What Fine Fuel Firefighters Say About the Exterior Fire Attack Position
I am a Greenwood county commissioner and a 20 year member of the Greenwood county volunteer fire department. I watched your piece about the NFPA standards a minute ago on KWCH 10pm news. What can I do to help? NFPA is being totally ridiculous about this, I am your typical volunteer, 46 and not in any shape to chase a fire three or four miles on foot(many of our Greenwood counties will travel that far or farther in short order). There is a much great danger we'll have a third of our firemen keel over and die from heat exhaustion than there is or ever has been a danger of falling off the truck. In 20 years I never recall anyone falling off our trucks and getting hurt, we run around 150 volunteers.
I agree that a change needs to be made. As a volunteer fire fighter it is not ideal to walk beside a truck. There are many risk factors to that if the smoke is heavy enough the fire fighter walking could be seriously injured by the driver a long with many other possibilities. I believe a roll cage added to a wildland apparatus is entirely the way to go. It will be safer and faster to allow this change. Please understand when you are out there putting your life on the line anything to limit accidents should be considered.
Oklahoma Volunteer FF
Dan Daly, Fire Chief
I have been a volunteer firefighter for over 30 years and fire chief for 14 of those years. Our fire district is in the middle of the sand hills of Nebraska. It covers over 1,300,000 acres of mostly fine fuel grasses. Our fires can burn miles in a short time. in 1999 one fire burned over 25 miles in less than 10 hours. Totaling 72,000 acres taking 30 hours to put out. In saying all this there is no way that we can effectively put our fires out without riding on trucks. If we put a team of trucks together we can knock down fire at 5 to 8 miles per hour. If we had to walk beside trucks we would never be able to keep up with our fires. I think that fine fuels and forests should be in different classifications and can have different standards. We would not be able to get people to volunteer if they had to walk and put out fires.
I'm a big proponent of having the firefighters on the truck and not on the ground. I personally had the experience of stepping into a deep hole during a fire a few years back, which could have been more serious that it was. I believe that the NFPA is correct in their rule for all firefighters to be belted in and inside of an enclosed cab, while the apparatus is in motion, but this is for pumpers and tankers only in my opinion. The biggest problem that I feel is that the people who serve on these committees that develop the standards that we use in the daily operations of the fire department are by some who have never pulled a heavy redline through thick brush and grass on a 100 degree day in East Texas.Hope this help to get them to make the right decision.
Billy Gillam, Certification Coordinator / Training Officer
It has been brought to my attention that NFPA is again about to discuss the subject of firefighters being permitted to ride on fire trucks while fighting fine fuel fires.
Although equipment such as remote controlled nozzles have aided in fighting this type of fire there is nothing that can replace a firefighter for this job. When fighting a grass or crop fire in our area of north west Kansas we regularly encounter winds of ten to forty miles an hour. This makes it impossible for even a young athletic firefighter to be able to "walk" beside a truck and fight fire, and due to a lack of younger people in our areas many of our firefighters are no longer young. Our concern for firefighter safety is much greater regarding the possibility of heart attacks and heat related illness that for the much less likely event of vehicle rollover.
It is also a concern that someone walking beside a truck when it is possible may trip and fall under the tires of the moving truck or be injured in some other way. Being onboard will also allow a quick exit of both truck and crew from the area if conditions require it.
Being able to ride on the truck also allows the firefighter and the driver to stay in communication with each other . This cannot be done if the firefighter is off at a distance trying to drag a hose.
I strongly believe that decisions on matters such as this should be made made by those who are familiar with the job to be done. I can only imagine the reaction if a group of firefighters from northwest Kansas would set out to write standards for fighting fires in buildings of over one hundred stories.
Osborne Rural Fire District #1
1977 to Present
We operate 2 type 6 engines that have exterior fire fighting positions.Most of the 50 or so wildland fires we fight each year are done so from this positions. Prior to getting these apparatus in 2007, we operated with regular pickup trucks with a skid unit mounted in the bed. The exterior position is much less stressful on my crews than the walk along method. They do not have to run along side of a moving apparatus when encountering fast moving fires in light fuels. I feel that this is a much safer position than being on the ground do to the fast pace of this type of fire, it allows much better communication between the driver and hose man. I don't have to worry about my crews being run over during the frequent backing and turning operations. Our operators are trained to consider the hose man during operations and to not operate at a pace greater than needed. The hose man can assist the operator in navigating when needed to help avoid obstacles that are sometimes not seen by the person driving.
Michael Harkey, Chief
I want to applaud you for spear heading the pump and roll method.
Currently, I'm fighting a pretty nasty smoke inhalation injury for the past 5 months for being on the ground of a 80-100 acre brush fire with high wind conditions. I'm a career fire fighter and we were mutual aiding another fire district 20 miles away. Our grass fires maybe less than 1-5 acres, in a season. Therefore, High Risk, Low Frequency dropped me into that box of injury according to firefighterclosecalls.com
Looking at pump and roll method would have either limited my exposure time to the smoke that was actually on the ground do to the height of the platform. I was on the ground parallel to the truck with the smoke swirling around me to the point that I could not see the truck that was 3 feet away from me on 3-4 occasions and becoming disoriented at times. I punched through it like the average fire fighter wanting to get the job done.
Please when reviewing the pump and roll, the added benefit of not being closely exposed to the off gas of the wildland or brush smoke. As some studies have shown wild land smoke is worse than the typical structural fire fighting smoke.
Lastly, as I was sucking on my nebulizer, I was watching CNN and Miami Dade had air packs (SCBA) donned with wildland PPE while on the ground fighting a grass fire. This would seem more reasonable as we don't go into structural fire fighting without the SCBA during offensive operations and we encourage SCBA use during salvage and overhaul. What is causing us not to require some type of breathing apparatus during those fires that are wide spread and thick in smoke coming from brush or wildland fires? We don't know what the farmer's or owners of properties have used chemicals or other waste products on their properities that are off gasing during an wildland incident.
Thank you for your time and for reading my two cents.
I've got a great helmet cam video of a fast attack from this position.
The following video shows a fast attack on the south end of a grass fire in butler county ks. These fires are common in our area and when driven by the wind can run quite fast. One structure was endangered and the fireground was split by a fence. One duplicate grass truck was north of the fence with the endangered home and this unit was the south. With two firefighters per grass rig, the fire was controled in a quarter of the time it would of taken walking alongside the rig.
Rose Hill, KS
I am the secretary/treasurer and a 14-year member of the Kit Carson Volunteer Fire Department, established by the West Cheyenne Fire Protection District in 1983. Our department is located in Kit Carson, Colorado on the Eastern Plains in Cheyenne County. We are approximately 120 miles East of Denver, Colorado.
Monty J. Weeks, Secretary/Treasurer
Kit Carson VFD
Kit Carson, CO
I am a 23 year veteran of a large metropolitan fire department surrounded almost entirely by what can easily be classified as a Wildland Urban Interface. We have mutual aid packs with all of our surrounding fire departments and we respond to numerous grass fires year, both within our fence line and in other jurisdictions. I have a few concerns with the restrictions placed on our firefighters which do not allow them to pump and ride during wildfire operations, specifically situations containing fine fuel and flat terrain. The first is the danger firefighters who are walking face from other apparatus operating in a smoky environment. The second is the extreme conditions faced by firefighters during summertime operations, many of whom are volunteers. Lastly, the departments using pump and roll operations in wildfire situations is arguably over 90 percent.
J. Clay Deatherage, Certification Coordinator
Congratulations on concisely addressing an issue that should be recognized by the NFPA. As you accurately stated, in certain conditions fighting ground cover fires from a moving vehicle is the only they may be contained and extinguished.
You clearly highlight the fact that the very NFPA standards which are published to promote firefighter health and safety are actually increasing the dangers and health hazards many firefighters must face.
However, of equal importance is where firefighter rides on vehicles while attacking wildland fires. While my personal preference is behind the cab as one of the photographs indicate, I also acknowledge in certain circumstances the front bumper is a better option.
In fact, had an Abilene firefighter been on the front bumper where he could serve as "an extra set of eyes" and been in communication with the driver, the truck would not have rolled. The person on the front would have seen the culvert and directed the driver away from a danger he could not see.
Hopefully, NFPA will recognize and address the problem it created. When it does, the issue should address the standards required to ensure firefighters are riding in properly designed riding positions that will enhance their safety.
I support the modifications to NFPA 1500 to include the capability to have exterior riding positions. I also believe you are correct that it creates a great health hazard for firefighters walking on the ground. I believe this needs to be added to the standard. All of our (homemade brush tucks in my little department) have this capability as do every other department around us. I believe the standard needs to be modified to allow for the safe operation of these vehicles. It does create a legal liability the way the standard is written now.
David R. Fischer, Safety Training Officer
NE Lincoln County Fire
I feel the best and the safest place for the firefighter is behind the cab of the truck. Most of the fires that we fight is fine fuel and on rolling hills or on the flat planes. Fires of this type can move very rapidly and behind the cab is the safest way. With the firefighter behind the cab it also helps to conserve water. Water supply here in the Panhandle is miles away so conservation is important. With our rural department manpower is also in short supply so it is very important that we Manage our resources wisely and safely. In my opinion this type of fire truck with the firefighter behind the cab is the only way to be safe and efficient.
Rocky Rexrode, Chief
Sunray Fire & EMS
I have been a rural vol. Fireman since 1978. I am also an instructor for Nebraska Fire Marshal Div. My area is both prairie & timber if we had to walk along side of our fire trucks there is no way we would be able to put our fires out the are very fast moving. To give you some idea of the area we cover our fire dist is 1057 sq. miles and we have 24 people on my dept. In the 37 years that I have been on I know of only one time that any fireman was injured by being on the fire unit while suppressing a fire.
Nebraska Rural Vol. FF
The fire service has come a long way since the days of bucket brigades, hose carts, and riding on the tailboard to a fire call. Advances in technology have made our job more efficient and safer. Although many practices from the “old days” have been abandoned or improved, there are some that are hard to improve or replace.
Rick Meier, Chief & Nick Fehringer, Asst. Chief
I am writing on behalf of the issue of exterior fire attack position currently being reviewed by the NFPA 1500 committee. Being the wife of a 20+ year volunteer firefighter in a rural, agricultural community, I believe this apparatus should be an essential part of ALL fire departments. I have seen firsthand the affects of fatigue and injury from walking fire lines for long hours on a grassland fire can take on a firefighter. In the plains of Kansas, wheat field and wildland fires are very common. Knowing that my husband, as well as my good friends, are in a safe position while fighting these fires is a huge relief.
I have read all of the benefits that the exterior fire attack position offers, and encourage all voting members of the NFPA 1500 committee to say “YES” to this addition to fire fighting vehicles. Anything to keep my husband, and thousands more like him safe, is very important.
Thank you for your time and I appreciate your serious consideration in this matter.
Shannon Ummel, Wife of Vol. FF
Just got finished reading your story about "pump and rolling" being a volunteer from Paden, Ok I have seen many wildland fires first hand that we have had to drive over 10mph to keep up with, and that was on the flanks god knows how fast the head is moving. I have watched forestry personnell which have no cages or tailboards because of NFPA rules get beat by many fires, and this has resulted in the loss of structures which could have been avoided if the "pump and roll method" was used. On the same day as the okc fires this year we also had our hands full, with winds blowing 40+ that day ground crews (walking, raking, or backfireing) were useless. We were called to a grass fire (one of 9 that day) with structures in danger, two trucks arrived on scene with the head blowing perpidicular to structure, but the flank of course was headed towards the structure, I had a new firefighter with me and for "NFPA safety reasons" I had him walk alongside the truck to try and make head way on the flank (stucture side) we tried this for about 10 minutes with no avail, he could not keep up. We finally did the pump and roll and saved the structure by 100 feet. When riding and fighting you have several things working in your favor, speed, knowing where your partner is all the time, less water consumation, and to me the greatest ability is to turn around fast and get flare ups behind you so you can effectively work the flank. Also this day the wind was blowing in different directions, a walking firefighter has a greater chance of getting burned by switching winds than one riding. I was the driver that day and my partner was on the truck I was able to pay attention to fire behavior where he is not able to, the wind switced and I could see in the distance this happening,we had 15-20 foot tall fire that came back towards the black (where we were) if he had been on the ground he would have been burned but since he was on the truck I acknowledged and got us away from fire and kept him safe. Hats off to you on this issue.
Paden Vol. F.D.
I believe that many departments need an NFPA compliant exterior riding space built into new apparatuses. As a former Deputy Chief of a rural fire department that specialized in rugged terrain wildland firefighting, I have significant firsthand experience dealing with various tactics and strategies in suppressing natural cover / vegitation fires. There are two main reasons why I support this. First, is because it increases effectiveness of the fire attack. Many times, when a crew has to cover long distances on a fire line that may have sparse fuel or spot fires, the most efficient way to cover the ground and hit the hot spots is with a firefighter in an exterior riding position on the truck, spraying water while being chauffeured by a driver. Doing this task on foot results in reduced effectiveness, possible breakovers (due to the extended time needs) and increased firefighter exhaustion. Secondly, NFPA should develop a guideline on this because if manufacturers don't have the option of building an NFPA compliant exterior "attack seat" in newer rigs, that won't stop firefighters from doing what they've done for decades; riding on the tailgate of brush trucks or kneeling in the pickup bed. Since firefighters are going to ride in truck beds to accomplish their jobs, it would behoove NFPA to authorize a safe, well designed riding location for them in order to improve on-scene safety.
Chase D. Waggoner, Chief
Joel Fischer, Secretary
Being 58 years old and having been a volunteer for 22+ years I totally agree with you on the issue of being able to ride ON the truck rather than walking along the side or behind. I absolutely hate driving a squad at a grass fire with a fellow firefighter walking somewhere beside my truck- not knowing exactly where he is at all times and fearing that I might run over him. I also agree with the fast moving grass fire being uncontrollable with the walk along method. Good luck in your effort to change the "good old ways" of fighting wildland fires and hopefully we can move on to the 21st Century.
Stewart D. Bryan, Fire Chief
Currently our department has the capability with two apparatus to pump and roll with a firefighter safely buckled into a harness and protected by a rollover protection system. This system, created by Blanchat Manufacturing, was researched by our department and compared to many other systems and we believe it is the safest on the market and have seen its use as essential on the Urban interface and Wildfire scene.
Firefighter safety is always first with our department, period. This style of rollover protection gives our department the capability to fight fire with the precision and effectiveness of a firefighter at the controls of the nozzle nestled safely in a protective enclosure. Our department views this as an advantage over the use of a monitor because of precision and conservation of water. This system also allows for the firefighter to be evacuated from the hazards of the fire scene in an expedient manner without the possibility of being hit by the apparatus while keeping the fatigue factor low for our personnel. With wireless communication capability included, it also provides a wider, more efficient view of the scene by the firefighter while the driver can concentrate on safe driving practices. We plan on adding additional apparatus of this configuration as our community grows and our Urban Interface fires increase. They have been essential to our firefighting needs and are under heavy demand by our mutual aid departments because of their safety and effectiveness.
City of Greenwood Fire Department
I read your article in The Nebraska Firefighter with much interest, and agree with almost all of your statements. I have nearly 25 years expirience fighting fine fuel fires using 4WD pickups. I have never heard of an accident with personal injury to FF working of the back of a rig. My Department and most of the Mutual Aid Depts in this area operate in this manner. We also all share strict rules about FF duties while operating in moving grass rigs. We have tried using the behind the cab position (and still use a rig setup that way) but found it difficult to spray water more directly to the rear. Our SOPS state that the FFs at the rear dictate the speed of the rig and never exceed 20 mph (15 mph during suppression).
Donn Guge, Capt. FVFD
I am volunteer firefighter with over 20 years’ experience on a department in a rural area. In reviewing the comparison between walking a fire line and utilizing the exterior fire attack position, the fire attack position holds every advantage. Safety being of the utmost importance gives all of the obvious advantages to the fire attack position. The firefighter is further away from the fire, heat, and smoke, thus making him/her less susceptible to burns, heat exhaustion, or smoke inhalation. Using the fire attack position the firefighter is not subject to walking into dangerous obstacles such as downed power lines, holes, tree limbs, or any other unknown hazards. The firefighter is not as likely to become fatigued and suffer the physical dangers of falling down, becoming entangled, or being struck by another truck. The firefighter secured into the exterior attack position with roll over protection is indeed far more protected than a firefighter walking the fire grounds.
Aside from the safety advantages of using the exterior fire attack position, the tactical advantages are just as great. The fire truck can maneuver into a more favorable position for attacking the flames. The fire truck can rapidly and with ease move toward the head or the rear of the fire. The firefighter in the exterior fire attack position can see all the way around the truck and easily communicate with the driver. The firefighter can select from a choice of charged lines to operate, and is often able to increase or decrease pump pressure thus creating the desired GPM for the fire. The ease, speed, and much greater effectiveness of the fire attack position makes walking the fire line an unnecessary risk. With lives and property on the line, every second counts. The NFPA 1500 committee needs to address this situation and implement whatever measures necessary to provide every fire department with the known advantages of the exterior fire attack position.
Gary Ummel Jr., HFD Captain
As Chief of an all volunteer F.D. serving an area of approximately 50 sq. miles in west central Douglas County, KS I firmly support provisions for an exterior FF position for fine fuel fires. An appropriately engineered design will allow us to better serve our jurisdiction. Over 40% of our responses result from agricultural burns that get out of control. We have tried a remote control turret and found that to be less useful than expected. It required significant custom fabrication and is very hard to control. A single FF with a .75" whip line is far more effective. Many on my department have suffered undue heat stress, trips and snags while dragging a hose line in a fast moving ground cover fire. We NEED a more practical and SAFE solution as we continue to loose volunteers!
Duane Filkins, Fire Chief
I understand that the NFPA is in the process of considering changes to 1906 section 14.4 standards (Exterior Attack Fire Position) that would allow for a pump and roll fire attack position on wildland fire engines. I have had wildland fire experience since 1959 both on the ground and as a T2 Incident Commander. I was a District Ranger for the USDA Forest Service for 25 of those years. During all of that time I have dug fire line, ran fire crews, operated fire engines, managed Incident Overhead Teams and worked with co-operating agencies, including volunteer fire departments. Fire fighter safety was always my top consideration. That is why I feel so strong that what you are considering must addressed. I would make the following comments for your consideration.
Joe F. Hartman
USDAFS - Retired
In my 53 years (so far) of fire service, I have seen two changes, at least in the world of open dialog in field firefighting. We went from buckets and gunnysacks to walking with heavy rubber one inch booster line. From that point there has been little tactical dialog until now. In reality there has been change to riding grass rigs and using the remote cab operated nozzles which not all departments can afford when you consider many have bake sales for equipment.
The unseen Elephant in the room is the crisis of finding young rural firefighters as rural areas lose population. It only stands to reason the field fires are more prevalent in rural areas. Thus, the manpower available are getting older and possibly not in the greatest of physical shape. You take what you can get. Field fires also are most prevalent in hot, dry weather. We cannot ask firefighters to carry a line a mile or two in hundred degree weather to put out a field fire, many of which come back green in the spring. Let us not forget the risk/reward factor.
Having a safe firefighting position (at least we don’t straddle front end pumps anymore) with less physical exertion has become a “must”. That “must” needs to become a standard.
Kenneth E. Leu, Fire Chief