Headache racks — rollover protection for an engine?

Above: photo from the report on the rollover of a U.S. Forest Service engine in Colorado September 12, 2017.

(Originally published November 30, 2017)

In a report released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center about the rollover of a U.S. Forest Service engine in Colorado September 12, 2017 one item listed under “What went well” was “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”. However, there was no explanation. As seen in the photo above, this is a structure behind the cab to serve as a mounting location for lights. It  has an expanded metal screen to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window during a sudden stop, but they are not expected to provide serious protection during a rollover.

Backrack headache rack
Photo from Backrack.

We checked with Backrack, a company that specializes in these devices, about how useful they would be in a rollover accident. A spokesperson told us that “because of  our insurance” they are not allowed to give out that information.

Perry Shatley, Wildland Sales Manager for BFX Fire Apparatus, one of our advertisers, told us their headache racks are not designed for rollover protection:

We noticed a recent article(s) about engine accidents (rollovers) on your site. In reading some of the comments regarding the article – Hauser Road rollover – it became clear that there is a misunderstanding about the intended use of this headache rack. BFX Fire Apparatus does provide a very robust rack but roll protection or its ability to help with this was never its intended use. This rack is there to provide a platform for emergency lighting which includes the lightbar, scenes lighting, walking surface lighting or other lighting that might be desired. It is also used to protect the rear cab window from damage if an object were able to make its way near this window. We understand full well the desire to provide crew protection within the cab, but the headache rack has nothing to do with this nor was it the intent.

Not only are headache racks not designed to maintain their integrity during a rollover, if they are mounted to a body component, the body AND the rack could become deformed or separated from the rest of the vehicle.

Water tender rollover
Water tender rollover on the Jolly Mountain Fire in Washington September 11, 2017. Photo from PNW RLS report.

Victoria’s new fire engines have rollover and tree protection

Above: Mercedes Benz G-wagon fire engine. Photo by Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 

In the last week two reports have been released about serious accidents involving U.S. Forest Service fire engines. One was a rollover and the other was an engine that was hit by a falling tree. Rollovers of wildland engines are common. We have assigned the “rollover” tag to 48 articles on Wildfire Today. There were two fairly minor injuries in the most recent rollover and none in the tree strike incident. Other rollovers have been much more serious.

Engine 492 crash Wyoming
The crash of USFS Engine 492 in Wyoming August 8, 2013. USFS photo.

Some of the newer USFS engines have what the manufacturer calls a “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”, a roll bar behind the cab, but in spite of this, the cab of the recent rollover was partially crushed, making it a challenge for the three occupants to climb out of the damaged side window.

The Australians have been more forward-thinking than their US counterparts when it comes to providing for the safety of the firefighters that work with engines. Many of the trucks have spray bars that provide a water curtain around the cab which can be activated if the crew is entrapped in a fire. Some of them also have substantial rollover protection systems that prevent the passenger compartment from being crushed in a rollover.

Internal roll bar Country Fire Authority engine
Internal roll bar in a Country Fire Authority engine in Victoria..

Three years ago in Victoria, Australia two firefighters were killed at Harrietville when their fire engine was struck by a falling tree. The next year the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning began acquiring the first of dozens of new Mercedes-Benz G-wagon fire engines.

Mercedes Benz G-wagon fire engine
Mercedes Benz G-wagon engine. Screen grab from the Tweet below.

The new trucks have a superstructure suspended horizontally over the cab that should minimize injuries to the crew in case of a falling tree. It appears that it would also offer rollover protection for the occupants.

We have often suggested that the wildland fire agencies in the United States fund research conducted by engineers to determine how to prevent the passenger compartments in their fire engines from collapsing in accidents. The Aussies have it covered, so to speak.

Engine rollover on Hauser Road

There were two minor injuries among the three-person crew

Above: photo from the report.

(Originally published at 4:40 p.m. November 27, 2017)

An engine carrying three wildland firefighters slid off a muddy road September 12, 2017 and rolled over two-and-a-half times when they were returning from a smoke check. Considering the violent accident, the injuries were minor — a laceration on one person and a broken rib on another.

The report released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center does not specify where the the rollover occurred, except that the crew was returning to Montrose, Colorado, an investigator came from Grand Junction, and it also mentioned a couple of landmarks, if true, that are known only to locals, such as Hauser Road.

The truck was a U.S. Forest Service Ford F-550 configured as a Type 6 engine which sustained major damage. The roof partially collapsed, crushing some of the side windows:

…the crew barely had enough room to crawl out the opening with metal scraping against their backs and stomachs.

The damage to the truck and the injuries to the firefighters might have been worse if the truck had not had the “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”, a structure behind the cab. But apparently it did not have a full cab roll bar. (UPDATE November 30, 2017: the report lists the headache rack under “What went well”, but does not elaborate. These structures are designed to hold lights and to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window, but should not be expected to provide serious protection during a rollover. We added the next photo that was included in the report, which offered no caption or explanation. It is unknown if it shows the engine involved in the rollover.)

Headache Rack
Headache rack, intended to provide a location to install lights, and to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window.
fire engine accident rollover colorado
Photo from the report.

Below is an excerpt from the report; it begins as the truck was sliding on the muddy road:

Engine 36’s passenger-side front wheel slid toward the edge. Everyone braced for the expected bump into the lip of the road. However nothing was there to slow the engine’s slide to the right and the front wheel went off the road, followed by the rest of Engine 36.

The engine violently rolled two-and-a-half times down the embankment, gaining speed with each rotation. “When will this end!” the Engine Captain thought to himself as glass shattered, metal crumpled and screeched, and the world spun end over end.

Engine 36 came to rest on its roof, braced against large trunks of oak brush. Everything in the cab came to a stop. A muffled and intermittently eerie buzzing came from the horn. Water hissed. As the crew steadied themselves, calling out to check the status of each other, a loud “pop” from the roof was heard.

As they felt the vehicle’s cab start to give a little bit, the decision was made to exit as quickly as possible. The curtain airbags were still partially inflated. Captain 36 had to deflate them with his personal knife. Exiting out the passenger side window, the crew barely had enough room to crawl out the opening with metal scraping against their backs and stomachs.

There has been an epidemic of wildland fire engine rollovers. This is the 48th article on Wildfire Today tagged “rollover”.

We still stand behind what we wrote in a 2015 article about the many firefighter fatalities from rollovers:

The wildland fire agencies should fund research conducted by engineers to determine how to prevent the passenger compartments in their fire engines from collapsing in accidents.

State cites employer of firefighter killed on Tubbs Fire

KQED reports that Tehama Transport, the owner of the truck that rolled over, failed to provide workers compensation insurance for their employees.

According to KQED the state of California has cited the company that employed the firefighter killed in Northern California October 16 while operating a water tender on the Tubbs Fire.

water tender accident in Napa County
Screen capture from KCRA video of water tender accident in Napa County October 16, 2017.

Garrett Paiz, 39, died when the water tender he was driving rolled over while descending Oakville Grade west of Highway 29. Mr. Paiz was the only firefighter killed on the numerous large fires that broke out during a wind event in Northern California October 8-9. About 40 civilians died in the fire storms which also destroyed thousands of homes.

Investigations by the California Department of Industrial Relations and the state Labor Commissioner’s Office found that the owner of the truck, Tehama Transport, failed to procure workers compensation insurance for their employees.

Below are excerpts from articles at KQED:

The company, like scores of other contractors, has provided water tenders and bulldozers to firefighting efforts. Firms that contract with Cal Fire for heavy equipment are required to provide copies of their current workers’ compensation insurance policies for their employees.

But Tehama Transport did not have to abide by that requirement because it registered as an “owner/operator.” Under that classification, the company was saying that Paiz either had ownership in the company or was a relative of someone who did.

Without that coverage, Paiz’s family, his wife and teenage daughter, might lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.

Cal Fire has hired the company 56 times and the U.S. Forest Service has hired the firm 47 times since 2006, according to documents obtained by KQED.

Tehama Transport appealed the penalty, leading to a hearing that took place Monday. A hearing officer’s decision on the dispute is pending.

In April both a private contractor and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) were issued citations by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) related to a fatality when a dozer rolled over. Robert Reagan, 35, of Friant, California, was killed while fighting the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California July 26, 2016.

Minutes after Mr. Reagan began operating the piece of equipment for Czirban Concrete Construction on contract to CAL FIRE, it rolled over.

According to KQED news, Cal/OSHA issued five citations to Czirban totaling $20,000. The largest was $13,500 for not wearing a seat belt.

Czirban had not secured workers’ compensation insurance for Mr. Reagan as required, and had been cited eight times in four years by the Contractors State License Board, several times because of worker’s compensation issues.

CAL FIRE was cited for failing to report a serious injury within eight hours and another for failing to maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program.

Another fire truck rollover — this time, into a creek

The driver was pinned underneath the engine and partially submerged in the creek.

(Above: photo from the report shows the contracted engine after rolling off the road into a creek.)

(Originally published at 5:36 p.m. MDT October 19, 2017)

Below is the summary from the report of the rollover of an engine that was working on the Miller Complex in southwest Oregon.


On 27 August 2017, a Type 6 contract engine was conducting structure triage assessments while assigned to the Miller Complex in southwestern Oregon, managed by a Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT). The crew had just resumed their trip after a short break when the driver came too close to the edge of the roadway and rolled down a steep embankment into a shallow creek.

The engine driver was not wearing his seatbelt and was seriously injured. Although not ejected, the driver was partially pinned underneath the engine, and partially submersed in the creek. The other two engine crewmembers were seat-belted, received minor injuries, and tried to radio for help.

After unsuccessful attempts at radio communication, one crewmember set out on foot to find help. After over one hour searching for help, the crewmember found a nearby resident who helped the accident victim locate a heavy equipment boss assigned to the fire.

A Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) assigned to the Division was also EMT-B qualified and became the first responder and incident-within-incident commander (IIC). This IIC managed a large accident response effort which included a staging area manager, extrication team, paramedics, low-angle rescue team, and multiple aircraft resources.

All three victims were successfully and rapidly transported to a hospital about 40 miles away due to a solid response plan implemented by a fireline leader with a calm demeanor and a strong command presence. Agency and IMT support for the injured contractor employee from the initial patient response to the patient’s three-week admission to hospital was outstanding. Relationships between the Forest Service and the contracting community have been further strengthened by the post-accident patient support.


To date, Wildfire Today has documented over three dozen rollovers of fire apparatus working on wildland fires. 

Alberta firefighter killed in water tender crash

James Hargrave
James Hargrave. Photo from the office of Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

A volunteer firefighter from southeast Alberta was killed in a vehicle accident Tuesday night October 17.

James Hargrave, a 34-year old firefighter with Cypress County Fire Services was working on a wildfire that started in Alberta and spread into Saskatchewan where it was moving toward the towns of Leader and Burstall.

Mr. Hargrave was driving a water tender that collided with a pickup. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said he died at the scene. The driver of the pickup had minor injuries.

“James was very community-minded and joined the fire services to help and protect residents far and near. He was a great father and will be dearly missed by his wife, children, extended family, friends, neighbours and fellow first responders,” Cypress County said in a news release. “He was a great father and will be dearly missed by his wife, children, extended family, friends neighbours and fellow first responders.”

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Hargrave’s family, coworkers, and friends.

map fires alberta
Map showing fires detected in southeast Alberta by a satellite at 2:55 p.m. MDT October 17, 2017.