Austin Whitney, one of the firefighters that was injured on the Coal Canyon fire in South Dakota when their engine crew was trapped between a spot fire and the main fire, is recovering from his burns in a hospital in Greely, Colorado. His fellow crew member, Trampus Haskvitz, was killed during that burn over. Austin works for the South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression and their Assistant Chief for Operations, Jim Strain, has been proactive in monitoring his recovery and providing assistance to the family. Jim was involved in setting up a CaringBridge.org web site where those interested in Austin’s condition can keep up to date on his status. Here is some information from that site, which was updated on August 17:
Welcome to our CaringBridge website. We’ve created it to keep friends and family updated about our loved one. Get started by reading the introduction to our website, My Story.
This story is about Austin Whitney, a State of South Dakota Div of Wildland Fire Suppression Seasonal firefigher that works in the Hot Springs Field Office. On August 11, at around 1500 hours, The crew of State Engine 561 of Trampus Haskvitz, KC Fees and Austin Whitney were entrapped in an engine burnover on the initial attack of the Coal Canyon fire. We lost Trampus in that incident, but KC and Austin survived and this is Austin’s story of recovery. Austin comes from a long family line of wildland firefighters in the Pringle SD area.
Talked to Austin’s Dad, and he said that Austin is doing as well as expected after the skin grafting surgical procedure on Monday. The team grafted skin on his left arm and on his shins. The surgical dressing and wrapping should be coming off in the next few days, and that is good news. Austin is in good spirits and appreciates very much the visits from the Greeley FD, and other fire departments. In fact, Evans FD [near Greely, CO] dropped by, along with Colorado State Forest Service, and the Rocky Mountain National Park
Fire UseFuels Module. They dropped off crew T-shirts and Austin’s parents said that Austin appreciates very much the chance to visit and talk to his fellow firefighters about the fire and his recovery. They can talk in language that he can understand and that makes him feel bonded to the world of wildland fire. Sounds like Fort Collins and Boulder will be coming by in the future, and Austin is looking forward to those visits as well. (8-17, JES)
If you want to visit Austin, first contact his father via email at: pit boss 83 at hot mail dot com. (Remove all spaces, and you know what to do with the “at” and “dot”.) His father knows which times are best for visits. Austin is in the Western States Burn Center at the North Colorado Medical Center, 1801 16th Street, Greeley, CO 80631-5199.
Three other firefighters were also injured, one working for the State of South Dakota, and two who work for the U. S. Forest Service. They were all treated at a hospital and released.
I knew that the Wildland Firefighter Foundation has been assisting the families of the firefighters affected by the burn over, and I asked Jim Strain for a few more details in the case of Austin and his family. Here is his response:
As for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, enough cannot be said. Vicki Minor, the executive director, stepped up the first day and arranged hotel rooms and a rental car for Austin’s family. And Vicki stays in contact with the family and is helping to support them while they are staying the Greeley Area. Her years of experience in dealing with this type of situation is invaluable.
Consider making a donation to the WFF. They do great work for injured firefighters and their families. I just re-upped my membership in the 52 Club, which represents a dollar for each week of the year.
More information about the Coal Canyon fire burn over: