Interview with Long Island firefighter, entrapped in wildfire

William Hille, one of the firefighters that was entrapped and burned while working on the recent wildfire on New York’s Long Island, is interviewed. He is one of eight firefighters injured on the fire.

Hero firefighter describes Suffolk brush fire:


Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

10 thoughts on “Interview with Long Island firefighter, entrapped in wildfire”

  1. I feel for the guys but I see turnouts, not nomex. No shelters, probably had no lookouts, no escape routes. in that thick stuff I’m surprised they don’t lose more than a truck

  2. With our strict requirements in regions 1 and 6, I was surprised to see the age and type of equipment being used. Is there a DNR, BLM, DNRC, Forest Service in that area? I saw only structure guys.

  3. Getting my start in the east with a VFD, then moving to an AD in Type 2 crews from the eastern states, and now on a western IHC…. I see how it is easy to criticize these locals for what they do and how they do it. Realize that these fire situations happen very rarely, and the VFD’s have so much more on there plate than wildfireds. Note, they are also volunteers, they work real jobs, have families, etc. What you guys are commenting on seems like comparing the national gaurd to special forces in the military. There just can’t be a comparison. Of course there are probably no lookouts, these guys and girls have no idea they should be doing that. No safety zones, escape routes, etc. They aren’t aware. No brush gear, they have enough trouble funding there regular bunker gear. Of course there is the occasional individual who pushes that there company be proactive in that arena, and they are the ones who come out to help the west when our season is getting at it…. So please, watch your criticism unless you know the full story.

  4. > Is there a DNR, BLM, DNRC, Forest Service in that

    For all practical purposes, no.

    They would have State Forest Rangers who are the statewide specialists, but they’re mostly in upstate New York, especially the Catskills & Adirondacks. The Forest Rangers also have the bambi buckets which the NY State Police & National Guard helicopters can use.

    The Pine Barrens area of Long Island is down to about a 100,000 acre area due to development over the centuries (first agriculture, then housing). You can see them on this map — they stretch from Brookhaven National Labs on the west, to Flanders Bay on the east. There are some more, but relatively heavily developed, pine barrens further east along the south shore of Flanders Bay.

    You can look at the map…there’s nothing else near there that would attract Natural Resource agency attention, at least in regard to wildfire.

    >I feel for the guys but I see turnouts, not nomex. No
    >shelters, probably had no lookouts, no escape routes.

    I’m not a supporter of structural turnouts, but given the tactics they use on these fires it’s not the worse option either. They’re not out humping indian tanks and rakes — this is direct assault by truck.

    I’ve never taken fire shelter training, but from what I’ve read of the course materials and my experience in pine barrens, I don’t believe you’d have areas that have sufficiently low build up of fuels to deploy effectively. The forest floors in these environments are very fuel laden. When I read in the fire shelter manual from the USFS, “—Do not deploy in or next to tall or thick grass, small trees, trees with low branches, brush, piles of
    slash”…that pretty much rules out anywhere in the Pine Barrens, other then in roadways with prepared fire breaks on either side.

    The Pine Barrens environment is shared by Cape Cod (incl. Plymouth County), Massachusetts, Long Island, and southern interior New Jersey with smaller pockets in CT (very small) and RI (still pretty small).

    LI & Massachusetts use the “Stump Jumper” (LI term) / “Brush Breaker” (Mass) system — watching the first few minutes of this video should give you a good idea of how they work and why fire shelters would probably be pretty much useless: You’re operating as a multiple truck team in heavy fuels along the flank directly attacking the fire with hose streams. Multiple trucks in case one fails and you need emergency evacuation — there really isn’t any possible “escape route” you can take on foot through those fuels.

    This is a good video from 1966 of operating in Pitch Pine & Scrub Oak (Pine Barrens) in Massachusetts:

    (There probably could be better fire shelters built into the trucks; I believe some of the Australian trucks use items such as fire proof coverings for their windows along with a sprinkler system on the truck to turn their cabs into the shelter of last resort in case of being over run)

    New Jersey fights this type of fire MUCH more often today then either LI or Massachusetts. They do have better brush guards on their apparatus then most other areas in the U.S., but they’re no where near as aggressive in off-road operations. Judging from maps and videos, what they have done is develop a much more extensive system of fire roads from which they operate — when back burning from a road isn’t practical, but they think they can stop it with water they’ll wait for the fire to come to them along these roads and squirt it at that point.

    1. maybe I’m reading this wrong but they were low on water, trapped and surrounded, and had to run, which would seem to indicate they were not part of a team and not on the flank.
      Or am I missing something?
      I have been a member of some poorly equipped vfds but thats when safety concious engine chiefs and team leaders are even MORE critical

  5. Thanks for the information on the Eastern situation and tactics. Even though we have “National Standards”, they are not very standard. I have worked contract wildland and agency wildland in the Northern Rockies for quite some time. Having come on to a rural voluteer station in the past couple years, I’m learning more about what volunteers sometimes have to deal with. Sorry if it came out as critisism. Be safe, and keep up the good work.

  6. Live and learn boys and girls if you think you know it all about wildfire fire and mother natures wind must be a god as they say you don’t know jack #s about what each fire will do and how people will react to a wall of flames.
    there is100’s body’s wild fires have taken over the years.and there will be more in the years yet to come you can count on it. I’ve been in wildland fire for 50+ years and still learn from each fire were still learning hope you all do the same learn from what went wrong and why try not to make the same mistakes good luck..

  7. I was on the 1995 Sunrise fire and personally saw 5 of these burned up “stumpjumpers”. What I learned from talking to locals is they got quite a few wildland fires in the Pine Barrens but they are typically small and easily handled. The lack of fire behavior training and experience during extreme burning conditions is what they lacked. After 1995, there was a group put together to try and help these folks get better training but its been 17 years and they could have a whole new generation of people there. Just my opinion.

Comments are closed.