Report released for burn injuries on Tokewanna Fire

On July 29 a member of the Great Basin Smokejumpers was injured while scouting fireline on the Tokewanna Fire near Mountain View in southwest Wyoming. The firefighter sustained burn injuries to the hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears. He was transported by air ambulance to the Salt Lake Burn Center where he was admitted.

The fire started at about 1500 on July 28. The overhead structure worked through the night and began transitioning to replacement personnel after smokejumpers arrived at approximately 1252 on July 29. The person that was later burned became the new Division Supervisor (DIVS) on Division W at 1300. Official transition to the new Incident Commander occurred at 1505.

map burn injury report
Illustration from the report.

Below is an excerpt from the Factual Report that was completed September 15, 2016:

“Between 15:30 and 15:45 the DIVS was scouting fireline and reached the highest point of where the fire had progressed on the ridge. At this location a flare up occurred downhill from the DIVS on the other side of a large stringer of lodgepole pine which had been heavily treated with retardant (Reference Materials photos 2-5). The DIVS stated, “I heard something I didn’t like and determined I needed to leave.” He retreated to his predetermined safety zone, which was the black and opted to continue downhill rapidly. While retreating he experienced an extreme pulse of radiant heat coming from the right accompanied by smoke and blowing ash. Because of the pulse of radiant heat, he used his helmet to shield the right side of his face. In recounting this he expressed “I wish I had my gloves on, but prior to the event I was away from the fire edge using a GPS and taking notes in my notepad.” The radiant heat caused burns to the DIVS’s hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears.”

Also from the report:

Summary

Three key findings were brought out during this investigation:

  • Timely recognition and reporting of burn injuries is critical
  • The absence of PPE can contribute to the severity of injuries
  • Firefighters were unable to contact the air ambulance utilizing pre-established radio frequencies

Lessons Learned from the Interviewees:

When asked if there were any lessons learned or best practices the interviewees would take away from the incident the following was captured:

  • Recognize your own limitations and don’t expect to have all of the answers or information on a rapidly emerging fire.
  • Time of day and incident complexity were not optimal for transferring command, but in this case it was a better option than continuing to utilize fatigued resources.
  • Sometimes you just need to safely engage to ensure you are not transferring risk to someone else later.
  • Make the time to tie-in with your overhead to assure face-to-face interactions occur during transition.
  • Participation with district resources in pre-season scenario based training alleviated tension while coordinating a real life medical incident at the dispatch center.
  • Frequency sharing with local EMS will help facilitate efficient medevac procedures.
  • Continue to encourage EMS certifications among line firefighters and/or identify ways to improve access to Advanced Life Support on emerging incidents.”

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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