The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of ripples in our lives and many of us simply want to return to normal. We may never go back completely to our past business practices, but there are some things we can do to ease the transition. Relying on the familiar to help us frame our new environment can make change easier – and communicating that change easier too! With all the talk of what we need to do differently with COVID, let’s see how it actually compliments what we know and do:
We know how to establish lookouts: find a good spot, know the lay of the land and the fire environment, pay attention to changes, and communicate.
- COVID lookouts: Learn local factors we may be stepping into – What is the current number of cases in the area? Where are the adjoining resources? Where will we be able to operate safely without exposing ourselves to unacceptable risk? Being your own lookout means conducting your daily personal health screening for COVID symptoms and sharing if you might be exposed.
This includes having a good system in place and sharing info early to all parties.
- COVID Commo: We must speak up if we see something – even to remind people to wear their PPE or not shake hands. It means finding gaps in our systems of virtual information exchange and plugging them BEFORE it impacts our situational awareness on the operational ground. We need to confirm everyone (top-down and bottom-up) is comfortable with the assignment and the environment we are being asked to work in.
Have an exit strategy and a timeline to use it, including a backup plan.
- COVID Escape Routes: Set trigger points for when to back out of a situation and expand your personal space or wear PPE to increase safety from exposure. Set these early before things heat up – What mitigations (PPE, physical distancing, etc.) will be used when? How long will these mechanisms be viable (clean PPE, upgrading PPE, etc.)? How can we make sure it’s used consistently and we don’t get too focused on operations? Don’t get complacent – time the route, practice the route!
Survivable areas that are appropriately sized so we don’t need to use additional protection.
- COVID Safety Zones: Buffer areas we create for ourselves using Module as One concepts to limit our environmental exposure. This also includes cleaning and hygiene protocols that ensure the space created with physical distancing remains viable and secure from the virus. It can also mean quarantines (at the start of the season, between assignments, etc.) to create safe areas to work in – giving ourselves the time and space to validate we haven’t been exposed.
- COVID Deployment Zones: Deployment zones are the fallback in case safety zones aren’t available. A fire shelter and/or PPE (gloves and cloth masks) can give us added protection. It may even mean isolating ourselves if we become sick so that we don’t further impact our friends and family.
We don’t engage without Lookouts, Communication, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES) being in place. How about your COVID LCES?
- How will you understand the changing environment so you know what you’re getting into?
- Does everyone involved feel good about how you’re conducting business with the added COVID hazard?
- Do you have all the information for your assignment and have you been given a solid briefing?
- Set up your COVID escape routes and safety zones. What are your trigger points for today’s work?
- What will your team do if LCES becomes compromised? Plan ahead!
Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center
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