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What Fine Fuel Firefighters Say About the Exterior Fire Attack Position

  • 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.

    Joel Fischer, Secretary
    Tullahassee, OK
     
  • 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
    Kanwaka FD
    Lawrence, KS

     
  • 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.

    Tyler Schrant
    Oklahoma Volunteer FF
     
  • 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
    Harper VFD
    Harper, KS

     
  • 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.

    Dan Daly, Fire Chief
    Mullen VFD
    Mullen, NE
     
  • 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.

    Brian Hind
    Madison, KS

     
  • 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
    Girard FD
    Girard, KS

     
  • 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.

     

    Presently we have wildland fire engines that can drive up the road with the crew in the cab and set up to pump water to a fire or let someone walk along with the engine. That is good for that kind of a fires. But in the great Plains and other areas with fine fuels we need a different fire engine, that can pump and roll, that is built with safety standards and improved efficiency for fast moving wildfires. Most of this need is not meet with State or Federal agencies but with rural volunteer fire departments. An example is the State of Kansas which has 50 million acres of which 95% of all land is protected by rural volunteer fire departments.

     

    A number of people have been working on this issue of standard changes for a number of years. It is time to get the job done and make the needed safety changes. In the last three years I have seen a lot of fire engines being purchased by fire districts and counties that have the behind the cab walk through design but they do not have the safety features needed to protect the fire fighter. They are lacking the ROPS and other standards needed for safety. Fire fighters know the value of the design changes you are considering. Now NFPA needs to set the standards so vehicles will be built and used properly and safely.

     

    I have talked with fire fighters who work on the ground and a large number of them agree it is time to make some changes for the safety of the fire fighter working on the engines with fast moving fires in fine fuels. Sticking the nozzle out the cab window is not the answer. The proposed new standards being considered would make for a safe fire attack position on a fire engine and would allow for a behind cab, ROPS with stand-up/sit down, walk through access and proper safety harness.

     

    The fire fighters on the ground are asking for and deserve this change. Let us move forward to a safe future while building on the past.

    Joe F. Hartman
    USDAFS - Retired

     
  • 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
    Caney VFD
    Caney, OK

     
  • 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

     
  • 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.

    Andy McCaslin
    Paden Vol. F.D.
    Paden, OK
     
  • 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.

    Bruce Lemon
    Osborne Rural Fire District #1
    1977 to Present
     
  • 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.

     

    https://youtu.be/imkeLMGK7B8 

    Bruce Lemaire
    Rose Hill, KS
     
  • 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
    Douglass VFD
    Douglass, TX

     
  • 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.

    Bob Gosvener
    Owasso, OK
     
  • 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.

     

    I understand the restrictions placed on firefighters in rugged terrain where the likelihood of rollover is considerably increased, but conditions faced by most departments in the Midwest are very different from those faced in mountainous areas of the country. We face a terrain and a fine fuel combination which cause fires to spread quickly and enables the smoke to remain close to the ground, affecting visibility for everyone on the fireground. Wildland fires in the Midwest are fought with small hand lines supplied by grass rigs and large tankers designed to run the fire line and quickly knock down the large, fast moving fire front which the fine fuels create with only moderate winds.

     

    Many of the newer grass rigs are designed for a firefighter to operate a hand line while safely riding on the rig. The firefighters walking along side or in front of a grass rig are in constant danger from large tanker trucks operating in the area because of the constantly changing visibility conditions in the area. The speeds at which tender trucks used to supply water and those used to apply water to the fire front are constantly putting firefighters forced to walk in danger due the poor visibility levels normally encountered.

     

    The second issue is the age and condition of the average volunteer firefighter, in rural areas of the Midwest, are often less than optimal. Most of the volunteers that have the time and the flexibility to consistently participate in fighting a wildfire are retired or well established in their careers. While this affords individuals the opportunity to participate in extra activities and training, it usually occurs after a person has passed their prime physically. The fact that volunteer firefighters are not required to pass medical physicals or meet physical requirements puts them at a higher risk during strenuous activity. Temperatures consistently reach into the 90’s and often well over 100 degrees, during the wildland fire season, compounding the stress firefighters are exposed to. The ability to fight fire from an apparatus, when operating in suitable terrain, will greatly reduce the strain and risk to firefighters who are already in a higher risk category as far as their health is concerned.

     

    Even though standards do not allow pump and roll operations most people have witnessed the practice while on a grass fire in the Midwest. The combination of the quick burning fuels, high winds, extreme temperatures, the age and physical condition of many of the volunteer firefighters, causes most departments to allow its members to ride on a grass rig while fighting a grass fire. While not a scientific fact, it is a reasonable estimate that up to 90 percent of the departments allow some degree of pump and roll operations while the firefighters ride somewhere on the apparatus other than the seats within the cab of the vehicle. It would make more sense to control how the operations are to be safely carried out than to continue to ignore the fact that these operations are being used during wildland fires. The practice of pump and ride operations is so ingrained in the culture of the rural areas of Midwestern states that the subject is almost taboo. The practice is not discussed during planning, safety meetings, operations, or demobilization. Larger departments who follow their protocols, do not engage in pump and roll operations, are usually engaged in operations with dozens of smaller departments over which they have no official jurisdiction.

     

    As a member of the Tulsa Fire Department, Oklahoma Incident Management Team, the Oklahoma State Fire Marshals Commission, a Red Card asset for the Osage Tribe and a member of Oklahoma’s Urban Search and Rescue team(OKTF1) I have had the opportunity to be deployed to many incidents in the Midwest, many of which have been wildland fires. I have seen the value of safety regulations when it comes to protecting the firefighter and the citizen, but the restriction on pump and roll operations can actually puts firefighters at greater risk of harm because of the exposure to the elements, the physical limitations of older firefighters, and the limited visibility on the fire ground.

     

    The risk involved in riding an apparatus in a non-traditional seat has historically been proven to be higher, but with the advances in harness and restraint systems that risk has been greatly reduced if not eliminated. Combined with the advantages of not exposing firefighters to unnecessary risks of walking while apparatus are operating in the area and reducing the heat stress the average volunteer firefighter is exposed to it makes little sense not to allow pump and roll operations on relatively flat terrain. I personally believe that it is time to develop standards on how these operations are to be conducted and under which conditions and types of terrain the operations will be allowed, reducing the danger to firefighters operating at a wildfire.

    Stan May
    Tulsa FD
    Tulsa, OK

     
  • 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
    Cushing, OK

     
  • 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.

    Stewart D. Bryan, Fire Chief
    City of Greenwood Fire Department
    Greenwood, AR
     
  • 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

     
  • 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.

    Jerry Kearns
    Nebraska Rural Vol. FF

     
  • 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
    Sunray, TX

     
  • 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.

    J. Clay Deatherage, Certification Coordinator
    Hawley FD
     
  • 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.

     

    Taking away the ability to pump and roll would eliminate our department’s ability to fight grass fires in our area. Our department NEEDS to have this capability, and we have spent a significant amount of time and money to ensure that we have it.

     

    To ensure the safety of our riders, we have replaced two beds on our attack trucks and purchased a brand new rescue/attack truck in 2009 from Blanchat Mfg. Since 2008, our district has spent a total of 6,000.00 in bringing our attack fleet to the safest level possible. This was due in part to NFPA and insurance mandates that no longer supported department built trucks, and they had to be constructed by NFPA certified builders, of which Blanchat is one. Both truck beds and the rescue truck utilize their BATROPS rider area to provide a safe, protected environment for a firefighter to ride in while fighting a grass fire on the Plains of Colorado. Being required to ride in the cab of a truck while fighting a grass fire would be both unsafe and provide very limited knockdown capability toward the fire. I have included with this letter, documentation that we received from Blanchat Mfg that defines the specifications of the safety area of the BATROPS used to house the exterior rider on an attack truck. Our department feels that this system gives us the best protection when engaging a fire in a pump and roll situation.

     

    Remote actuated nozzles do not provide the level of accuracy and control needed to safely engage an active burning grass fire. They are also very expensive to purchase, and require modifying existing connection layouts that were built specifically into the beds that we purchased. Grass fires fueled by high winds can change direction in an instant and the firefighter operating the nozzle on the back of the truck must be able to adjust to these changes instantly, and a remote nozzle does not give them that ability.

     

    Anyone familiar with the terrain and weather conditions in Eastern Colorado would agree that pump and roll capability and exterior riding position of a firefighter are MUST-HAVE NEEDS for any department. The most recent example of this was the Heartstrong Fire in Yuma County, Colorado in March of 2012. Fanned by 45-60 mph winds, the fire consumed 85 square miles before it could be contained. Fires created with this type of wind would be impossible to attack if a firefighter was in the cab of the truck or on the ground.

     

    Our department experienced this several years ago as well when a wind fueled fire burned over 10,000 acres of grassland 20 miles Southeast of Kit Carson on a cattle ranch. By utilizing the pump and roll capability and exterior riding position of our firefighters, we were able to contain the fire with no structures lost.

     

    The town of Karval, Colorado, in March 2011, was saved by the quick response of 10 firefighting agencies using pump and roll capability to attack a fast-moving grass fire that consumed 18 square miles and over 12,000 acres before it was contained. All of the responding agencies had some type of pump and roll and exterior riding firefighters to provide a fast and safe attack.

     

    These are just a few examples of the large grass fires that have occurred on the Eastern Plains in recent years. It does not include the hundreds of other smaller grass fires that started, but were able to be extinguished in a quick and safe manner before they become newsworthy.

     

    The property areas that we protect are not forest locations with high mountains and large groves of trees that prohibit access based upon terrain conditions. We are located in an area of flat ground, with minimal rolling hills that contain millions of acres of grass and farm ground.

     

    One of the pieces of information that I received concerning this ruling stated that fires should be fought from the ground, or cab of the truck. The logistics of fighting a grass fire on the Eastern Plains of Colorado on the ground would be absolutely impossible. The risk to the firefighters would be totally unacceptable, as they would be required to leave the mobility and safety of the truck, putting both the driver and the firefighter at risk, as well as having to fight off exhaustion and possible heat stroke. Our department requires our members to be in full bunker gear, coat, pants, boots, SCBA mask, helmet and gloves when riding on the exterior of the truck. By being off of the truck, the firefighter is limited to the amount of protection he can provide for the truck. By having the firefighter directly behind the cab, the driver knows at all times where that man is and does not have to worry about his location while on scene or in the event he needs to take evasive action in the event of an emergency.

     

    Once on scene at a grass fire, having an exterior riding firefighter and pump and roll significantly speeds up the attack time. Our department covers one half of Cheyenne County which equates to over 1,000 square miles within our district alone. We currently have 20 active members who are spread out over the county, and are an average of 10 to 25 miles away from the station when a page is received. By utilizing the pump and roll capability, we can have one or two trucks with 700 gallons of water on scene and putting out fires by the time reinforcement trucks arrive.

     

    As more and more of Colorado’s rural youth leave their home towns and do not return, and the overall populations in general are on a steady decline, the number of volunteers available to staff departments is on the decline. With more and more regulations being placed on departments, there are fewer and fewer people willing to put in the time away from family and jobs to provide firefighting protection to our rural plains properties. Without the safety and protection that the pump and roll capability of our attack trucks and the exterior riding position they provide, we put that property at an even bigger risk of loss.

    Monty J. Weeks, Secretary/Treasurer
    Kit Carson VFD
    Kit Carson, CO

     
  • 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.

     

    Each part of the country has firefighting situations unique to their location. Because of special circumstances and needs of a particular location, fire departments have adapted or evolved special ways to combat the problems they face. One particular problem rural volunteer fire departments in the central plains states face is fast moving, fine fuel fires. These are fires that burn in short grass prairies, CRP fields, and agricultural stubbles. Anyone who has experienced one of these fires can attest to the speed and erratic behavior of them. Add a little (or a lot) of wind and many of these fires run very quickly.

     

    A way many of us small rural volunteer fire departments have adapted to fighting these fires is to drive the fire line in the burnt fuel with one or more firemen riding behind the cab of the apparatus armed with short booster lines and wildfire nozzles. Many fire trucks have been modified over the years to incorporate this type of fire attack. Today many body builders offer “brush trucks” with this option. Many of the early designs were quite crude and could be considered dangerous. Today, however, most of the current manufacturers have seen the need for improved safety and have incorporated that into their designs. Some would argue that using bumper mounted, remote controlled monitors and ground sweeps are the best way to attack a fire. We disagree. Bumper monitors use a very large amount of water that is very precious on a truck that only carries 300-500 gallons. Many of these fires occur in remote areas where water is most often, very hard to find. Bumper monitors are also very difficult to maneuver and “aim”. Ground sweeps work well for mop up situations, but have limited use for initial fire attack. Nothing can beat the speed and accuracy of a human guiding a nozzle from the proper vantage point. Because of the speed that many of these fires travel, a ground attack walking along side the apparatus (the way the US Forest Service recommends) is impossible and dangerous.

     

    We feel it is important as well as necessary for manufacturers to be able to continue to build apparatus that incorporate an exterior Fire Attack Operational Area as long as safety is their first consideration and the body meets roll-over protection standard SAE J1194.

    Rick Meier, Chief & Nick Fehringer, Asst. Chief
    Peetz VFD
    Peetz, CO

 

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