Risk vs. Reward


Since I didn’t get any takers with my PS to Anatomy of a Timber Sale Appeal post (not even any snark!), maybe these statistics will stir some conversation.

The fatality rate for U.S. automobile driving is 0.128 fatalities/million hours driven (net of pedestrians killed by autos).

The fatality rate (10-year average) for USFS-related firefighting aircraft is 44.2 fatalities/million hours flown.

Your odds of dying are 375 times more when flying in a firefighting aircraft than driving to work.

Is it worth it?

6 thoughts on “Risk vs. Reward”

  1. Could you change those per mile calculations into per hour calculations and make this apples to apples. Then throw the risk of playing football, soccer or the like and lets see what we can come up with.

  2. My personal risk of dying in a firefighting aircraft is zero as I no longer fight fires, from an aircraft or otherwise. The airtanker pilot, however, is 375 times more likely to die while flying at work than he is driving to work.

    PS: Nerickaby — read the post carefully. The statistics cited are already in “million hours,” not “miles,” as you claim. Knock yourself out with the football and soccer numbers .

  3. The commitment to having a “new” condition air frames is not there for the aircraft flown in wildland fire fighting. The wings falling off that I remember in the last few years have been on a B-24, last built before the end of WWII, and a C-130 which had how many take offs and landings, and probably not a few of those JATO assisted.

    My time on the fire lines included the amazement, in my mind, watching one of those C-130s coming over the skyline, and down the ridge across the draw from me to drop his retardant, and seeing the airplane almost jump straight up as the load came off while under full power, downhill. Those airplanes seemed to gain 300′ of airspace vertically in a couple of seconds. And you could see the wings go from a “V” to an inverted “V” as the load came off. That wing flexing had to be hard on the airframe. Of course, I could have witnessed that, and I did several times in three years, and seared an exaggerated picture in my mind.

    Which leads me to believe that using outdated, worn out, antique aircraft would be a factor, and if you want to compare fire plane safety with auto driving, at the least, the stats should be for people driving cars built before 1980, on the road in 2000 and later.

  4. http://www.afn.org/~savanna/risk.htm lists 1993 estimates of hours of life lost due to various causes. Note that commercial flying is safer than driving by these statistics.

    YPLL is a statistical estimator of health of a population. Difference between a target age and age at death is summed over all deaths. Comparing a particular occupation, or geographic location can identify black spots. Outliers, that if corrected, improve the statistic.

    Statistics beg the question. Is fighting fires by aircraft is worth the risk?

    As compared to what? Instead of putting the money into aircraft, put the money into forest management? Construction standards? WUI and CWPP? Weather prediction? Collecting enough money from those that benefit from a watershed to manage the watershed to prevent loss. San Clemente dam in Monterey County, CA reroute. Harvest slash for pyrolysis and use the char to enhance soils?

    Executive Order 12866 and Office of Management and Budget use a process to evaluate cost effectiveness of spending government money.

    OSHA has guidelines for occupational health. Two in two out for fire fighters. For society is it worth the life of a firefighter to go into a burning building under any circumstances? Is there a need to control risk? Reduce risk with a back up plan. Reduce risk with better training.

    My gut tells me that fire fighting with aircraft is way down the list of things to do for a safer forest. Unless the aircraft are for publicity to get press coverage. I don’t know how to estimate the value of good press.

  5. those stats are not too surprising given that air attacks typically involve:
    * older aircraft
    that are required to fly:
    * close to the ground
    * in complex terrain
    * in warm weather (less loft in warm air)
    * with turbulent wind currents
    * with visibility obscured by smoke and terrain
    * in the vicinity of other aircraft traffic
    * carrying heavy loads

    I guess the question is – is it worth it? Logging is pretty damn dangerous too and one of the least desired jobs in the workforce.


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