Montana Fire Chief dies one month after vehicle accident

Dave Anderson, a volunteer Fire Chief in Fort Shaw, Montana died Monday, a month after he was injured in a traffic accident. Cascade County Deputy Coroner Jason Boyd said the Chief died as a result of injuries suffered in the crash, along with cardiac complications. The Montana Highway Patrol said he was driving a water tender on U.S. Highway 89 on July 22 when his vehicle collided with a brush truck that was making a U-turn because the driver had missed a turnoff.

On June 19 another Montana firefighter and a family of five was killed when the fire engine driven by Three Forks Fire Chief Todd Rummel experienced a mechanical problem that locked up one of the wheels, causing the truck to veer into the path of the oncoming pickup. Investigators determined that Chief Rummel died of smoke inhalation while unconscious. Matthew Boegli, Crystal Ross and their three young children died of blunt-force trauma on impact. The Chief was driving back to Three Forks at 55 mph while returning from Helena where the truck had been undergoing repairs to its water system.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families.


Simulation of winds affecting the Yarnell Hill Fire

This is an animation developed by Janice Coen, Ph.D., a Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. It simulates through a coupled weather-wildland fire environment model the spread of the Yarnell Hill Fire and the wind direction and speed. The arrows indicate the wind direction; the length of the arrows vary with the wind speed. On June 30, 2013 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun by the fire when the winds from a thunderstorm cell north of the fire changed the direction of spread of the fire by about 90 degrees, surprising the firefighters on the south side of the fire, resulting in their entrapment.

See if you can tell when conditions worsened for the Hotshots.

Dr. Coen’s description of the simulation:

It begins at 2 am on 6/30/13. The fire is initialized in the model using the ~3 am VIIRS active fire detection map. Each frame is 1 minute apart, the sequence extends until 8:15 pm on 6/30. The fatality occurred around 4:45 PM. The color bar on the right indicates the heat flux (watts per square meter) from the fire, with more intensely burning areas in bright yellow and white, and less intensely burning areas in darker reds.
In the simulation, solar heating stirs up the boundary layer circulations throughout the day. Convection occurs in outer domains (not shown) to the northeast, creating high-based convective clouds as air flows south/southeast over the Mogollon Rim. Rain falls into a very dry boundary layer, creating a broad gust front that reaches the south edge of the fire at frame 936, which is 51 minutes after the fatality, so the simulated rush through the fatality site is about an hour slow.

The map below shows the approximate location of the fire at 4:30 p.m. on June 30, 2014, about 15 minutes before the Hotshots were entrapped at the deployment site (X) on the south side.

Yarnell Hill Fire, estimated perimeter at 4:30 p.m. June 30, 2014

Yarnell Hill Fire, estimated perimeter at 4:30 p.m. June 30, 2014. Source: Arizona State Forestry Division.


Report released for 2013 smokejumper fatality

smokejumpers on the Hastings fire

File photo of smokejumpers on the Hastings Fire, northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, May 31, 2011. Photo by Mike McMillan/Alaska Fire Service.

The Bureau of Land Management has released an Accident Investigation Factual Report on the fatality of the smokejumper in Idaho last year. On September 27, 2013 Mark Urban was killed on a parachute jump while conducting an equipment evaluation at a remote airstrip outside of Prairie, Idaho, approximately 50 miles east of Boise.

Mr. Urban and other smokejumpers were collecting data during jumps to validate the vertical speeds and the activation window under which an automatic activation device (AAD) would initiate the opening sequence of either a main or reserve canopy in smokejumper operations. The AAD was not intended to be engaged during the jump and was not thought to be a factor in the cause of the accident. The parachute was to be manually opened.

All of his previous 287 jumps had been from approximately 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL), but the test on September 27 was designed to begin from the 6,000-foot level. The plan was to wait until reaching 3,000 feet AGL to deploy the main parachute. Similar tests had been conducted years earlier and several jumpers successfully executed the procedure earlier that day.

Mr. Urban’s parachute did not deploy until he was 138 feet AGL, which did not result in any significant deceleration. He was killed upon impact with the ground.

After leaving the Twin Otter aircraft, Mr. Urban, as did other jumpers that day, experienced some spinning while descending from 6,000 to 3,000 feet. The jumpers had been briefed on procedures to correct the spin, but while the exact cause of the accident may never be known, at least one of the investigators concluded that it is possible Mr. Urban spun fast enough to create G-forces that caused him to lose consciousness.

Below is an excerpt from the report in the Human Factors section. It was written by Randy McCalip, a LtCol with the U.S. Air Force, trained as a human factors/aerospace physiology expert and military free fall jumpmaster with 16 years of jumping experience.

…I believe the [Mishap Smokejumper] MS experienced enough initial G-force to cause visual, cognitive, and/or physical degradation delaying early necessary action. The MS channelized on fulfilling the T&E jump profile requirements exposing him to longer and higher G-forces resulting in a G-LOC. The GLOC caused the MS to lose all motor function and go limp. This reversed the MS’s spin and eventually slowed the spin enough to return blood flow to the brain. The MS regained consciousness and initiated pull sequence at 138 ft AGL, well below safe deployment altitude.
Gravitational forces were CAUSAL in this mishap.

F. HF Summary
I thoroughly reviewed all factors that possibly caused and contributed to this mishap. Although the team had eye witness testimonies and two different video angles of the mishap, exactly why the MS didn’t pull at the instructed altitude will never be known with 100% certainty. The MS was highly regarded as an exceptional leader and experienced smokejumper that paid attention to details and standards. This HF analysis attempted to piece together the most logical reasons why the MS failed to deploy his main parachute.


Wildfire briefing, May 28, 2014

Air tanker pilot dies in Spain

Fire Aviation has more details about an AT-802 pilot that died in a crash while fighting a wildfire in Spain.

Smokejumpers’ clandestine missions for the CIA

Now that they are no longer required to remain quiet about their ties with the CIA, smokejumpers are talking about how they worked for the agency in the 1950s and 1960s. According to an article in the Missoulian, about 82 smokejumpers were recruited by the CIA to rig paracargo and serve on C-130s dropping commandos and cargo over Tibet.

An excerpt:

…The story begins when [Ray] Beasley, who was 29 and a laid-off smokejumper in McCall, Idaho, got a phone call in 1959.

“Would you like a job that pays $850 a month?” the caller asked.

Soon, Beasley and a cowboy by the name of Tommy “Shep” Johnson, who would later become one of his close friends, were on their way to the nation’s capitol.

They had been “referred” by an insider to “The Company,” the term they used for the CIA. That’s the only way you got into this line of work, Beasley said. This wasn’t a job that was advertised. They came looking for you.

Videos from Aussie fire conference

About a dozen videos of presentations at the Australian Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Conference run by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service are available for your viewing pleasure.

Martin Greenwood told us:

This conference brought together practitioners from all over Australia and NZ to look at community engagement and awareness to bushfire.
To get a good taste from the 2 days worth of videos I recommend the ‘be ready Warrandyte’ and the ‘Out of the Ashes’ videos.


This is a brilliant free resource, particularly those involved in engaging the wider community in relation to wildfire. Hopefully the accent barrier isn’t too big of a problem.



Thanks and a hat tip go out to Martin and Steve.


Wyoming firefighter dies while taking Pack Test

(UPDATE: May 19, 2104)

Below is a news release issued today:


For Immediate Release

Wyoming State Forestry Division Employee Line of Duty Death

May 19, 2014

Contact: Bill Crapser, Wyoming State Forester 307-214-7843

(Newcastle, Wyo.) — The Wyoming State Forestry Division employee that died in the line of duty on May 17, 2014, in Newcastle, Wyoming has been identified as Honor Conservation Crew Supervisor Ted Drake.

Mr. Drake was participating with other employees in the annual firefighter work capacity test (pack test when he suffered a heart attack and attempts to revive him on scene were not successful.

Mr. Drake was 63 years old and had worked for the Wyoming State Forestry Division as a Crew Supervisor since June 2006.

“The Wyoming State Forestry Division is deeply saddened by this tragic event,” Bill Crapser, Wyoming State Forester said. “Our hearts go out to his family, friends and co-workers. The support from the fire service in Wyoming and the wildland fire service nationally is greatly appreciated.”

According to the Billings Gazette Mr. Crapser said Mr. Drake was the first worker to have died in service to the department since it came into existence in 1952.

A memorial service for Mr. Drake will be held Tuesday at Newcastle Assembly of God church.


(Originally published May 18, 2014)

The Billings Gazette is reporting that a firefighter with the Wyoming State Forestry Division died Saturday, May 17 while taking the Pack Test.

The man, whose name has not yet been released, suffered an apparent heart attack during the test, and attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. The test requires that a person walk three miles in less than 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound pack.

Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser said in a press release, “The Wyoming State Forestry Division is deeply saddened by this tragic event. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and co-workers.”

Our sincere condolences go out to the firefighter’s friends, family, and co-workers.



Thanks and a hat tip go out to Chris.


Firefighter dies fighting his own fire

The Lac La Biche Post reports that a 70-year old volunteer firefighter in Rich Lake, Alberta died May 12 while fighting a vegetation fire at his residence.

…According to a press release from Lac La Biche County, the man reported a grass fire at his residence before attempting to extinguish it. A County peace officer arrived at the scene to find the man, who had recently suffered cardiac arrest.

“We are very saddened by this tragic event,” Acting Mayor Robert Richard said in the release, which described the man as a long-serving, respected local volunteer firefighter and did not reveal his name before family members were notified. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time.”

The person has not been identified yet, but our sincere condolences go out to the family.