Working as a wildland firefighter, resident or contractor on fuel reduction projects to make communities safer in the event of a wildfire can be hazardous. Injuries can occur while completing this work. Would you know when to seek medical attention and report what might initially appear to be a small injury? Can injuries left untreated have more serious consequences?
While reading a three page article from Wildland Fire Lessons Learned, Brush Cutter Injury, I learned about an injury that happened to a seasonal forestry technician who was working to maintain the integrity of a fuel break in a park. As he was cutting brush with a group at the recreation center, something hit his arm and he felt “pins and needles sensations” from his fingertips to his shoulder -- the same sort of sensation a person gets when they hit their funny bone. He removed his Nomex shirt to examine a small puncture wound on his right arm. He reported the injury to his supervisor and they took care of what appeared to be a small wound. However, the tingling sensation did not go away, so he was taken to a hospital. Upon an x-ray examination it was revealed that a small piece of metal was embedded in the forestry technician’s arm. Surgery was required to remove the piece of metal and after a recovery period of three weeks the technician went back to work.
The article discussed lessons learned from this incident that we can all learn from:
- What was done well
1. A Job Hazard Analysis had been completed prior to this fuel reduction project being implemented.
2. The project had an approved ICS-206 completed and available. The safety briefing conducted prior to beginning work covered what to do in the event of an emergency.
3. All employees were wearing all the required Personal Protective Equipment for the project.
4. A stocked first aid kit was available on the Park’s Type 6 Engine and the employees knew its location.
5. Use of Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) (also known as text/picture/video messaging), provided updates and images, particularly the X-rays, to all relevant parties quickly and effectively.
6. The Park maintains employee emergency contact information in the event of an incident.
- Overall Lessons
1. Prior to commencing fuel reduction work with a brush cutter, inspect the area and clear it of debris that may cause hazardous issues.
2. Consider alternative methods of fuel reduction.
3. Subsequent investigation revealed that the brush cutter did not have a large deflector kit installed. Such large deflector kits have been ordered and will be utilized.
Most importantly, if an injury does not feel right—regardless of how seemingly insignificant—report it and have it examined.