chapter 4 Page 4-32 to 4-34 Starting With "Agency Administrators"

Agency administrator should not be confused with a fire administrator or fire manager. Under the current system, the Agency Administrators are taking the lead on fire program oversight..... Under a new classification series, this burden could be alleviated by having fire program administrators (Regional Fire Directors, Forest FMO's, District FMO's, etc...) have oversight at incidents with the Agency Administrators having oversight at Program Level.

THE CITATION FROM OSHA
Citation 1 Item 3 Type of Violation: Serious
29 CFR 1960.57: The Agency did not provide training to safety and health inspectors with respect to identifying and evaluating hazards and suggesting general abatement procedures.
(a) Training provided to District Rangers who conduct supplemental safety and health inspections on Type 3,4, and 5 fires was not sufficient to enable them to adequately identify, evaluate, and suggest abatement related to complex wildland fire safety.
ABATEMENT NOTE: Among other methods, one feasible and acceptable abatement method to correct this hazard is to ensure inspectors receive specialized safety training commensurate with the level of incident complexity, such as the qualifications necessary for a Safety Officer Type 1, Type 2, or 3. Also, ensure that these inspectors are thoroughly evaluated to ensure maximum competency.

THE AGENCY VERSION OF THE FIX OR ABATEMENT
Citation 1 Item 3 ABATED
Region 4 Abatement Action
The Regional Forester has directed that Intermountain Region District Rangers who conduct supplemental safety and health inspections on Type 3, 4, and 5 wildland fires will have sufficient Incident Command System training to conduct these inspections or will be accompanied by someone with these qualifications. (Encl 4)
Other Planned Action
The Forest Service will, through national policy or interim directive specify the minimum Incident Command System qualifications for Forest Supervisors and District Rangers to perform supplemental safety inspection or that must be present in person(s) with them during the inspection.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
It seems to me that a large part of the PROBLEM is that the fire program is run by non-firefighters (ie Foresters and Ologists) who (with all due respect) don’t understand that they do NOT have even the training or experience that experienced PROFESSIONAL WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS have now. Nor do they have the professional qualifications that are required.

Here's what I think has to happen for us to have a SAFE AND EFFECTIVE WILDLAND FIRE AGENCY:

1) Wildland firefighters and fire managers must have a unique job series that addresses their specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities.

  • Firefighters must be trained from day one in the firefighting PROFESSION. There must be academy work/training with simulations and practice; classes like S-130, S-190 and fire behavior classes like Doug Campbell's Fire Signature Method; followed by or simultaneous with live fire experience gained via work on fuels reductions crews (as with the BD crews of old) and seasonal fire assignments.
  • There should be ways to FIRE (as in "YOU'RE FIRED") those who do not perform or measure up.
  • On the fireground, the norm should be Commander's Intent (pdf) provided to trained firefighting professionals.
  • Fire professionals on the ground should be tasked with choosing appropriate and safe tactics. They should not be encumbered by the burgeoning number of checklists. Checklists can put firefighters at risk on firestorms such as the Southern California Fires of 2003.
  • Train firefighters to professional standards, weed out those not up to the task and trust to professional firefighter training.

2) Natural resource managers should never be expected to provide oversight for a program in which they have limited experience or education. NR managers providing oversite doesn't make sense. Line officers (Forest Supervisors and District Rangers) should never be held accountable to a professional standard for which they have not been specifically trained and educated. The IMPLICATIONS of the current litigious trajectory is this: Someday soon one of our forest managers and his or her family will face criminal charges. In my estimation there is a need for a wildland firefighter professional standard (series) and professional wildland firefighters to oversee it.

3) What's good for the goose (Wildland Firefighters) is good for the gander (Natural Resource Managers)… If  Natural Resource managers insist that the IFPM standards are the way to go, then they need to be held accountable to the wildland firefighting standards also.

[Aside: I feel that IFPM and Supplemental Standards for the GS-401 is a well intentioned program. My main contention with it is that an increase in biological sciences, natural resources, agricultural sciences, or forestry college units WILL NOT increase safety. In fact, the 401 standards will drive many of the mid level managers into early retirement and will cause many of the supervisors and leaders to seek employment elsewhere.]

Back to NR Managers: To manage a fire program and provide OVERSIGHT, the Forest Supervisors, District Rangers, Regional Foresters, and the Chiefs must all have the training, education, and experience of the wildland firefighters that they are providing OVERSIGHT to.

>From the Webster's Dictionary:
Main Entry: over·sight
1 a : watchful and responsible care b : regulatory supervision <congressional oversight>
2 : an inadvertent omission or error

After being cited by OSHA three times (South Canyon, 30 Mile, and Cramer) for failure to provide proper management oversight..... Maybe managers and so called "leaders" at the highest levels should open their eyes? The education and experience is already in the ranks.... just not being utilized and properly put into the right job descriptions. Those who are coming up through the ranks need to have the focus of a professional FIRE series and managers above them that have equal or greater training in their profession.

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