Is your equipment making your job dangerous?

Equipment is one of the things that we’ve come to rely on. It allows us to bring water to the fire, the tools we need to get the job done, and enables us to get to places we weren’t able to before. Most have come to expect it to be there, and with proper maintenance and upkeep it usually will be. The problem with this is when it goes down you’re likely going to be in bad shape. You may have thought you were in a good position to fight the fire, and you may have before your equipment went down, but you have to remember that the question of safety is relative. I’m not too proud to admit that sometimes the equipment on my department goes down unexpectedly. Any firefighter that won’t admit that hasn’t been in this line of work long, is lying, or is oblivious to the point that he/she is a danger to themselves and others.

We hit the ground running that night. Even though it was midnight, tall sage brush and low humidity caused a wind driven fire with 15 - 20 foot flame lengths. I snapped this shot after we got the head of the fire knocked down and were getting ready to go back around and reinforce the line. Near by methane structures were the main concern, which we were luckily able to save all of them.

The situation that brought on this post happened the other day. As seen on the left, we were running a wet line alongside some fairly heavy flame lengths when I lost water. Not a good position to be in. I signal the driver to back off and we pull into the safety of the black, while the driver tells the other trucks on the fire that we’re pulling off. In this particular incident it was a simple matter of backing off and diagnosing a simple problem. It turned out that the nozzle was clogged from sand out of a dirty draft. A pain when it happens but not the end of the world. It went well this time because I stayed calm and we kept people informed. That allowed us to get back into the fire quickly and even allowed for a photo opp.

Unfortunately I’ve seen it go the other way as well. In 2007, on the Little Goose fire in Sheridan County Wyoming, a freshly put together contract crew got themselves in a bad spot because they panicked. Their job was a simple one. Their task was to check and refuel a sprinkler system that my crew put in while we finished prepping the remaining structures. We were supposed to go back and do final checks before clearing all units out but when we didn’t hear from them we decided to go back in early. One of the crew members was in a hurry and had put diesel in the mark 3 pump. We found him pulling away trying to get it started. We told him to go get his truck ready to leave while we worked on it because it was getting near time to pull out. He was obviously worried about being down in that area and in his worry ended up forgetting that his engine was a diesel engine and filled it with the only other gas tank he had on it. You guessed it, it was unleaded. Surprising how fast things can go downhill when you panic or rush isn’t it? The problem here wasn’t the equipment but the person operating it but the equipment still went down because of him; and when it did, he didn’t know how to act or what to do. If not for my crew going back in things would have turned out much worse.

I guess the end purpose of this post is to say that while equipment is nice you need to be able to continue your work if it goes down. Stay calm, back out to safety or a position where you can take a moment to assess the situation, and make a new plan if you have to. This example was of wild land fires but the same principle goes for all calls you’ll go on. I’ll leave it off here before this post gets too long and stay safe.

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