More details released about the May 24 inmate fatality in California

fatality tree cal fire firefighter

Above: The top of the tree that struck Matthew Beck on May 24, 2017. CAL FIRE photo.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has released a few more details about the accident that killed a California inmate firefighter in Humboldt County on May 24. As disclosed earlier, Matthew Beck died after being struck by a falling tree.

Now we know that the tree had been previously identified as being hazardous but it was thought to be outside the work area.

Alder Crew #4 was working on Ishi Pishi Road towards Somes Bar picking up piles of limbs and brush from the previous two days of work to feed into a chipper. The machine was running at full throttle when the crew supervisor saw the tree falling and yelled a warning, which was not heard by the entire crew due to the noise from the chipper.

The supervisor attempted to call the Fortuna Emergency Communications Center on his hand held radio but could not make contact. He got in the crew carrier truck and drove about 400 yards to a location from which he could talk to the ECC with the vehicle’s mobile radio.

Mr. Beck received a fatal blow from the tree causing blunt force trauma to the head, neck, and torso.

The tree was a 105-year-old, 146-foot Douglas-fir, with a 21.5-inch diameter (DBH). It weighed approximately 3,000 pounds and had a downhill lean of about 46 degrees. Mr. Beck was hit by a portion of the tree that was about 18 feet from the tree top.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Eric.
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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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3 thoughts on “More details released about the May 24 inmate fatality in California”

  1. Hate to armchair quarterback after the fact but 46 degree lean and call it a stay tree? Hard lesson learnd by all. Hope it gets learned tho… And once again comms or lack of played a role. Helmet intercom systems are readily available and compared to the money pissed away by agencies daily should be standard on every crew for every member. Agencies need to follow arboriculture industry trends and standards since that is the actual role they seem to be asking of their people. The position they are not a business is never a valid position…

  2. Be cautious….I think that we all need to remind ourselves that our responses to any incident are driven by bias. Hindsight bias is just one of our biases. The real learning from this incident should come from those involved. The most meaningful question that remains is “what influenced the decision making of the participants on scene at that time?” We should all seek insight and self-improvement from THOSE specific lessons learned. My heart goes out to the family of the fallen and sadly enough, to those who have yet to fall. It could happen to any of us. Go home safely tonight my friends.

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