Smokejumper seriously injured in Alabama

Ray Rubio
Ray Rubio. Photo from GoFundMe page.

A firefighter was seriously injured while on a fire assignment in Alabama.

Just before Thanksgiving Ray Rubio, a Redmond, Oregon smokejumper, was staying overnight in Birmingham before returning home when an accident occurred.

A GoFundMe page set up to help pay for his medical expenses posted the following on November 29:

There have been many rumors regarding the number and type of injuries sustained in the accident. Ray has very serious head injuries and a broken kneecap. Ray remains in intensive care and remains on life support. Every morning Ray gets a CT scan. The CT scan today shows that Ray’s head injuries are no longer swelling and have stabilized (the same as yesterday). Right now, Ray’s family and many friends are here for him. He is loved and cared for. I realize that Ray’s situation is vague and it is hard not knowing. Please be patient with the limited information.

The amount of help pouring in has been amazing! As we look into the future and the long road ahead for Ray and Julie and Family; we will strive to reach the highest funding goal possible. Keep spreading the word and raising awareness.

The incident occurred just before Thanksgiving.

After serving in the U.S. Army in the 82nd Airborne, Mr. Rubio has worked for the federal government for 25 years and began jumping at Redmond in 1995.

According to Adam C. Rondeau, a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region, at the time of the injury, “[Mr. Rubio] was in travel status and staying overnight in Birmingham, Alabama, before returning home to Oregon.”

Mr. Rondeau went on to say, “The exact cause of his injuries is still under investigation”.

An article at KTVZ, a central Oregon TV station, said he “suffered a serious head injury and a broken kneecap in a fall”.

We hope Mr. Rubio has a speedy, complete recovery.

Report released for burn injuries on Tokewanna Fire

On July 29 a member of the Great Basin Smokejumpers was injured while scouting fireline on the Tokewanna Fire near Mountain View in southwest Wyoming. The firefighter sustained burn injuries to the hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears. He was transported by air ambulance to the Salt Lake Burn Center where he was admitted.

The fire started at about 1500 on July 28. The overhead structure worked through the night and began transitioning to replacement personnel after smokejumpers arrived at approximately 1252 on July 29. The person that was later burned became the new Division Supervisor (DIVS) on Division W at 1300. Official transition to the new Incident Commander occurred at 1505.

map burn injury report
Illustration from the report.

Below is an excerpt from the Factual Report that was completed September 15, 2016:

“Between 15:30 and 15:45 the DIVS was scouting fireline and reached the highest point of where the fire had progressed on the ridge. At this location a flare up occurred downhill from the DIVS on the other side of a large stringer of lodgepole pine which had been heavily treated with retardant (Reference Materials photos 2-5). The DIVS stated, “I heard something I didn’t like and determined I needed to leave.” He retreated to his predetermined safety zone, which was the black and opted to continue downhill rapidly. While retreating he experienced an extreme pulse of radiant heat coming from the right accompanied by smoke and blowing ash. Because of the pulse of radiant heat, he used his helmet to shield the right side of his face. In recounting this he expressed “I wish I had my gloves on, but prior to the event I was away from the fire edge using a GPS and taking notes in my notepad.” The radiant heat caused burns to the DIVS’s hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears.”

Also from the report:

Summary

Three key findings were brought out during this investigation:

  • Timely recognition and reporting of burn injuries is critical
  • The absence of PPE can contribute to the severity of injuries
  • Firefighters were unable to contact the air ambulance utilizing pre-established radio frequencies

Lessons Learned from the Interviewees:

When asked if there were any lessons learned or best practices the interviewees would take away from the incident the following was captured:

  • Recognize your own limitations and don’t expect to have all of the answers or information on a rapidly emerging fire.
  • Time of day and incident complexity were not optimal for transferring command, but in this case it was a better option than continuing to utilize fatigued resources.
  • Sometimes you just need to safely engage to ensure you are not transferring risk to someone else later.
  • Make the time to tie-in with your overhead to assure face-to-face interactions occur during transition.
  • Participation with district resources in pre-season scenario based training alleviated tension while coordinating a real life medical incident at the dispatch center.
  • Frequency sharing with local EMS will help facilitate efficient medevac procedures.
  • Continue to encourage EMS certifications among line firefighters and/or identify ways to improve access to Advanced Life Support on emerging incidents.”

Smokejumpers on a 1-acre fire get chased by another fire

“We do not have a safety zone, and our escape route is threatened.”

Above: File photo. Smokejumpers at Missoula board a Twin Otter, August 11, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

I didn’t know the Bleacher Report covered anything other than sports, but earlier this week they published a lengthy article about smokejumpers unfortunately titled, “Superheroes Are Real”. It is mostly well written by Rachel Monroe and explores rookie training, firefighting, and aspects of waiting at an airport for a fire dispatch.

Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of Erik Vermaas, who had at least one memorable quote:

[Hotshots] walk in single file in fire camp,” says Vermaas, the second-year jumper. “You can just tell smokejumpers are different. They’re not a number. These dudes roll through fire camp and it’s like, Who the f*** is that? You can tell.

Part of the article describes how “last summer” three of them jumped on a fire in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, near the Idaho-Washington-Oregon border and by the fourth day had the one-acre blaze pretty much wrapped up.  The excerpt below picks up on that fourth day:

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“…At nine that morning, a pilot flying overhead radioed the crew: You guys know you’ve got a fire-start right next to you? One of the other jumpers volunteered to bushwhack up the ridge to check out what was going on. It was slow going; the jumpers had been working in the thick, 20-foot-high brush that made walking a quarter-mile feel more like walking four. When the scout made it to the top of the ridge, he immediately radioed back: Let’s get out of here.

The fire had crowned—that is, started burning in the tops of the trees. The wind was pushing it toward the jumpers, and it was moving fast. In other circumstances, maybe the jumpers would have radioed for a plane to dump a tanker of retardant on the flames to slow things down, but by around 11 a.m., all those little fires had merged into a big one, and the smoke was so thick the helicopters couldn’t see a damn thing. Vermaas and the other jumper waited anxiously for the scout to fight through the brush back to them. The other jumper with Vermaas, a guy with decades of experience, barked into the radio: We do not have a safety zone, and our escape route is threatened. “That means,” Vermaas explains, “you basically are running out of options.”

Vermaas heard the loud, gunning sound of what he thought was a helicopter; he watched the treetops sway and felt a momentary surge of relief—until he realized that it wasn’t a chopper making that sound, or all that whooshing wind. The danger was the fire itself, ripping its way through the treetops toward them. No plane or rescue vehicle could make it anywhere near them; they’d have to get themselves out of this mess, and fast.

By the time the third crew member showed up, Vermaas says, “it was already f****** go time.” The jumpers ditched their gear—“We made the decision, ‘F*** the gear, f*** everything, leave it, we’re going’”—and made their way through the brush, racing the fire down toward the river. Vermaas tried not to think about what would happen if the fire spotted and caught below them—fire burns fastest uphill, and when it gets going even the most fleet-footed smokejumper doesn’t stand a chance. All three jumpers made it down to a creek and safe haven, but it was close.

Vermaas stood in the creekbed, then watched as the trees swayed with the energy only a fire could create—when wildfires burn hot enough, they can generate their own weather. Half an hour or so more and those flames would’ve burned right over them. Days later, a salvage crew went in to look for the jumpers’ gear. The only remnants they found were metal grills from their jump helmets and six fasteners from their parachutes. Everything else had been reduced to ashes…”

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Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paul.

Smokejumper canopies back-lit by the sun

This is a spectacular photo of smokejumper parachute canopies back-lit by the sun.

Photos of Russian smokejumpers

Парашютисты-пожарные федеральной Авиалесоохраны в Бурятии, на тушении возле озера Байкал. 2015 год. Russian smokejumpers of the Federal aviation forest protection (Avialesookhrana) extinguish a fire near Baykal lake. Buryatia, In august 2015 #леснойпожар #лес #пламя #героизм #парашютисты #десантники #огонь #пожар #лесной_пожарный #лес #avialesookhrana #forest #fire #firefighter #smokejumpers #лесныепожары #bomberos #авиация #firefighterslife #героизм #пламя #helicopter #widlandfire #widlandfirefighting #aviation #airguards #aviales #экстрим #air #plane #sky #bombeiros #авиация #авиалесоохрана

A photo posted by Федеральная Авиалесоохрана (@avialesookhrana) on

A view of a few California wildfires

“Boosting” is smokejumper terminology for temporarily being stationed at a smokejumper base away from their home duty station.