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Fatigued Driving in the Fire Service

It all happened so fast
you’re just there and then I was facing the other way then I was rolling through the median
and then I woke up on the ground and there was people all over the place
I mean it was … like pictures almost… Narrator: It was just before 13:30 on August 5th, 2017
when an Oregon Department of Forestry firefighter fell asleep behind the wheel
of an agency water tender and was involved in a rollover accident. Truck Driver: Call 9-1-1 He was returning to his duty station from a local initial attack fire that had started early in the afternoon the day before
the driver received serious life-threatening injuries and the agency vehicle was totaled. The district Forester and area director requested an incident review team in order to
document the facts of the incident to better understand the events leading up
to the rollover, discover contributing factors and promote a learning culture
with possible recommendations aimed at future incident prevention. Each fire season is unique in its own
way but 2017 had at least one thing in common with fire seasons of recent past
and that’s that we had a lot of exposure hours we had firefighters and support
staff actively engaged in fire suppression throughout the entire summer and even on
the shoulder seasons and so with that we automatically know we also increase our
driver exposure and I know it’s not a novel concept and it’s sort of becoming
cliche but if you ask around in the agency or if you talk to people in the
fire service what is your biggest exposure probably the majority of the
time you’re gonna hear driving and that’s because we place a heavy emphasis on it
in drivers training in RT-130. We can almost always expect it to come up
as a topic at a safety officers morning briefing or a division supervisors breakout
it’s almost become a bit of a catchphrase and with catchphrases you
have to be careful that they don’t become a catch-all and what I mean by
that is each specific hazard associated with driving has been diluted to one
driver exposure umbrella when we start to discuss more in depth driver
exposure we start to look at the topics like the size of a vehicle, how it handles on and off
the road, traffic congestion, driver experience and while all of those
deserve attention and discussion on their own, the intent here is to
specifically bring up fatigue and to allow for an in-depth look at a specific
incident so that at a local or district level we can address fatigue and how it
affects us directly. I’d say our fire season was pretty average coming into this we’d had a couple rounds of lightning so we’d been busy but not
abnormally busy. It was kind of hit and miss. You know, we tried to give days off
where possible but some folks had worked through their days off and it was
just an average busy time of year. In 2017 you know the fire situation in the
West there was nothing available you know I remember walking into the office
one day and being told if you have another fire you’re not getting anything.
It’s gonna be you and whatever we can get you locally and you’re gonna have to try
to deal the best you can with it. Narrator: the Indian Lake fire was one of the
first major initial attack incidents on the Pendleton Unit in 2017. It was
reported on August 4th around 13:45 and within 30 minutes an interagency
response was being mobilized. By 14:30 Air Attack reported the fire to be
50 to 75 acres and running. Shortly after 19:00 that night the fire
was estimated at a hundred acres in timber. Resources on scene now included
multiple aircraft, several hand crew squads with more on order and the
Pendleton ODF tender had just arrived. To try to keep people engaged and fresh we knew that it was gonna be a long shift. It wasn’t one of those things where we
were gonna be able to call more people in that night knowing that we weren’t
going to get outside resources and that we were gonna have that IA
responsibility the next day. We kept working that fire until we were
relatively sure that was… that fire wasn’t gonna be backing down into a
canyon where we didn’t have any access where it was gonna present control
problems and at that point it was it was decided that we had the opportunity to bed people down up on the fire that night. 2… maybe a little after 02:00 in
the morning we started gathering people back at staging to have them get some
shut-eye and plan for another six o’clock briefing the next morning to
reengage the fire and whatever resources we had coming in the next morning
as they filtered in we’d filter people out. I was initially planning on dumping my tank until I got demobed and then my mind
went straight to “All right, time to go home. I’m tired I’m done. I’m gonna go get some sleep.”
I didn’t have a single thought cross my mind that was like, “Man I’m
too tired to drive home or I shouldn’t be driving right now I’m way
too tired.” And I was wide awake all the way up the gravel road which I believe
is mostly because of how bumpy that road is. You know you’re bouncing around in
the cab and you’re not gonna fall asleep on that. But the second I hit the freeway
once I hit the freeway I was asleep. There was no like lulling me to sleep.
I wasn’t nodding off. There was no transition where
I was starting to get tired. I just I woke up down the road a little ways. I was released from the incident
probably fifteen minutes at the most behind… behind the tender.
Didn’t feel overly tired at that point. I was ready to get back… back home
get some rest and you know have a clearer head to think through the
plan for the coming days. A few miles down the road
I noticed that traffic was backed-up. Came over a rise noticed that there was a wreck in the eastbound lanes. At first I didn’t think anything of it passed where the wreck was located I looked
back and noticed the federal excess property plate and immediately
recognized it as the tender at that point I remember cursing very loud
it was immediate shock you know a thought of is he alive and at that moment I
remember being very I would say scared you know you never want to see your guy
in that position you don’t want to see anybody in that position but when it’s
your guy it’s… it’s something else and you know you can’t plan for it
you never want to see it and and it’s it’s tough Narrator: nearly all involved felt a sense of
remorse that they didn’t notice any signs that would have alarmed them
to issues of fatigue a few even attributed their own tiredness
as potentially limiting their ability to recognize the fatigue in others I mean it was an hour drive
back… back home it wasn’t wasn’t a long one but knowing it
was a long shift you know I made it a point to face to face
with each of those demobing resources kind of just do a quick glance status
check I guess is what I would call it with the fact that we bedded down the
night before it wasn’t you know one of those big glaring concerns in my mind
that they might be overly tired because you know it’s rare to get sleep on those
type of fires and so it was it was just one of those you know quick
hey you’ve been demobed hey you know make it home type of a deal
and you just kind of quick assess and everybody seemed fine at that point Narrator: fighting fire is physically
and mentally demanding and working long hours is a
regular part of the job understanding how fatigue affects your
physical and mental state recognizing its common indicators
and knowing how to mitigate its effects are all critical to keeping yourself and
firefighters alongside you safe not getting enough sleep or rest is obviously
the main cause of fatigue but it’s also important to identify the other conditions
at work and in our personal lives that an lead to functioning in an unsafe
sleep-deprived state the demands of certain types of work such as firefighting and other emergency services make it difficult to get adequate rest and
expose those who work under these conditions to fatigue-related risks
in addition to working conditions our personal circumstances play an important role
in our ability to get enough rest these include such things as stressful personal
circumstances such as financial or relationship difficulties poor quality
of sleep like insomnia sleep apnea and other types of sleep disorders poor diet
and long commutes to and from work when working conditions and personal
circumstances both align to keep you from getting adequate rest the short and
long-term effects of your physical and mental health can be profound while being tired
may not seem like a big deal it makes a significant difference in your
ability to function effectively and safely recent studies have found that
even in the short-term there is a twenty to
fifty percent reduction in ability to recognize and sizeup risk
reaction times concentration and an eye coordination short-term memory and
the difficulty in makeing decisions increases additionally a recent study conducted by the National
Institute for Occupational Health and Safety found that those who are sleep deprived
that is less than eight hours a day had twice the rate of workplace
injuries and accidents all studies in fatigue find decreases in overall performance and increases in rates of error and accidents one of the most dangerous
activities to engage in while sleep-deprived and fatigued is driving
drivers who nod off account for 100,000 vehicle crashes in the US every year
in addition 21 percent of all fatal car wrecks can be attributed to fatigued or
drowsy drivers a study conducted by Triple-A found that sleeping less than
seven hours increases the risk of being in a car crash exponentially missing
just one or two hours of sleep a night doubles your chance of being in a car wreck
put simply driving while drowsy is at least as dangerous as driving while drunk
the CDC has found that being awake for 18 hours impairs your ability to drive the same
as having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 driving after being awake 24 hours
is the same as driving while legally drunk
or having a blood alcohol of 0.08. The bottom line is the research
shows that you cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely
function behind the wheel. Even if you miss as little as two to three hours of
sleep from the recommended seven you quadruple your risk of being in a crash.
Awareness that sleeping less than seven hours in a 24-hour period is an
important trigger point in gauging your exposure to the effects of fatigue on
your mental and physical abilities but there are many other contributing
factors that cause fatigue that’s why it’s important to be able to recognize the
signs of fatigue and to take them seriously, especially when driving a vehicle.
Difficulty keeping your eyes open and frequent blinking, blurred vision,
excessive yawning, you feel the need to rub your eyes,
head nodding or trouble keeping your head up, feeling restless, irritable or impatient; drifting from lane to lane or onto the rumble strip; daydreaming, trouble focusing or
zoning out; not being able to remember the last few miles you’ve driven;
missing your exit or not registering road signs; not maintaining a consistent speed;
slowing down or speeding up frequently. The only real way to address fatigue is
by sleeping but catching up on sleep isn’t as simple as taking a quick nap.
Research shows that if you’re not getting enough sleep then your body
begins to develop a sleep debt. This debt will continue to grow as you add on more
and more hours of missed sleep. The more hours of sleep you miss the
harder it becomes to think and function. Your body cannot overcome this thinking
you can keep yourself awake by turning up the radio, rolling the window down or turning on the air-conditioner will not work for long. How can you avoid the risk of driving
while fatigued? The following are some recommendations that can help
keep you safe. Get a good night’s sleep before you travel. Don’t wait for your
body to tell you that you’re tired and make sure you’re well rested before you
go. Beginning your journey with a sleep deficit is a major safety issue. Don’t
travel for more than eight to ten hours in a single day. Take regular rest breaks
every couple of hours or 100 miles to stretch and refresh. Share driving
whenever possible or request a driver when you’re at risk. Avoid prescription medications that may make you sleepy. Avoid driving when you
would normally be sleeping. Recognize the signs of fatigue. If you are experiencing
any of them, pull over in a safe area and take a short 15 to 20 minute power nap.
A good rule of thumb would be to not drive if you have been awake for 24 hours or more until getting some rest. No one is immune to the effects of
driver fatigue but some groups of people are at a higher risk than others. The
desire to get home to a meal, shower, a real bed and family is an incredibly
strong pull but it is vitally important that you accurately size up your
condition and that of those around you. As wildland firefighters, we must begin
to think about fatigue and driving the same way we might size up a snag or
other hazard to look at the risks involved and our own ability with an
honest assessment. Remember the signs of fatigue and take steps to ensure you and
your crew get home safely. Taking seriously the risks of driving while
fatigued is a first step in creating safer work practices. The second is
legitimizing the narrative of fatigue in the workplace. No one is immune to
fatigue being able to talk about it without being embarrassed or worrying
about how you’ll be perceived is key to managing and mitigating the safety risks
involved. We probably all recognize that fatigue is a part of our business… the business that we’re in. We’re never going to be able to eliminate
being fatigued on the fireline. I think the emphasis behind this video really and what we’re trying to do is share what we’ve learned with the hope
that it would lead to more mitigation and prevention of fatigue out there and
fewer incidents as a result of that. It really is the responsibility of all
employees to watch out for themselves and each other and monitor fatigue. Far
often it’s too late when we actually realize and recognize within ourselves
that fatigue has set in or others recognize and bring it to our attention. As a manager, you don’t always
know what’s going on you know outside of work
per se that could be affecting their sleep that you know could be
affecting you know their focus on a job and that’s that’s kind of your your
realm as a manager to try to talk to people every day and try to gauge that and
make sure that everybody’s where they need to be to go
to go fight a fire. It’s sometimes really
hard for us to know when to say when and admit that within
ourselves that we are suffering from fatigue, whether it’s on the job, off the
job or a combination of both. Monitoring those people that especially
if you know either you’re going to be into an extra shift with the same same
group of guys, even if you get rest maybe they didn’t get the best rest maybe…
maybe that’s something that you need to pay attention to and even a small office
like ours you know, have drivers ready to go in those situations people…
people that you can call up and get rides and just make it more of a
mandatory thing they’re gonna get a ride because being firefighters you know we
always have that tendency that yeah, we can make it home you know. I don’t want
to be that guy that says I can’t do this you know. I think that’s that’s something
that sets firefighters apart but it’s something that can cause an
issue at other times. The biggest thing is I’m not
sure in our profession how great we are at
admitting we need help or even recognizing the signs that we might need
help within ourselves so I think that the ability to go to somebody else and
say “Hhey I don’t know if it’s safe for me to drive home”
because it’s not, it’s not worth it to do what I did
frankly just trying to get home half an hour quicker. Half an hour is not worth the six months I spent laid up. You know when I started as a seasonal
employee it was pretty normal to work all night, drive home the next day kind
of thing. I understand long-range effects of my
decisions better than I did when I was you know young a young firefighter and
so trying to mitigate that now you know on the backside as I understand why we
would encourage folks to camp out more or to, you know, sleep before they drive
home. I see the benefit now. I think the challenges are promoting a
culture that empowers employees to feel comfortable to talk about experiences
they’ve had in a trusting and learning atmosphere. That’s when it’s really cool
to me is when that young firefighter goes through this experience and they
feel safe to talk to their supervisors, to talk to their peers, to talk to their
co-workers and share those experiences so that we can all learn from them. While it was a tough situation it was initially dealt with well and the
employees in the district the people that were involved with the incident
have done a great job I think in participating proactively in coming up
with some solutions coming up with some training, a lot of creative thinking on
how to mitigate this… this type of incident from occurring again and I’m
real proud of their efforts. We can share with others to learn from our
experiences. That’s ultimately a very good outcome I think and and that’s
where we’re headed with this effort and we’re hopeful that other people find
some real benefit in us doing it. If my story can help anyone else then it’s
almost unfair of me not to share that that’s selfish. If I’ve had anything to take
away from it it’s just pay attention to yourself more. I know I personally have a
tendency to worry about everything else first and I think it’s important just like with
hydrating I guess, you know, you can sometimes get distracted you’re not
drinking enough water well it’s the same kind of way with sleep. If you’re not
getting enough sleep you should notice the signs and you should get more sleep. in addition to this video please visit
the links included in the description below there you will find additional
supplemental materials that can aid in group discussion and activities
regarding fatigue as well as links to other resources and useful information
related to fatigue

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