Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lots of Fire…and Lots of Safety

By all accounts, 2012 was an incredibly busy fire season for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) firefighters. Wildfires blackened 3.3 million acres of BLM land this year—more than a third of all lands burned by wildfire this year in the entire country. BLM Districts in Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Idaho were hardest hit by wildfire.

BLM engine crews, hotshots, smokejumpers, helitack crews, and support personnel spent months on fires this year. In fact, BLM fire personnel (including casual fire personnel sponsored by the BLM) worked 6.5 million hours in 2012, which equates to an almost 20% increase in overall wildland fire suppression hours worked over a typical fire season. In short, we had a lot of exposure to risk in 2012.
BLM's overall fire safety record was good in 2012, despite one of the busiest seasons in recent years.
In spite of the increased exposure to risk, however, the BLM's accident frequency rate did not increase…

The BLM fire program did see an upswing in accident reporting and more attention to near-miss events, which culturally we view as a positive signal. And though we had our share of accidents, the number of accidents did not increase commensurate with the increased exposure to risk. Further, it is worth noting that the BLM had no ground firefighter fatalities in 2012.

BLM fire and aviation personnel do a lot of driving in support of our mission, so transportation is important aspect of safety. The BLM Transportation unit at NIFC, which provides transportation support nationwide, logged over 540,000 miles in 2012 without a serious accident.

No fire season is ever perfect from a safety standpoint and some significant accident situations did occur this year. However, decisive thinking and actions by firefighters prevented more serious outcomes in a number of instances. Overall, this year's indicators demonstrate a focus on safety and good risk management decision-making. As we continue to embody the principles of High Reliability Organizations, we are never satisfied with our accomplishments in safety; however, this year's safety record is worth noting and everyone who contributed to this year's safety achievements deserves some thanks and recognition.
Reprint from "The BLM Daily," December 5, 2012.
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