Dozer rollover on the Trailhead Fire

Above: Dozer rollover at the Trailhead Fire on the Eldorado National Forest in California July 2, 2016. Photo from the report.

A report has been released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center about a dozer rollover that occurred July 2, 2016 at the Trailhead Fire on the Eldorado National Forest in California. You can read the entire report, but here’s a brief summary.

After getting unstuck from being high centered on a large stump, a dozer operator found himself off the ridge where he was building an indirect fireline, and was on a steep slope. Again he got stuck and was not able to backup, this time due to the slope which in places exceeded an 80 percent incline. At various times he was advised by two Resource Advisors, the Structure Group Supervisor, and the owner of the dozer to stay put. In the meantime another dozer with a winch was en route to assist.

Ignoring the advice, the operator continued down the slope and got into a heated argument with the owner, who then left the area. Determined to get the dozer back up to the ridge top, the operator began building a road and creating pads where he could work to push over trees that were in his way, including a 30-DBH cedar which missed by 50 feet the two Resources Advisors who had to run to get out of the way.

The incident-within-an-incident finally came to an end, at least temporarily, when the dozer rolled over onto its side. The operator escaped with only a scratch, after which the dozer continued to roll over onto its top in the creek bottom.

The report did not include information about how the dozer was eventually extracted, or what repercussions, if any, befell the operator and the contractor.

Firefighter killed in dozer accident on Soberanes fire

(Updated 5:46 a.m. MDT, July 28, 2016)

The operator of a bulldozer was killed while working on the Soberanes fire, one of two major wildfires burning in California and one that has already destroyed 20 homes.

The operator was killed when the bulldozer rolled over, and another operator was injured in a similar incident, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Other reports say the dozer operator died of injuries on Tuesday night.

The bulldozer operator was working on a call-when-needed basis overnight when the fatal accident occurred, according to information posted on CAL FIRE’s website. The dozer was one of 60 assigned to the fire in Monterey County.

Officials have not yet released the name of the operator who was killed. California’s other major blaze, the Sand fire, killed a man this week outside of Los Angeles.

Check back with wildfiretoday.com for more on this story.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris and Daniel.

Using a dozer to mop up a structure fire

Dozers are commonly used on vegetation fires, but it is unusual to see them at a structure fire. In the video above, Los Angeles County Fire Department used a dozer to assist firefighters during the overhaul or mop up stage of a structure fire in Lancaster, California Thursday night. Apparently there was a large quantity of material inside the commercial building that would have been difficult to completely extinguish without spreading out the burning debris. It looks like they were using foam or a wetting agent in the water to achieve greater penetration.

Lancaster structure fire
Commercial building fire in Lancaster, California. Via @LACoFDPIO

Radio headsets for dozer operators

Adventure Fire
Dozer puts in fire line on the Adventure Fire north of Placerville, California, July 16, 2015. CAL FIRE photo.

Should all heavy equipment operators have access to radio headsets?Tim Banaszak pointed out to us that while working on a fire, communication between an operator and the Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) can be difficult or impossible. The equipment makes so much noise that it can be a challenge to hear the radio. Even relying on hand signals is not reliable due to dust and vegetation, Mr. Banaszak said.

We are still throwing rocks or sticks to get the operator’s attention, YIKES! The high RPM noise makes a portable [radio] useless. All other fireline operations have a clear and reliable communication link. Just hearing the word STOP can prevent equipment damage, an injury, or even worse.

He suggests that a cache of headsets for radios be available that could be checked out at a fire with the operator’s portable radio.

What do you think? Is this a problem that needs solving?

The Air Force has one firefighting dozer team

Vandenberg dozer
Senior Airmen Ronald Skala and Thomas Williams, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators, with a fire dozer, Sept. 21, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during wildfire season and during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford.)

The only firefighting dozer team in the U.S. Air Force is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California. The 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators’ fire dozer team consists of approximately ten Airmen and civilian workers. Their job is to support the firefighters by helping to limit damage and contain the spread of wildfires.

“Because of the sheer size of our equipment we can accomplish a lot within seconds,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Robertson,  a heavy equipment operator. “When we go out to a fire, those who have already responded breathe a sigh of relief because we can accomplish a huge amount of work in a short amount of time.”

When a fire breaks out, the base firefighters are the first to respond. When the fire is too difficult to control, the fire dozer team is called to assist.

“We are supporting the fire department, and will get their call if they need us,” said Raymond Boothe, 30th CES equipment supervisor. “We are not sitting around waiting for a call though — we are constantly working all over base, performing our job as heavy equipment operators.”

“Vandenberg is the only base in the Air Force that has a fire dozer team,” said Robertson. “So this is the only place in our career that we are going to get this kind of experience and training.”

Airmen also receive a Red Card certification, which states the holder has the experience and training necessary to fight wildfires. This certification is utilized by both state and federal fire agencies and is useful for civilian jobs across the nation.

Another significant component of the job is supporting the space mission. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets.