History of Women in Firefighting

Women have been firefighters for over 200 years. The first woman firefighter was Molly Williams, who was a slave in New York City and became a member of Oceanus Engine Company #11 in 1815. During the blizzard of 1818, Molly was credited with pulling the pumper to fires through heavy snow and was known to be just as hard working as her male counterparts.

In Pittsburgh in 1820, Marina Betts made history serving as the first women volunteer firefighter for the city. Betts was said to have never missed an alarm during her 10 years of service, and was remembered for pouring buckets of water over male bystanders who refused to help put out fires.

Lillie Hitchcock Coit is also considered to be one of the first female firefighters in America. In 1859, Coit (who was still a teenager at the time) became an honorary member of San Francisco’s Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5, when she helped the company haul the engine to a fire on Telegraph Hill.

By 1910 all-women volunteer fire companies were running in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Los Angeles, California. During World War II, many women entered the volunteer fire service to take the place of men who had been called into active duty service for the military. Two military fire departments in Illinois were staffed entirely by women for part of the war. In 1942 the first all-female forest firefighting crew in California was created

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, fire departments could no longer prevent women from applying for jobs as firefighters. Many women went to work for the departments but were still ostracized by their male colleagues and much of the protective equipment they were issued did not fit properly. Another major hurdle to entrance into firefighting for women was the lack of facilities. The immediate problem of sleeping quarters and bathing areas had to be solved before women could participate fully in firefighting as an occupation and as a culture. Communal showers and open bunk halls were designed for men only. Today, most stations are now designed to accommodate firefighters of both genders. Despite those issues, women continued to make great strides in the firefighting profession that still continues to this day. Presently, over 7,000 women now hold career firefighting and fire officer’s positions in the United States, with thousands more in Canada, Great Britain, and other countries throughout the world.

lillie_hitchcock.jpgLillie Hitchcock Coit, one of the first female firefighters in America.

Source: History of Women in Firefighting

Wildfire 101- Ten Standard Firefighting Orders

The Ten Standard Firefighting Orders are a set of systematically organized rules designed by the USDA Forest Service to reduce danger to personnel and increase firefighting efficiency. The orders were developed from lessons learned in a number of major wildland fires that led to the deaths of trapped firefighters including the Shoshone National Forest Blackwater fire of 1937 and the Helena National Forest Mann Gulch Fire in 1949. 

 

 

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The original Fire Orders were designed as a checklist for firefighting personnel to bear in mind prior to engaging a fire. In the 1980s, the order was changed in an attempt to create an easy-to-remember list, with each order beginning with an initial of “Fire Orders”. After much debate and numerous firefighter fatalities that found most of the Fire Orders were being broken, a decision was made to revert back to the original Fire Orders.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Standard_Firefighting_Orders

Fire Danger Signs: What Do They Really Mean?

Ever been driving along a highway, spotted a Fire Danger Sign, and wondered what it is truly indicating?

Fire Danger is a description of the combination of both constant and variable factors that affect the initiation, spread, and difficulty to control a wildfire in a given area. There are many systems and schemes that attempt to provide accurate and reliable predictions of fire danger, that analyze the fuel, topography, and weather, and integrate their effects into a set of numbers that fire managers can use to determine a rating.

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Since 1974, five rating levels have been used to describe danger levels in public information releases and fire prevention signing:

Low (Green) – Fire starts are unlikely. Weather and fuel conditions will lead to slow fire spread, low intensity and relatively easy control with light mop-up. Controlled burns can usually be executed with reasonable safety.

Moderate (Blue) – Some wildfires may be expected. Expect moderate flame length and rate of spread. Control is usually not difficult and light to moderate mop-up can be expected. Although controlled burning can be done without creating a hazard, routine caution should be taken.

High (Yellow) – Wildfires are likely. Fires in heavy, continuous fuel such as mature grassland, weed fields and forest litter, will be difficult to control under windy conditions. Control through direct attack may be difficult but possible and mop-up will be required. Outdoor burning should be restricted to early morning and late evening hours.

Very High (Orange) – Fires start easily from all causes and may spread faster than suppression resources can travel. Flame lengths will be long with high intensity, making control very difficult. Both suppression and mop-up will require an extended and very thorough effort. Outdoor burning is not recommended.

Extreme (Red) – Fires will start and spread rapidly. Every fire start has the potential to become large. Expect extreme, erratic fire behavior. NO OUTDOOR BURNING SHOULD TAKE PLACE IN AREAS WITH EXTREME FIRE DANGER.

– See more at: http://www.nps.gov/fire/wildland-fire/learning-center/fire-in-depth/understanding-fire-danger.cfm#sthash.qf9PGgN8.dpuf

Fuel Reduction Practices and Purpose

The practice of hazardous fuel reduction is most often associated with moderating the flammable vegetation around the defensible space of individual homes and communities. But this proactive approach to fighting wildland fire comes in many other forms and, unlike fire-fighting in most areas, is a year-round practice. 

 

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Ridgeline fuel break example on the left and a road brushing/shaded fuel break on the right.

The basic function of a fuel-break is to impose some obstacle to the spread of potential fire, and also to provide access to the fire should one break out. Fuel breaks are designed to change the behavior of a wildfire by reducing the quantity, density, and configuration of potential fuels that the fire encounters when it enters the fuel break. 

Breaks are constructed for a number of purposes:

  • To act as a barrier to control the spread of a fire to a particular area or property.
  • To contain the spread of a fire from a fire source.
  • To break up large fuel areas (i.e. where fire may spread rapidly or be difficult to control, a system of firebreaks is sometimes established to aid in confining the fire to a relatively small area).
  • Reduce a crown fire to a fire burning on the ground. 

Fuel Breaks are most effectively located in the following areas:

  • Along ridges, where fires naturally slow their progress under most conditions.
  • 100 feet to 200 feet around structures, where fires are likely to start.
  • Along roads, power lines, and pipelines, where openings already exist.
  • Around wet areas, rock outcrops, mined areas, and other topographically strategic locations where fire spread may be reduced.
    • Adjacent to areas where fuel reduction treatments, such as thinnings and surface fuel treatments, have already been performed, where fire intensity and spread are already reduced.
    • Connecting to existing fuel breaks, to expand protected areas in a systematic way.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (CA) – Code 383

Smoke Color Can Depict Fuel Type

Smoke is made up of particulates, aerosols and gases, and identifying the characteristics of each in a given smoke plume can be helpful when fighting fires. Reading smoke can tell a firefighter what is currently happening with a fire as well as what might happen in the future. One particularly important factor in predicting fire behavior is the color of the smoke emitted.

 

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Smoke is the biproduct of the fuels it is burning.  The color of the smoke indicates to firefighters the type and density of the fuels involved, all of which gives hints as to what the fire might do next.

White smoke can often mean material is off-gassing moisture and water vapor, meaning the fire is just starting to consume material. White smoke can also indicate light and flashy fuels such as grass or twigs.

Thick, black smoke indicates heavy fuels that are not being fully consumed. At times, black smoke can be an indicator that a manmade material is burning such as tires, vehicles or a structure. As a general rule, the darker the smoke, the more volatile the fire is.

Grey smoke can indicate that the fire is slowing down and running out of materials to burn.

WildFire 101: Haines Index

Haines Index is used to indicate the potential for rapid fire growth due to dry and unstable atmospheric conditions over a fire area. The index is a simple way to measure the atmosphere’s contribution to the fire’s growth potential. A high Haines Index is correlated with large fire growth where winds do not dominate fire behavior.

During days with a high Haines index and a Lightning Activity Level (LAL) above 4, fire behavior can become very erratic, unpredictable and difficult for resources to control and contain.

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2014 Incident Response Pocket Guide, Page 65

Wildfire 101: Lightning Activity Level (LAL)

The Lightning Activity Level (LAL) is a measurement of cloud-to-ground lightning activity observed (or forecasted to occur) within a 30 mile radius of an observation site.

 

 The LAL is part of the National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) and consists of two reports. The first report covers the period from the previous day’s observation until midnight (referred to as Yesterday’s Lightning) and the second report covers the period from midnight until the present day’s observation time (referred to as Morning Lightning).  Each report is assigned a number on a scale of 1 to 6 which reflects the frequency and character of the lightning. The scale for 1 to 5 is exponential, based on powers of 2 (i.e., LAL 3 indicates twice the amount of lightning of LAL 2). LAL 6 is a special category for dry lightning (see description below) and is closely equivalent to LAL 3 in strike frequency.

 

The Lightning Activity Level on a scale of 1 to 6 as described below:

LAL 1: No thunderstorm or building cumulus clouds observed.

LAL 2: A single or few building cumulus clouds with only an occasional one reaching thunderstorm intensity observed. Thunderstorms or lightning need not be observed for this activity level to be assigned; however at least one large cumulus cloud must be present.

LAL 3: Occasional lightning (an average of 1 to 2 cloud-to-ground strikes per minute) is observed. Building cumulus clouds are common; thunderstorms are widely scattered.

LAL 4: Frequent lighting (an average of 2 to 3 cloud-to-ground strikes per minute) is observed. Thunderstorms are common and cover 10 to 30 percent of the sky. Lightning is primarily of the cloud-to-cloud type but cloud-to-ground lightning may be observed.

LAL 5: Frequent and intense lightning (cloud-to-ground strikes greater than 3 per minute) is observed. Thunderstorms are common, occasionally obscuring the sky. Moderate to heavy rain usually precedes and follow the lightning activity. Lightning of all kinds (cloud-to-cloud, in-cloud and cloud-to-ground) is characteristically persistent during the storm period.

LAL 6: A dry lightning situation. Low lightning flash rate observed (less than one to three cloud-to-ground strikes per 5-minute period per storm cell passage). Scattered towering clouds with a few thunderstorms; bases of the clouds are high. Virga is the predominate form of precipitation.

 

National Wildfire Coordinating Group

http://www.nwcg.gov/term/glossary/lightning-activity-level-(lal)

Wildfire 101: Ignition

Since 2001, each wildfire season has averaged almost 73,000 ignitions and over 6.5 million acres burned in the U.S. Interestingly, the vast majority of these ignitions are human-caused, but the total acreage burned is mostly accredited to lightning-starts.

Annually-collected statistics on ignitions show that 85% of all wildfire starts this century have been classified as human-caused. Wildfire modeling studies point to higher ignitions due to predictable patterns of human activity along transportation routes, in recreation areas, and during certain times of year. Arson, automobile brakes, campfires, engine sparks, and escaped debris fires are the most frequent types of human-caused ignitions. 

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RedZone’s compilation of 2015 Wildfires Igntions

Though lightning and other natural causes make up most of the other 15% of annual ignitions, they cause 62% of the total acreage burned. This discrepancy is due to the fact that fires that start naturally often occur in large forested areas with more fuel and limited accessibility, and are likely given less suppression effort since naturally-occuring fire helps maintain ecosystem health.

 

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All statistics are based on fires and acres reported to the National Interagency Coordination Center at NIFC.

NASA’s JPL announces plan for more advanced wildfire detection by 2018

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been refining a concept first proposed in 2011 for a network of space-based sensors called FireSat that would revolutionize the monitoring coverage of wildfires globally.

 

JPL's rendering of FireSat in action

According to the JPL, “FireSat would be a constellation of more than 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors on satellites designed to quickly locate wildfires around the globe. The FireSat sensors would be able to detect fires that are at least 35 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) wide, within an average of 15 minutes from the time they begin. Within three minutes of detecting a fire from orbit, FireSat would notify emergency responders in the area of the fire, improving support for time-critical response decisions.” Currently MODIS and VIIRS satellites (which both serve many other functions than fire detection) operated by NASA have fire detection capabilities but are limited to large image sizes and can only detect fires twice a day. FireSat sensors would complement these systems by enabling faster, nearly continuous communication with the ground by sending low-resolution images of detected fires every minute along with a latitude and longitude of the location.

 For more on this and other stories from NASA’s JPL visit the JPLNEWS page.

California’s Fire Potential Outlook for December

 

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Southern California:

Normal significant wildland fire potential is expected for Southern California for the outlook period.

Weather and Fuels:

After a relatively wet early October, the weather over much of the area turned warmer and drier during the second half of October and into November. A strong ridge of high pressure over the Eastern Pacific kept the storm track well to the north. At the same time, several troughs to the east of the state allowed periodic offshore wind episodes to occur. Most of these were of light to moderate intensity and of short duration. Some wetting rains and high elevation snowfall occurred over portions of Central California, but most of Southern California saw little precipitation during the second half of October into the first half of November. The combination of offshore winds and warm ocean temperatures pushed many locations across Southern California into monthly maximum temperatures records. Fuel conditions vary from seasonally wet to extremely dry across the area. Most of the Sierras and higher elevations of the mountains of Southern California have seen several significant precipitation events, and with the short daylight hours and low sun angle, it would be difficult for these areas to see any additional significant fire activity this year and into early 2016. However, the dry weather allowed for a recent grass crop to cure across portions of Southern California. In general, eastern Santa Barbara County southward to Orange County are the driest parts of the area. These areas continue to see very low dead fuel moisture due to the very warm and dry weather.

Long range models depict a change in the weather pattern over the next few weeks. A much more progressive pattern seems to be shaping up over the Pacific. Additionally, the El Niño over the Eastern Pacific is likely peaking in intensity. As the east to west trade winds continue to weaken and convection increases across areas of the Eastern Pacific, storm frequency should increase in December. Significant and potentially heavy rain will accompany some of these storms. Large fire potential should be near normal early in December over the remaining dry areas.

Northern California:

Normal significant wildland fire potential is expected for Northern California for the outlook period.

Weather and Fuels:

November precipitation ranged from 50 to 125 percent of normal over most of northern California, with temperatures that were near normal to 5 degrees below normal. This helped get the early phases of a high-elevation snowpack get started. Fire Danger / Potential was down to near zero in the Northwest quarter of the Geographic Area and the roughly once-per-week storms elsewhere, each with light to moderate precipitation, sufficiently to greatly reduced fire potential.

For December, near-normal precipitation is expected, with temperatures near to a little above normal. The strongest El Niño in 18 years will affect the jet stream patterns, such that it is expected that northern California will have a good chance of receiving above normal precipitation for the three month period from January through March. Higher elevation snowpack should be the best in at least the past several years, and mid-elevations will see some snowpack (in contrast to the past two winters when there was very little).

http://www.nifc.gov/nicc/predictive/outlooks/monthly_seasonal_outlook.pdf