National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Extreme Weather

2011 was a record year for tornadoes in the U.S., both in damage done and the sheer number of strikes. In April alone there were 753 confirmed tornadoes. On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri. With wind speeds of 200 miles per hour and a path that spanned six miles long and three fourths of a mile wide, this single tornado killed 157 people and left a nightmarish scene for the emergency personnel who responded that day.

March is usually the beginning of the tornado season and, while we hope that 2012 is not another record year for tornadoes, most forecasters are predicting higher than normal tornado activity. It is important to remember that, as first responders, there are some situations that require us to protect ourselves and our equipment first so that we may be available to render aid to the victims of tornadoes and other weather related incidents. Several helpful resources are available such as the Tornado Lifts Fire Apparatus article and related videos posted on the website of IAFC’s Safety, Health, and Survival Section. In addition, FEMA has compiled Tornado Pathfinder: A Guide to Literature, which outlines material in the NETC library dealing with tornadoes.

This week’s featured report is one example of a near-miss incident involving extreme weather.

” …Several home owners were out in the streets looking at all the damage. I made the decision that it was too dangerous to have civilians out in the streets and ordered everyone to get back in their homes and stay there until the storm passed. I advised the engine company that we needed to leave this neighborhood and shelter in place at the Fire Station until the winds died down. The engine and I went to the end of the block to turn around. After I turned around, traveling about 25 miles per hour following the engine, a tree approximately 14 inches in diameter, and 70 plus feet in length, uprooted and fell on my command vehicle…”

Discuss the following issues with your crew members:

  1. Does your department have a clear policy regarding severe weather safety for personnel?
  2. What would you do if you and your crew found yourself in the path of a dangerous storm?
  3. What preplanning has been done as a department or station to prepare for severe storm conditions?
  4. Does your department conduct or participate in tornado drills?
  5. What would you do in the event your communication center is disabled by a severe storm?  

As emergency responders, we are used to the idea of putting ourselves in harm’s way to protect others, but sometimes it’s important that we protect ourselves first. Please take time to read the accounts that others have experienced and put the lessons learned to good use in your department or station.

Do you have a story to share about a response during severe weather? Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow. Share a story–save a life! For more on the value of firefighter near-miss reporting, CLICK HERE.

For more on tornado response, consider:

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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