Wildfire News, March 27, 2009

Followup on Kansas helicopter crash

The NTSB has released some preliminary information in a short report about the crash in which Roger Hershner, a long time fire helicopter pilot, died. The report, which does not mention the cause of the crash, includes this information:

A nearby resident heard the helicopter’s engine “rev to a high RPM” twice followed by two to three “thump” or “whump” sounds. There are no reported eyewitnesses to the accident.


Fire in Chicago surburbs

Larry Shapiro of Shapiro Photography sent us a link to some photos he took Sunday of a 4-alarm, 250-acre fire in Lake Zurich, on the northwest side of Chicago. The Daily Herald reports that 30 (!) fire departments from three counties battled the fire for 4 hours in the Cuba Marsh.


Fire contractor fined for making false statements

In November Wildfire Today covered the trial and conviction of Jay Gasvoda who was convicted of making false statements related to falsifying physical fitness or “pack test” records. Now a judge has sentenced him to a $10,000 fine.

From the Independent record:

Gasvoda maintained that he was only engaging in a practice that most or all rural fire districts do when he certified that his crew had passed physical tests that allowed them to operate equipment on fire lines while under contract with the Forest Service.

“In the fire business, Sula had a different understanding of what pack tests were required and who could certify it,” Martin Judnich, Gasvoda’s attorney, told the judge. “The chiefs said they weren’t aware you had to take this test and pass it. We thought that if you thought (they were physically fit) that they could certify that and put it down. The Forest Service says no.”

According to information from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Gasvoda had a business, Bitterroot Fire Protection, and contracted in 2003 to provide two fire engines and a water truck, plus eight people, to fight wildfires on national forest lands in Montana. As part of that contract, Gasvoda signed documents saying the crew was “certified.”

However, the Forest Service later learned that several of Gasvoda’s employees hadn’t taken the “standards for survival” test, and others hadn’t completed an arduous “pack test” that required firefighters to walk three miles in 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound backpack.

Gasvoda was paid $68,000 from the federal government for working on six fires that summer.

“I have never taken a pack test in my life, but they have always sent me the (certification) card,” Gasvoda said. “My sons were given cards two years ago by state employees, and they didn’t take the pack tests, nor did hundreds of others.

“I realize the system, for safety reasons, has to be there and I’m all for it. But this particular system has way too many holes in it that don’t work.”

That may be, Lovell said, but he wasn’t prepared to retry the case in court — although he did offer to postpone sentencing while he read the entire transcript from the 2 ½-day trial that was presided over by Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula. That offer was turned down by Gasvoda, who is considering filing an appeal of the conviction, but is concerned about the high cost of legal fees.


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