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Forest Firefighters to Follow More Safety Rules

Tom Banse
06/27/2003

Forest firefighters are preparing for an average to above-average fire season in the Northwest this summer. The deaths of four firefighters in north-central Washington two years ago -- combined with vehicle and airplane crashes last summer -- are bringing new safety rules to the field. Correspondent Tom Banse reports from Pierce County, [Washington].

ABOUT TWO HUNDRED NEW FOREST FIREFIGHTERS GRADUATE FROM BASIC TRAINING TODAY. YESTERDAY, SOME OF THEM CAME FACE TO FACE WITH FLAMES FOR THE FIRST TIME. Sound: [crackling fire] Female firefighter: "It's hot out." CONDITIONS ARE IDEAL FOR A PRACTICE BURN ON PRAIRIE AT FORT LEWIS. COLUMNS OF GRAY SMOKE DRIFT SKYWARD OVER THE LINES OF YELLOW-SHIRTED RECRUITS DIGGING FRESH FIRE BREAKS. Sound: [fire shovels and picks] BARRETT FROBOSE AND WILL ARNESEN FROM THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE NOTICE HOW MUCH THE INSTRUCTORS HIGHLIGHT SAFETY ORDERS. Frobose: "Safety is stressed more than anything else in this training." Arneson: "Oh yeah, over and over. Continuously." LAST YEAR, 23 FIREFIGHTERS PERISHED ON WILDFIRE DUTY NATIONWIDE. NONE BURNED TO DEATH. THEY WERE ALL KILLED IN ACCIDENTS, MOST NOTABLY VEHICLE ROLLOVERS AND AIR TANKER CRASHES. FOREST SERVICE COMMANDER DAVE MCCULLOUGH SAY THIS YEAR BRINGS NEW EMPHASIS ON COMBATING FATIGUE THAT LEADS TO INJURY. STATE AND FEDERAL AGENCIES WILL MORE STRICTLY ENFORCE WORK AND TIME OFF STANDARDS. FOR EXAMPLE, A MINIMUM 8 HOURS OF REST MUST FOLLOW 16 HOURS OF WORK. McCullough: "I really think rest is going to be a big issue. It's a long season. Fatigue is cumulative and we've got to manage that rest somehow. Sometimes that may mean we don't fight fire." ATTENTION TO FITNESS AND ENDURANCE IS FILTERING DOWN TO STATE FORESTRY AGENCIES. THIS YEAR, NEW STATE HIRES HAVE TO TAKE THE FOREST SERVICE'S SO-CALLED "PACK TEST." WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES CREW BOSS MIKE READ SAYS IT ENTAILS HIKING THREE MILES WITH A 45-POUND PACK IN UNDER 45 MINUTES. Read: "In case there is runaway fire and you do have to leave the area fast after working hard all day, it's a test to show that you have the endurance to still be able to cover a lot of ground." THE ENDURANCE OF THE NORTHWEST'S AGING FLEET OF AIR TANKERS IS ALSO COMING UNDER CLOSE SCRUTINY. THE FOREST SERVICE HAS TAKEN FIREFIGHTING AIRPLANES STATIONED AT MOSES LAKE AND LAGRANDE OUT OF SERVICE. THE C-130'S ARE OF THE SAME KOREAN WAR VINTAGE AS TWO PLANES THAT DISINTEGRATED IN MID-AIR LAST SUMMER. TO BACKFILL, WASHINGTON STATE ACQUIRED 12 SURPLUS HELICOPTERS FROM THE MILITARY TO CONVERT TO FIREFIGHTING USE. STATE LANDS COMMISSIONER DOUG SUTHERLAND SAYS THE HEIGHTENED SCRUTINY OF TECHNIQUE AND PROCEDURES SHOULD NOT LESSEN THE FIRE CONTROL EFFORT THIS SUMMER. Sutherland: "You can still fight fire, and you can still fight fire aggressively. But you do it a lot safer." Sound: [firefighters discuss patrols] OUT AT THE PRACTICE BURN, THE MOSTLY YOUNG TRAINEES BELIEVE THEY'LL SURVIVE THEIR HOT AND DANGEROUS WORK. Molly Burns: "I just want some adventure. I want to go out and play and broaden my abilities." Barrett Frobose: "I mean, it's a risky business. But it take precautions you should come out all right, I guess." Dave Klingbiel: "It all comes down to working as a crew. If everybody is doing their part to be safe and we all look out for each other, it should be a very safe experience." Sound: [trainee attacks crackling fire] I'M TOM BANSE AT FORT LEWIS, WASHINGTON.
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