Part of new book “Daredevil Dads” is about a smokejumper who became an air tanker pilot

(This article first appeared on FireAviation.com)

A book published this month has a chapter featuring a frequent contributor to FireAviation.com.  Johnny “Coldwater” Yount has written many comments on the site where he relies on his aviation and firefighting experience to contribute meaningfully to the discussions.

The book “Daredevil Dads” tells Johnny’s story from his first solo flight when he was 14 years old to his experiences with crop dusters, smokejumping, helitack, and air tankers. From my interactions with Johnny, I have seen that he does not seek the limelight or continually remind everyone about his experiences and qualifications, but author Tam Rodwell was able to get him to discuss his extraordinary aviation and firefighting careers.

book Daredevil Dads smokejumper air tankerThe book covers several near misses, including the time the engine on his crop duster disintegrated while flying close to the ground leaving him in a small plane with heavy loads of fuel and fertilizer. The aircraft hit a muddy field  then cartwheeled and ejected him 50 yards away, still belted to his seat and suffering from a concussion. After being released from the hospital he discovered that he had temporarily acquired what we might loosely call today a super power. But I won’t spoil it for you.

The book also has chapters about 14 others with unique and dangerous occupations, including astronaut, ultimate fighter, bomb disposal, human cannonball, and a high-wire walker.

Reprinted below, with permission from the author, is an excerpt from Johnny’s chapter:

Johnny truly came into his own when piloting planes involved in aerial firefighting. As he became a little older the smoke jumping part of his life became less and less frequent and he used his encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of fighting blazes to extinguish them by air.

While smoke jumping had its obvious dangers, aerial firefighting seems that little bit safer to the outsider, however, nothing could be further from the truth. First and foremost, he was dealing with planes that were extraordinarily heavy given the combination load of fuel and water that he was carrying. Planes react in different ways and are harder to correct when they are bloated with load so he explains that often you needed to have faster reaction times as well as planning your turns further ahead as a result of the slight slow motion effect one needed to deal with.

“Daredevil Dads”, published by Crux Publishing, is available at Amazon for $13.99.

Filson honors aerial firefighters

Filson produced this video to honor smokejumpers and rappellers of the U.S. Forest Service.

This is how Filson describes the video:

For 112 years, the United States Forest Service has been caretaker of America’s most cherished natural resources: our public lands. Through their tireless efforts, 193 million acres of grasslands and national forests are ours to explore and cultivate-now and for generations to come.

15 new rookie smokejumpers in the Northern Geographic Area

Above: The 15 graduates of the 2017 Northern Geographic Area rookie smokejumper training program. USFS photo.

Fifteen trainees were successful graduates of the rookie smokejumper training that recently concluded in Missoula, Montana. The Missoula base will claim 9 of them, Grangeville Idaho gets 5, and West Yellowstone one.

A person associated with the program told 26 started the class, which was more than they usually have.

And in related smokejumper news, last week Tory Kendrick was promoted to Base Manager in Missoula.

And, another 13 jumpers from McCall, Idaho, recently finished the Ram Air Transition Training (round canopy to square canopy).

Smokejumper dies one month after off duty injury in Alabama

A smokejumper based in Oregon passed away December 19 after being injured in an accident in Birmingham, Alabama on November 22. Ray Fernandez Rubio, 52, was staying overnight in Birmingham before returning home when, according to AL.com and Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates, he was injured in a fall while walking from a restaurant back to his hotel.

Below is an excerpt from their article:

It was just before midnight when Rubio was walking alone in the 2100 block of 11thAvenue South. Friends have said he had completed his most recent smokejumping assignment and was about to return to Oregon.

Authorities said he fell over a concrete railing into a parking garage that was one story below ground level. Yates said Rubio fell 12 to 15 feet, suffering a head injury and a broken knee. It wasn’t immediately clear how he was found, but he was taken to Grandview Medical Center because UAB Hospital was on trauma diversion.

Rubio, a husband and father, remained in the Intensive Care Unit until he died at 5:45 p.m. Monday. Yates said forestry officials have had a support team in Alabama to help Rubio’s family during his hospital stay.

On December 2 Adam C. Rondeau, a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region, said that at the time of the injury, “[Mr. Rubio] was in travel status and staying overnight in Birmingham, Alabama, before returning home to Oregon.”

A GoFundMe account was set up for him that has raised over $33,000.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Rubio’s family and his coworkers at the Redmond, Oregon smokejumper base.

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 November 22.

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.”