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  • Writer's pictureDouglas Fir

Was the NWCG 2020 entrapment avoidance lesson to vindicate the SAIT-SAIR conclusion?

Article: Contributing Author- Douglas Fir

Figure 1. July 1, 2013, photo image of GMHS deployment site. Source: Anonymous by request and OCR

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The post title above stems from a February 2020 NWCG Safety Subcommittee 6-Minutes for Safety article titled: "Fire Shelter Deployment Site Selection." The topic sentence was particularly perplexing: "A primary objective of every operational fire plan is to keep firefighters out of entrapment situations. However, firefighters must always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters." (emphasis added)


Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 (KJV)

"We have no idea if they failed," said George Broyles, fire project leader at the U.S. Forest Service's San Dimas Technology and Devleopment (sic) Centre in California, at a news conference Monday. "We have no idea what transpired." (emphasis added) (Chung 2013) Indeed they do - both counts.


I was searching on the Internet for "NWCG fire shelters IRPG" while instructing a basic wildland fire course, and I came across the issues addressed below. This was in regards to an NWCG February 2020 6-Minutes for Safety Operational Engagement category article titled: Fire Shelter Deployment Site Selection ( )

Unequivocally, the article begins with these two - what I consider - contradictory statements. "A primary objective of every operational fire plan is to keep firefighters out of entrapment situations. However, firefighters must always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters." (emphasis added)

This is the false dichotomy fallacy in that a dichotomy generally comprises two opposites. This is a fine point obviously ignored or discounted. When presented with a false dilemma, consider whether those two options are really your only choices. Determine whether refusing one option will inevitably lead to the second option. There are many that we would do well to accept in practical terms. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. In this particular instance, is it being applied innocently or manipulatively?

Every wildland firefighter (WF) and firefighter (FF) engaged in wildland fire can and should take umbrage with the second statement as follows: If it is truly a "a primary objective of every operational fire plan ... to keep firefighters out of entrapment situations;" then it makes no logical sense to take the leap that "... firefighters must always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters." (emphasis added) In other words, you must take a stand and make a choice: either you keep WFs and FFs out of entrapments or else you disagree with them and go up against their deceptive decree that you "must always be prepared to deploy your fire shelter."

So then, which one is it? Why "must" WFs always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters if the specified "primary objective" is to avoid entrapment thus precluding the use of a fire shelter altogether?

It has been generally accepted and acknowledged by WFs and FFs alike for many years now that knowing and following the Ten Standard Fire Orders and knowing, recognizing, and mitigating the Watch Out Situations has been responsible for saving tens of thousands of wildland firefighters lives every single fire season.

This is a true statement in spite of the make-you-queasy NWCG fire shelter training video, the irresponsible Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team and their alleged "Factual" Report (SAIT-SAIR), and the October 23, 2018, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (WLF LLC) "Honor the Fallen" video and comments by the self proclaimed so-called "experts."

The LLC video remarks disingenuously note: ("This video was captured on site of the Yarnell Hill Fire in January 2014. The participants spent the day walking the ground and discussing the challenges facing the wildland fire service as a whole.") (emphasis added) ( )

On the contrary, the alleged "discussing the challenges facing the wildland fire service as a whole" assertion is that of the WLF LLC and some select WFs that want to "protect" the GMHS legacy that they did everything right. These self proclaimed "experts" are definitely not the wildland fire service as a whole as they falsely claim. It's obvious that their goal is to discount and discredit the tried and true wildland firefighting rules and guidelines and support the SAIT-SAIR bogus predetermined conclusion that "The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol." (p. 4) (emphasis added)


Why emergency fire shelters aren't used in Canada - Canada takes a much different approach to fighting wildfires than the U.S. does

Emily Chung · CBC News · Posted: Jul 03, 2013 5:02 AM ET | Last Updated: May 7, 2016

According to the article, Tony Petrelli, a former Smokejumper and a 1994 South Canyon Fire survivor, is now an equipment specialist who deals with fire shelters and personal protective equipment at the U.S. Forest Service's Missoula Technology and Development Center. Petrelli says they work best if they don't come in direct contact with flames, which can break down the glue that holds the materials together, making it easier for the heat to enter. He said firefighters are told the key to surviving inside a fire shelter is to find the best deployment site. "It's a decision that has to be made on the ground at that time and it's not always an easy decision," Petrelli said.

"[Petrelli] noted that it's not something that firefighters plan out in advance because the tents are only used as a last resort. Instead, firefighters are taught to focus on an escape route to a zone where they will be safe from the fire. (emphasis added) He is exactly correct on the Escape Route to Safety Zone part! Just as the NWCG article stated - Entrapment Avoidance is a "primary objective." Yet, Petrelli's discounting the "plan out in advance" assertion totally contradicts the NWCG stance to "always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters." A recent email response from an NWCG Safety Subcommittee member stated that Petrelli was one of the leaders that is at the vanguard of fire shelter development and policy on their use. So then, once again, I have to ask - which one is it?


Fortunately, former USFS Fire Director Jerry Williams in the 2002 Fire Management Today "Dude Fire Staff Ride" issue wrote a prescient article titled: "Next Steps in Wildland Fire Management." It is unknown whether the GMHS ever read his article where Williams cogently addressed the importance of the basic wildland firefighting rules for "entrapment avoidance." (pp. 31-35) (all emphasis added in Williams' article). It is rather doubtful if they did, because it's clear they never heeded his sage counsel.

( ) Williams wrote: "Wildland fire is a high-risk, high-consequence business. It is influenced by high social expectations and a low political tolerance for failure. Our environment is surrounded by uncertainty and danger. It is controlled more and more by our ability to measure, manage, and mitigate risk." "In our history, every meaningful advance in wildland fire operations has been marked by some reduction in uncertainty or mitigation of risk, almost always following some accident or tragedy. Our understanding of fire behavior, the technological advances in the tools we use, the protective qualities of the gear we wear, the training we employ, and even some of the early explorations of what we call 'human factors' have all made our work safer." "Still, the tragedies at Dude, South Canyon, and Thirtymile and the accident at Cerro Grande remind us of the danger that is always present in our world." ____________________________________ "Firm Rules of Engagement "The Ten Standard Firefighting Orders must be firm rules of engagement. They cannot be simple guidelines, and they cannot be “bargained.” They are the result of hard-learned lessons. Compromising one or more of them is a common denominator of all tragedy fires. On the Dude, South Canyon, and Thirtymile Fires, the Fire Orders were ignored, overlooked, or otherwise compromised." "The Fire Orders mean little after we are in trouble. That is why we must routinely observe them and rely on them before we get into trouble. We know that no fire shelter can ensure survival all of the time under all circumstances. Entrapment avoidance must be our primary emphasis and our measure of professional operational success." ________________________________

"We must embrace the rules of engagement as a way of doing business—as a professional standard. ..." "... We must embrace the Fire Orders because we owe it to one another. In that sense, the Fire Orders must become a shared obligation, where the leader’s situational awareness depends on participation by the entire crew and where the crew’s participation is tempered with respect for the leader’s responsibility. Borrowing from the aviation community’s model of Cockpit / Crew Resource Management, we must focus fireline operations more on what is right than on who is right." __________________________________ "Higher Level of Professionalism As wildland fire managers, we know that our most important resource is our workforce. In the uncertain, high-risk, high-consequence environment we work in, the measure of professionalism is a recognition of our vulnerabilities and an uncompromising respect for our limits. A developing workforce must rely on leadership to learn these lessons. As leaders, then, we must make safety more than a platitude. We must make it a responsibility." "By 'taking the next step,' I mean aspiring to a higher level of professionalism in wildland fire operations. As leaders, we each occupy a position of influence. We can influence policies and procedures; but even more important, we can influence our people through our values and beliefs. Our values should infuse our standards and shape our actions if they are going to mean something to our people."

Even the USDI National Park Service endorses the WF Rules as viable: Firefighting Orders and Watch Out Situations" If firefighters follow the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders and are alerted to the 18 Watch-Out Situations, much of the risk of firefighting can be reduced." (emphasis added) ( )


NWCG appears to be focusing on "incomplete" lessons learned ignoring the adage that those who ignore the past are bound to repeat it. And then there are the manipulators and schemers ...

George Orwell's book "1984" about a future society abounding in contradictions and deliberate reversals of fact, spoke of the insidiously subtle "Doublethink." It entails the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them as true. And that's what this NWCG 6-Minutes for Safety article exemplifies.

"To respect words and their conveyance of reality is to show respect to the very foundation of reality. To manipulate words is to seek to manipulate truth and to instead choose falsity and illusion over reality. The manipulation of words is itself a violent act. It is an act of self-centered pride ultimately doomed to frustration and failure precisely because it is based in falsity." (emphasis added)

“Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power” by Josef Pieper (May 2011) (Posted by M. Cummins) ( )


Was the NWCG 2020 entrapment avoidance lesson a sincere, down-to-earth one or a calculated attempt to mislead the general WF and FF culture while supporting the SAIT-SAIR conclusion of no wrongdoing?

For those WFs and FFs that are / were particularly perplexed, follow the sage counsel of Jerry Williams and always strive for "Entrapment Avoidance."

Wildland fire Crew hiking an escape route to their safety zone. Source: FACLN Apr 05, 2018

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (KJV)

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? Galatians 4:16 (KJV)

Update October 19th 4:43pm- Fred J. Schoeffler has my full permission to use any and all content from "Was the NWCG 2020 entrapment avoidance lesson to vindicate the SAIT-SAIR conclusion?" on his new "Project 10 and 18 United" / "Project 10 and 18 International" blog he is creating.- Joy A. Collura


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