Senate passes wildfire appropriations bill

The Senate has passed a bill that provides funds for wildland fire management on federal lands in Fiscal Year 2010. Usually the Department of Interior initially receives the fire funds which are then dispersed to the other Interior agencies and the U. S. Forest Service, even though the USFS is in the Department of Agriculture. 

The bill includes an amendment supported by Senators Bingaman and Feinstein that includes the provisions of the previously proposed FLAME act, which not only provides funds for fire suppression, but also for funding to keep critical non-fire programs and services functioning even if unexpected expenses of very large fires consume a disproportionate share of the budget. 

The bill includes a 16% increase over last year’s budget.

Next, the bill needs to be conferenced to work out the differences between the Senate and the House versions.



Thanks Kelly

Missing engine part from Iron 44 helicopter crash

One “possibly crucial engine part” from the fatal helicopter crash on the Iron 44 fire last year in northern California that killed nine firefighters and pilots was missing when the crash debris was shipped from Columbia helicopters to the National Transportation Safety Board.


The wreckage from the aircraft involved in the so-called “Iron 44” incident had been sent to Columbia Helicopters, where NTSB and FAA officials observed while technicians tore down the aircraft’s engines. The NTSB subsequently asked that the engines be shipped to Washington, DC, but a footnote in the 500 page preliminary report indicates  “upon opening the shipping containers, an inventory of the hardware revealed that the following components from the FCU (Fuel Control Unit) Number 1 were not present: Metal position adjusting cover, snap retainer ring, spring retainer cap, spring and bellows.”

The FCU’s control the amount of fuel delivered to the engines.

A review of the video recording of Columbia employees packing the shipping containers shows the parts were not among the items shipped.

KDRV-TV reports that the general council for Columbia Helicopters said, while employees have searched “high and low” for the missing parts, they have been unable to locate them. The company says the FCU’s may not be a focus of the investigation, and therefore may not be important.
Greg Anderson, the attorney for William Coultas, the surviving pilot from the crash, as well as the family of one of those killed in the incident, told the station the omission of the parts from the shipment is “highly suspicious.”



Thanks Kelly

Iron 44 Crash Report

The Carson helicopter that crashed last year on the Iron 44 fire and killed nine firefighters was much heavier than U.S. Forest Service recommendations, according to National Transportation Safety Board reports. The NTSB said the weight was near maximum for vertical takeoff, requiring near-maximum engine power. So instead of climbing up on takeoff, the helicopter went forward, clipping trees before it crashed. Seven contract firefighters, the pilot, and a USFS inspector pilot were killed; four others survived.

On August 5, 2008, the Sikorsky S-61N crashed on takeoff from a remote site in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California. The NTSB is suggesting that Carson Helicopters understated the weight of its aircraft and kept spotty maintenance records; the company’s contract with the USFS was terminated last fall.

The NTSB estimated that the actual empty weight of the helicopter was 13,845 pounds, while Carson Helicopters stated in their contract proposal that the weight was 12,013 pounds. For the purpose of load calculations on the day of the crash, the pilot assumed the weight to be 12,408 pounds, which was 1,437 pounds less than the actual weight estimated by the NTSB.

The Oregonian reports that Carson, on the other hand, accuses investigators of neglecting critical facts in a rush to judgment. They say the NTSB used bad data in calculating the weather’s effect on helicopter performance, and that investigators extrapolated the temperature at 73ºF. at the site. Voice recordings from the co-pilot indicate the temperature was actually 68ºF.

Carson says the NTSB is trying to support a “preconceived conclusion” by using the higher temp in its calculations, and they also argue that the NTSB should have examined whether malfunctioning fuel control units caused the crash.

Killed on the incident were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54; pilot Jim Ramage, 63; Shawn Blazer, 30; Scott Charlson, 25; Matthew Hammer, 23; Edrik Gomez, 19; Bryan Rich, 29; David Steele, 19; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21. The Wildland Firefighter Foundation has a tribute page online [HERE].

Thanks, Dick

Teen Charged with Arson

The Associated Press reports that Los Angeles County prosecutors have filed arson charges against a 13-year-old boy they believe started the 2,100-acre Morris Fire near Los Angeles last month. Prosecutors in Pomona charged the boy yesterday with two felony counts: arson of a forest and recklessly causing a fire. The boy’s name was not released and he is not in custody. The District Attorney’s office says he must show up for a November arraignment; if convicted, he could be held at a juvenile facility until he turns 25.

Arsonist: 13 years old

The arsonist who torched off the Station Fire on the Angeles National Forest hasn’t been apprehended yet, but investigators do have a suspect in the ignition of the Morris Fire. And he’s 13 years old.

Prosecutors are discussing whether to file charges against the boy, who’s suspected of starting the 2,100-acre fire just north of Azusa, California. According to the L.A. Times, detectives presented the case yesterday to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. They said the boy is “primarily responsible for igniting the fire.”

The Morris Fire took off on August 25 in San Gabriel Canyon — the same day the Station Fire started.
It was contained on September 3. According to an AP story, the 13-year-old suspect is not in custody, but the D.A.’s office says that charges will likely be filed today.

Southern California Public Radio reported that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has not identified the boy. Their report also noted that the ignition point for the Station Fire was miles away from that of the Morris Fire, to the northwest along the Angeles Crest Highway above Pasadena.
The search for the Station arsonist is also a homicide investigation, because of the deaths of Tedmund Hall and Arnaldo Quinones, two L.A. County firefighters who were killed on the fire.

———- UPDATE 09/18/09
Los Angeles County prosecutors say it could take two weeks before they decide whether to file arson charges. Jane Robison with the District Attorney’s office said the case is under review, but prosecutors want more information.

Emergency vehicle visibility study

In August a report titled “Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study” was released by the United States Fire Administration in partnership with the International Fire Service Training Association. The entire 45-page study can be downloaded, but here is an excerpt from a summary by Firehouse.

The report from the feds suggests that a lot more could be done to improve passive vehicle visibility and conspicuity. Best practices in emergency vehicle visibility, including cutting edge international efforts, are detailed in the study. Retroreflective striping, chevrons, high-visibility paint, built-in passive lighting and other reflectors for law enforcement patrol vehicles, fire apparatus, ambulances, EMS vehicles and motorcycles are all covered in the report.

Active warning systems, like lights and sirens, are part of a separate federal study and are not included in the August USFA report.

Tutterow is hoping the report catches news media attention and it gains some much needed publicity. He’s also hoping it lasts more than one news cycle.

“Drivers today have too many distractions,” Tutterow said. “They have cell phones, they’re texting, they’re using GPS navigation systems, and they’re using sound systems. They are paying attention to everything but what is in front of them.”

That’s why Tutterow subscribes to a sort of “in-your-face” approach when it comes to retroreflective material and visibility aids.

“I’m not sure that there is such a thing as overkill when it comes to retroreflective material,” he said.

The yellow and red chevron stripping on the backs of apparatus is an example of how something relatively simple and cost effective can have a dramatic affect on responder safety. New apparatus, to be National Fire Protection Association compliant, must have at least 50 percent of the rear body covered with chevron stripping. Tutterow’s hoping emergency responders will see the value and retrofit existing response vehicles to the standard.

Thanks Dick