Wow, yesterday was a serious brush fire day (at least for us). Typically this time of year with the humidity brush fires are uncommon, but with the weather being in the hundreds and no rain we have been having some significant brush fires. Yesterday while I was in charge of the engine we had 2 significant ones that were significant for different reasons. The first one was pretty remote, and in a small bamboo forest, the second was behind a multi family dwelling 10 feet away from the back deck of a bottom floor apartment. Both of these fires initially required medium caliber hand lines (1 3/4) for initial knock down, and foam operations for overhaul due to the very dry duft under the burned area. The remote one also required a 3 inch leader line and multiple companies to extinguish. The following are some observations/lessons learned from yesterdays events.
1. PPE: Our department is a department that responds to brush fire but we are mostly suburban. The engines carry a small complement of forestry hose, and very few rakes. We also do not issue special “wildland” PPE for our firefighters. A lot of firefighters dread brush fires and typically will only wear their station uniform (EMS pants, station boots, t-shirt) coupled with a helmet and work gloves on these incidents. I think this is inadequate. First your station uniform offers you ZERO thermal protection, if caught in a flash fire or hit by a burning snag that has fallen you will get burned severely. Second traipsing through burned material with the same boots your going to take back to the station is not the healthiest thing you can do for you or your crew. A good policy is to wear your full structural PPE during the active phase of the fire, then step down this PPE level during overhaul phases if possible. “Never Sacrifice Your Safety For Your Comfort”
2. Rehab: This is linked with the aggressive PPE use. If your going to dress out properly you need to ensure that your crews are getting the proper work/rest cycle and proper replenishment of fluids. It also never hurts to monitor vitals and track them during the incident. The heat of just being in your gear can ramp up your heart rate and blood pressure, add to that the ambient temperature and even younger in shape firefighters become at risk for heat related injuries.
3. Call for help: This one is simple, if you need help call for it. We have 20 engine companies, 5 trucks, 3 squads, and 13 ambulances on duty every day in my department, we work for 24 hours at a time. You have to have the same performance level at 1pm as you do at 1am. This is impossible if you beat yourself down on a call. With all of the people we have on a shift there is no reason for someone to work until exhaustion.
4. Foam is your friend: I will be honest I never was much of a big fan of putting foam on brush fires. It seemed like a lot of work for something that was already a lot of work. However applying foam really saves you work. It breaks up the surface tension of the water and allows for the dryer materials to soak up more fluid in the hopes that you will not have to return later. It is probably the best overhaul tool for brush fires out there. We utilize a 1% setting for AFFF (since this is all we carry), and it works superb.
5. TRAINING!!!!: As distasteful as it is you have to train on this stuff. We practice our progressive forestry line deployment, foam operations, and leaderline deployments all of the time, and it really makes a difference when you have to put them into play. Experience is not everything, because typically experience means not making the same mistake twice. However experience coupled with aggressive training can be a powerful combination.
What kinds of lessons have you learned on your recent brush fires? What are your operations, and have you trained on them? Are you doing anything unique at these fires? Let us know in the comments section, and of course spread the word about the blog!