Serious injury to a Boise smokejumper

Secretary Jewell and smokejumpers

File photo of Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel (center, with green flight suit) with Boise smokejumpers, May 13, 2013. BLM photo.

(Originally posted at 12:16 p.m. MT, March 25, 2014; updated March 28, 2014)

A smokejumper for the Bureau of Land Management working out of Boise, Idaho suffered a serious injury on a training jump Monday. The patient was initially evaluated on scene by the other jumpers and then flown by Life Flight to a Boise hospital, arriving within 46 minutes, and received treatment, including surgery, for two fractured femurs.

According to Jennifer Smith, a spokesperson for the BLM, the injury resulted from the smokejumper’s landing. There was no parachute malfunction. Boise BLM smokejumpers conduct training jumps on a regular basis in the area where the accident occurred southeast of Emmett, 20 miles northwest of Boise.

An accident investigation team is being organized and is expected to begin work today.

(UPDATE March 28, 2014)

The BLM released a “72-hour report” yesterday. Below is an excerpt.

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Narrative:

A BLM Boise Great Basin smokejumper incurred two broken femurs when he experienced a hard landing during a routine refresher parachute jump. This was the second jump of the day at the same location. The jump spot was located along an open ridgeline in an area commonly used for training jumps. Life Flight was immediately contacted and smokejumper EMT’s on scene provided emergency medical care and prepared the injured jumper for transportation. Life Flight was able to land in close proximity to the patient, who was transported to a local Boise area hospital approximately 20 miles from the injury site, arriving within an hour of the accident.

Action Taken to Date:

An Interagency Accident Investigation Team has been assigned. The intent of the investigation is to determine the cause of the injury and provide recommendations to help prevent future occurrences.”

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Wildfire briefing, February 7, 2014

Pioneer smokejumper laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery

Casey Walden smokejumper

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col.
Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25,
2010. (U.S. Army photo)

During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.

The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.

In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945.

On Jan. 6, Lt. Col. Roger S. Walden, who passed away on Sept. 17, 2013, was remembered and given full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Walden holds a special place in U.S. Forest Service history. He will be remembered for his bravery, sacrifice and groundbreaking achievements in wildland firefighting. During a time of war and social prejudices, the commitment to serve his country through wildland firefighting was challenging and unique.

Casey Walden laid to rest

The body of Lt. Col. Roger Walden is unloaded from a caisson at Arlington
National Cemetery. (Photo by Donna Sinclair)

California PUC approves new rules to reduce fire hazards from power poles

Yesterday the California Public Utilities Commission approved dozens of new rules aimed at strengthening overhead power and communications poles.

San Diego Gas and Electric, SDG&E, whose power lines started three huge fires in southern California in 2007, agreed in 2009 to pay $686 million to insurance companies that paid claims to their customers for the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires.

The PUC told us the new rules can be found here.

Yarnell Hill Fire survivor takes new job

Brendan McDonough is the lone surviving member of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew. He was serving as a lookout in another location when the other 19 men on the crew were killed as they were overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2014 in Arizona.

Brendan McDonough

Brendan McDonough, surviving member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire. Photo courtesy of Brendan’s father, who placed the photo on his Facebook page.

Since that day he has been on a leave of absence from the Prescott Fire Department, but he now has a new job working for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. He will be conducting fundraising and helping to raise awareness of how firefighters deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Below is an excerpt from KPHO:

McDonough says he is battling PTSD manifested in dreams.

Acting Prescott Fire Chief Eric Kriwer says McDonough left his city job in good standing, and McDonough says he still has strong bonds with department personnel and continues to live in Prescott.

Pete Wertheim, City of Prescott communications and public affairs manager, told CBS 5 News, “Brendan was a seasonal wildland firefighter and he left in good standing with the City. The City appreciates Brendan and his service to the community and we wish for him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”

 

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Wildfire briefing, January 3, 2014

Drought Monitor

The Drought Monitor shows that most of California, Nevada, and southern Idaho are in either a severe or extreme drought. This could be an interesting winter fire season if it continues.

Drought Monitor 12-31-2013

Arizona State Forestry Division wants to almost double budget

The state organization responsible for managing the Yarnell Hill Fire is requesting a budget for the Arizona State Forestry Division that is nearly double what they received in the fiscal year that ends June 30. According to an article at Azcentral, State Forester Scott Hunt wants to add $6.2 million to this year’s budget of $7.3 million. The additional funds would be used to hire 15 additional staffers, replace firefighting and communications equipment, and allocate $2 million to remove hazardous vegetation on state and private lands. The budget request was filed in October, after 19 firefighters died on the Yarnell Hill Fire but before the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued their report on the fire and recommended a $550,000 fine be imposed on the Arizona State Forestry Division as a result of the fatalities on the fire.

Retired smokejumper interviewed on Montana Public Radio

Retired smokejumper Wayne Williams is featured in an interview on Montana Public Radio. In the 11-minute recording Mr. Williams speaks eloquently from his decades of experience. It is refreshing to hear someone interviewed about wildland fire in the media who knows the subject matter. The audio is HERE, and a short article with his photo is HERE.

Army attempts to prevent wildfires at Schofield Barracks

Raising the berm at Schofield Barracks

A soldier with 2nd Platoon, 523rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, uses a D7 bulldozer to increase the size of the berm so it is a 20 feet by 20 feet dimension. (U.S. Army photo by: 1st Lt. Lucian Myers, 2nd Platoon, 523rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command)

In October and November two wildfires started at a range used for controlled detonations to dispose of unexploded ordnance at Schofield Barracks west of Honolulu, Hawaii. The fire that started October 15 burned more than 250 acres. It was fought for five days, then two days later rekindled and was finally extinguished October 28. Another fire in November burned about 30 acres.

In order to reduce the chances of vegetation fires igniting from the explosions, soldiers are using dozers to increase the height of the dirt berm surrounding the range from 7 feet to 22 feet. During the project, which was conducted 24 hours a day between December 9 and 13, they moved 5,800 cubic yards of dirt.

Wildfire Tweets

Below are a couple of messages on Twitter that had photos of fires — at Valparaiso, Chile and Lake Tahoe, California (which may be a prescribed fire).

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Dick and Chris

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The view from under a parachute canopy

Hastings fire in Alaska, May 31, 2011. Two smokejumpers approach landing zone. Photo: Mike McMillan

Jon Marshall, a smokejumper at Missoula, has written an article about the current state of the smokejumper program. He looks at career development in the program, staffing levels, what it’s like to be a jumper, and the square vs. round canopy issue. You can red the entire article at his blog, but below is an excerpt:

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I’ve loved living the life of a smokejumper. The people, the places, the experiences, the opportunities, the adventure; the skills, the training, the challenges, the obstacles, the fears and the insight that I’ve gained while employed as a smokejumper have given me an acute appreciation of what one is truly capable of if one puts their mind to it. I typically spend less than 20 minutes a year under canopy, but spend close to 6 months of my life away from home, dedicated to fire and the travel and the lifestyle associated with it. During that 6-month period I spend close to 100 days on active fire assignments and work nearly 800 hours of overtime, filling a variety of roles while making significant sacrifices to other aspects of my personal and professional life.

I enjoy the small initial attack fires with close friends, but I also grow from the challenges, personal tests and complexities found in incident command and on large project fires. I want to see this program move healthily forward into the future while providing it’s employees with the career opportunities and support that they deserve. The Smokejumper program is, at its core, the strongest Professional Development Program in the Forest Service, and in my opinion, one of the strongest in the country outside of the military. Individuals that leave the Smokejumper program go on to become extremely strong leaders, mentors and role models throughout this country. They pursue a wide range of careers from national incident managers and fire leaders to politicians to scientists to private business owners and entrepreneurs. I think it’s critical that we don’t lose sight of what this program really means to most of us; while truly recognizing how fragile it may really be.

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Learning Review released for smokejumper fatality

A report called a “Learning Review” has been released for the Luke Sheehy fatality, the smokejumper who was killed by a falling limb while suppressing a wildfire on the Modoc National Forest in northeast California on June 10. In addition to the primary report an additional document with supporting information, including some mind-numbing charts, was released.

The objective as stated in the document was to “understand the rationale for the actions/decisions involved in the incident and then, if possible, to learn from them”.

Frequently at Wildfire Today we will write a summary and then our analysis of serious accident reports, but this particular document is very different from the traditional report. It adopts the new paradigm of leaving out conclusions and recommendations, a process that began to be etched into stone in August when the Serious Accident Investigation Guide was revised. This Learning Review claims that “conclusions can sometimes close the door on learning”. I would say on the other hand that they can more frequently open the door to an enhanced safety environment for firefighters. People can sometimes be hit by meteorites, but not often.

And like virtually every research paper, most of the recommendations are for additional studies, ensuring continued employment for academics and researchers.

Call me old school, but this document appears to be more useful for human behavior researchers than firefighters. How did we get to the point where language such as this is used repeatedly in a U.S. Forest Service funded official report about a wildland fire?

  • “Typical mission flow”
  • “Synthesis, analysis and sensemaking”
  • “Margin of maneuver”
  • “Sensemaking team”
  • “Single Loop vs. Double Loop Learning”
  • “Hoberman Sphere”
  • “Pressures and filters”
  • “Mind maps”
  • “Auditory signal”
  • “Signal detection”

The Learning Review does suggest that two additional products be prepared, one for “the field” and another for “the organization”. Maybe the field document, if produced, will be more useful for firefighters. And presumably the organization version will have conclusions and recommendations that will remain secret if the guidelines revised in August are followed.

I am not sure why the U.S. Forest Service paid the 22 people, plus multiple focus groups, to produce this study if they did not receive for their investment products usable by the field or the organization.

But I am old school when it comes to opportunities for learning lessons.

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