National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2018 WOR Day 7: Conclusion

Ribbon symbol for survivor next to the Wildland Fire Leadership logoWeek of Remembrance June 30-July 6

This Week of Remembrance is dedicated to all those who have fallen in the line of duty and is intended to serve as an opportunity to renew our commitment to the health, wellness and safety of wildland firefighters.

On July 6, 1994 the South Canyon fire claimed the lives of 14 wildland firefighters.  Our tribute to those lives lost that day on Storm King Mountain closes out a week of collectively remembering and honoring all the lives lost during wildland fires. It is an opportunity to learn from the past and implement changes that will hopefully result in safer outcomes for our workforce.  Over time the lessons we learn and share from accidents and fatalities have led to significant improvements in our training, leadership, risk assessment and operational practices.

This week has focused on medevacs and the changes implemented since the death of Andy Palmer. Significant changes in medical operations and resources have resulted from this incident. However, we must not rely on these changes as the only answer. Our duty is to build margin into our planning that helps us to remain flexible in our actions and reduces the chances of needing a medevac.

What is margin? Think of margin as the room we have to operate safely.  We have tools such as our IRPG, the Red Book, LCES and risk management that help us assess and influence our degree of margin.  Margin is not intended to be just another tool, but, an overarching framework in which these tools are applied.

Firefighter safety bubble

Margin includes the role of the firefighter in the creation of safety.  For example, doing our daily PM checks on our vehicles and addressing any issues immediately allows for safer conditions when driving.  Training gives us knowledge to do our jobs.  Having a radio on the line means you have communication, both the ability to communicate and to hear the operations and actions that are occurring around you.  These types of factors increase our margin, create a stronger environment of safety and reduce the chance of unintended outcomes.

When it comes to operations we need to be diligent in planning for and continuously reassessing the potential of the worst possible outcomes such as a medevac.  Imagine worst case scenarios and ways to build margin into the plan to reduce the possibilities of such an incident.  We are unable to control our environment; the weather changes, the slope is steep, the fuels are heavy, but we can control our actions and planning.

The idea of continuous reassessment of the amount of margin should be a conversation among multiple people and is key to assessing and managing the level of margin as the environment (and our understanding of our environment) changes through time.  In the end, margin is a way to easily talk about all the complex stuff in a simple way.  i.e. "I feel we have more/less margin" right now with this plan. 


Action: Watch this short video on Margin then discuss the following as a crew

  1. How can you build margin to reduce the need for a medical evacuation on the fireline?
  2. How much margin is enough margin?
  3. How can you utilize the information on page 19 of the IRPG, How to Properly Refuse Risk, to increase Margin when on the fireline?
  4. How does risk tolerance effect Margin?


The topics, review, and resources for the NWCG “Wildland Firefighter Week of Remembrance” have been contributed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, the Wildland Fire Leadership Subcommittee, the Interagency Helicopter Operations Subcommittee, interagency dispatchers, and many other field SMEs.

Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2023

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