What's Wrong With This Picture?

Each year, fire departments all across the nation spend millions of dollars and man hours working to prevent the loss of life to fires in buildings. Professional fire inspectors carefully walk through businesses and public venues to ensure exits are...


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Solving the maze

How does the fire service move forward and take a proactive stance on this community risk? Although a recent study did not locate any documented loss of life in a corn maze fire, any dedicated firefighter can draw the conclusion that it is not a question of “if,” but of “when.” Some simple steps can assist your department to keep this trend alive.

The purpose of this article is to define the fire risks of a cornfield maze and develop a prevention plan for the hazards associated with cornfield mazes. The fire risks could be intentional or deliberate acts of an arsonist or unintentional causes like a dropped cigarette or a campfire ember that blows into the field. While mitigating these risks may seem straightforward, the real work is implementing a prevention plan for reducing risk that would include a walk through with both suppression and prevention personnel. This two-pronged approach creates unity within the fire department and allows for the best practices of each discipline to come to the surface to prevent loss of life.

Prevention’s role. The fire inspection is not much different than any other business; addresses posted, egress/ingress clearly identified, extension cords used properly, lighting both operational and emergency type, etc. The emphasis for a corn maze inspection would be to pay particular attention to fire-related activities such as smoking, campfires, use of lanterns at night, vehicle parking and food concessions.

Fire suppression’s role. During the fire inspection, walk through the operation with your fire prevention representative. This is an opportunity to share information about each other’s role in solving life safety issues in the corn maze. When the fire inspection is over, switch the focus to that of getting apparatus on location and involve your crew with some “what-if” scenarios. Talk about a power line down on the upwind side of the corn maze with a 30-mph wind blowing across 200 people in the corn maze. This should get even the newest firefighter on your crew involved in the conversation.

Some jurisdictions have noticed, others have not. Some fire departments sponsor these events as fund raisers. A few entities have noticed and created awareness programs, but the fact remains that there is work to be done to reduce the risk of a devastating loss of life in the cornfields of America. n

 

The Applied Research Project on which this article is based, The Fire Risks of a Cornfield Maze by Captain Brian Ashton of the Boise, ID, Fire Department, has received a 2011 Outstanding Research Award from the National Fire Academy. A full copy of the research can be found at“http://www.usfa.fema.gov/pdf/efop/efo46029.pdf” http://www.usfa.fema.gov/pdf/efop/efo46029.pdf.

BRIAN ASHTON is a 20-year veteran of the fire service, serving as a captain with the Boise, ID, Fire Department. Previously, he served with the North Ada County Fire & Rescue District in Garden City, ID. He holds a master’s degree in public administration, a bachelor’s degree in business/human resource management and an associate’s degree in wildfire management. Ashton is an Idaho-certified instructor in wildland firefighting and an adjunct instructor for the College of Idaho’s fire service degree program. He has taught the Incident Command System (ICS) for the Department of Homeland Security since 2007 and is a third-year student in the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) program at the National Fire Academy.