The accident occurred near the 51,512-acre Nuns Fire.
(UPDATE October 17, 2017: the driver that was killed in the water tender accident has been identified as 38-year-old Garrett Paiz, a volunteer firefighter from Missouri. The truck was owned by Red Bluff-based Tehama Transport.)
The wildfires in Northern California have taken another life, adding to the tally of 40 announced fatalities.
KCRA is reporting that a contract firefighter was killed October 16 when a water tender rolled over in Napa County at 6:50 a.m. near the Nuns Fire north of San Francisco.
CAL FIRE confirmed that the operator was assigned to the 51,512-acre Nuns Fire.
The accident occurred on a steep downhill section of Oakville Grade about two miles west of Highway 29.
Fatal rollovers of fire trucks, especially water tenders, is far too common. We have documented more than three dozen similar accidents (tag: rollover).
Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of the firefighter whose name has not yet been announced.
On night shift, at approximately 1845, while driving to the fire line just a short distance outside of fire camp on a county road in a semi-rural area, a cooperator Water Tender drifted to the right-hand side of this narrow road that had a minimal shoulder. According to witness statements, the Water Tender was traveling approximately 34 miles per hour.
The Water Tender driver said that he felt the rear tires move off of the pavement onto the gravel shoulder. The driver did not try to correct for fear that this action would cause the Water Tender to rollover. The driver believes that when both rear tires went off of the pavement, this action pulled the truck into the ditch—causing it to rollover and land on its side. The Water Tender was full of water. During this rollover, the Water Tender’s axles became separated from the vehicle and four sections of private fence were destroyed.
Members of the public who were following the Water Tender were first on scene and called 911. They acknowledged that the driver—who was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident—was alert, oriented, and had minor facial lacerations. (This Water Tender was mobilized through the state and did not go through the inspection process during check in.)
The Rapid Lesson Sharing report released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, other than the facts above, only discusses the management of the incident within an incident, and does not cover causes, prevention, or mention the frequency of rollovers involving water tenders and fire engines. There may be a more complete analysis completed in the coming months. At Wildfire Today there are over three dozen articles tagged “rollover”.
Our hope is that the agencies that respond to wildfires will place more emphasis on training drivers and acquire vehicles that are less likely to rollover and that have a cab strong enough to protect the occupants during a crash.
BLM Unimog Engine 2410 when it was new in 2006. BLM photo.
The Bureau of Land Management has released an Accident Investigation Factual Report for the July 10, 2016 engine rollover north of Winnemucca, Nevada in which two firefighters were killed and a third was seriously injured.
Jacob O’Malley and Will Hawkins lost their lives in the single-vehicle accident on Nevada State Route 140 when a rear tire suddenly and catastrophically failed. The truck only had four tires, there were no duals on the rear. When the right-rear rim dragged along the pavement the left-front was in the air, eliminating any possibility of control by the driver. The 33,000 pound GVWR engine fishtailed and then rolled several times.
The cab was higher than the water tanks and pump package, so it took the majority of the impact as the top of the vehicle struck the roadway during the rollover. All three occupants were wearing seat belts but with the top of the cab and the A pillar being damaged or sheared off, the restraint system failed to operate as designed. Mr. Hawkins was ejected from the cab and then was hit by the rolling wreckage.
Below is an excerpt from the report:
Finding 3.1 (Material): During the rollover, the upper cab structure (made of reinforced carbon fiber) sheared away from the truck frame, exposing the vehicle’s occupants to a hazardous environment. The disintegration of the cab compromised the driver’s and right side passenger’s seatbelt systems.
Discussion 3.1: The lack of cab crashworthiness did not cause the rollover; however, it contributed to the fatal conditions which occurred during the crash. The reinforced carbon fiber cab on the Unimog was manufactured in France and was built to United Nations Code ECE r29 (commercial vehicle occupant protection), which exceeds U.S. cab crashworthiness standards. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) submitted a report to Congress in 2015 on the need for improved heavy truck crashworthiness standards; however, no action has been taken on this report as of February 2017.
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. Not wearing a seat belt, he was thrown from the cab and was killed when the dozer rolled onto him.
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.
Below is an excerpt from an article at KQED in which they point out a number of problems related to contractors working on wildfires:
Cal/OSHA also issued two citations to Cal Fire, one for failing to report a serious injury within eight hours and another for failing to maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program.
“The employer failed to ensure a supervisor was in the immediate area during all bulldozer activities,” Cal/OSHA compliance officer Kelly Tatum wrote in the agency’s citation.
Cal Fire, which also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Reagan’s wife and two young daughters, has appealed the findings.
Above: Country Fire Authority test of engine burnover protection systems. Screen shot from CFA video.
The Aussies are far ahead of wildland firefighting agencies in the United States when it comes to the protection of personnel during fire engine burnovers and rollovers. Since 1977 Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) has been creating, evolving, and improving systems to increase the odds of firefighters on an engine surviving if their position is overrun by fire. These efforts were intensified after two engine burnovers in 1983 and 1998 killed a total of 17 firefighters.
During the last 39 years the vehicles have been hardened in various ways. Examples include internal radiant heat curtains and nozzles positioned around the exterior of the truck that spray water as the fire approaches.
We did a quick search on Wildfire Today for “engine burnover” and were surprised at the number of results. Take a moment and at least look at the titles and brief excerpts. These, of course, are just articles on our website. We make no claim that all engine burnovers are included since we started this website in 2008.
On November 21 the CFA posted a video (below) about their crew protection systems. It covers the history of their efforts and several minutes of video recorded during a test when a fire was ignited that burned over three of their engines to evaluate the effectiveness of the designs. The maximum temperature recorded was 728°C (1,342°F)
Below is a screen shot from the CFA video.
What if — in 2006 the five U.S. Forest Service firefighters that were entrapped and killed on the Esperanza Fire, instead of working on an engine similar to the USFS engine farther down this page, had been assigned to one built to CFA standards. Would they have taken refuge in the engine, pulled down the thermal protection shields and turned on the truck protection water spray instead of attempting to survive the fire outside the engine?
One feature of the CFA engines we noticed was a heavy-duty internal roll bar.
We have written before about the need for U.S. wildland firefighting agencies to improve the survivability of engine crews during rollovers. These accidents involving large fire trucks, especially water tenders, are common.
In our opinion it is disgraceful that the outfits employing thousands of firefighters on engines have not taken this step to provide a safer working environment for their personnel.
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.