When Andrew Palmer was killed in a tree felling accident on a fire in northern California July 25, 2008, and especially when the report on the accident was released on November 2, 2009, it shook the wildland firefighter community. Not only was one of our own lost, but after reading the report, a person has to wonder how it would have turned out if Mr. Palmer had been transported to an appropriate medical facility during the “golden hour”, as opposed to the three hours and 20 minutes it took to transport him from the accident site to the Redding, California airport where he was pronounced dead.
The coroner determined the cause of death to be “blood loss due to blunt force trauma to the left leg”. He bled to death.
We offered an opinion about it last November, but we recently discovered that in January, 2009, Andrew Palmer’s brother, Robert, wrote a very well researched and very reasoned paper about the accident and what we could do to reduce the number of fatalities that occur on the fireline. The first two pages of the eight-page document are excerpted below with his permission; the entire document is HERE.
My world changed on July 25, 2008. I lost faith in the “fire world’s ability to help one of their own”.
I had just returned from a 14-day wildland fire assignment in Northern California, when my Fire Management Officer meet me in the parking lot to tell me about my younger brother, also a member of a wildland fire staff; “Rob, Andy was hit by a tree this afternoon and isn’t doing well. I’m going to drive you to the airport and fly you back down to California.” I made it to the airport, 15 minutes away, when I received a call informing me that Andy had died en route to the hospital.
He was 18 years old, a recent high school graduate, enrolled in college for the fall, and lived a vigorous life. After a couple of weeks of training, this was his first fire assignment and first day of real work when he died. Andy’s incident provided me with a very raw and a very distinct perspective considering my experiences. I now understand what it means to lose a loved one tragically. I know what it is like to watch a falling tree kill a fellow crewmember and the frustration of not being able to change anything. I also know how Fire Management operates after serving over 10 seasons in fire and as a crew supervisor with the National Park Service (NPS).
I have protected our national lands, I have lead some of the finest employees in this country, and I have fought for their interests. I now need your support as I fight for my brother’s; we have a National Fire Management Program that cannot provide for the safety of its most important resource, its employees. Several weakness’s and human factors contributed to Andy’s death, but Andy is not alone. One would be naïve to attempt to focus corrective actions on one factor, for we have a much larger problem. We aggressively engage too many fires. We need to ask the questions, “Why are we doing this? and Why are we here?”
Objective: Golden Hour Response
Determine response and engagement based on the capability to deliver any injured fire personnel to an appropriate medical facility in less than 60 minutes. This will:
- Decrease engagement to SAFELY mitigate risks during response
- Establish Emergency Medical Standards on an Incident
- Dramatically decrease costs associated with wildland fire
- Decrease impacts to the ecosystem
We must decrease our engagement because we do not have the capacity to evacuate injured fire staff safely.
Given a lack of rescue and prompt evacuation capacity, we must decrease our engagement until our emergency evacuation capacity complements our engagement. In the short term, we will therefore limit our exposure until we have the capacity to rescue any fire personnel to an appropriate medical facility within 60 minutes, the golden hour. The “golden hour” of trauma defines that if one suffers massive life-threatening injuries reaches an appropriate receiving hospital within 60 minutes, the individual has the greatest survival rate. “Historically, wound data and casualty rates indicate that more than 90% of all casualties die within the first hour of severe wounding without advanced trauma life support.” Instead of reacting and floundering through an emergency within an incident, we will determine future wildland fire response tactics based on the principles of the golden hour, invoking the first radical change in the history of wildland fire.