Leader of Yarnell Hill Fire investigation says one firefighter should be able to attack a fire — alone

Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013
Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013
Yarnell Hill Fire, June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

The leader of the 54-person team that conducted the Serious Accident Investigation Team’s investigation into the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters was quoted as saying that individual firefighters should be able to attack wildfires alone. Florida State Forester Jim Karels’ reasoning seems to be that it is too expensive to send two firefighters to a fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at WFSU explaining that the Florida state legislature is considering a recommendation from the Florida State Fire Service Association that firefighters should not be sent alone to a fire:

…Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels says the increased staffing mandate is not necessary because the lowest-risk fires only require one firefighter—and if he sends two to one fire, it’s possible nobody will be available when the next one breaks out.

“Safety-wise, purely, if I can send two firefighters to every fire every time with no other decisions, I’m good with that. But we’ve got to look at it on effectiveness and efficiency too,” he says.

But Rep. Mike Clelland (D-Lake Mary) says his experience as a firefighter makes him question the department’s refusal.

“I just can’t imagine one person responding to a forest fire or a brush fire,” he says. “I spent my whole adult life in the fire service.”

The article also has a 50-second audio recording in which you can hear Mr. Karels actually speaking those words.

This helps to explain how Mr. Karels’ 54-person investigative team came up with their analysis of the fatal Yarnell Hill Fire:

The judgments and decisions of the incident management organizations managing this fire were reasonable. Firefighters performed within their scope of duty, as defined by their respective organizations. The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.

Many people, including this writer, disagree with the conclusion reached by Mr. Karels and his team. The article we wrote on February 15 is an example of some, but not all, of the negligence, reckless actions, and violations of policy or protocol that have been documented about the fire, in spite of Mr. Karels’ analysis. Other examples surfaced after the release of the second official report on the fire which was issued by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Many people, after studying for weeks how 19 firefighters were killed on a fire, would be hyper-aware and sensitive to firefighter safety issues, but not in this case. Florida State Forest Service Director Jim Karels is a danger to firefighters and should get out of the business. We don’t use term idiot often at Wildfire Today, but it is well deserved in this case.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

69 thoughts on “Leader of Yarnell Hill Fire investigation says one firefighter should be able to attack a fire — alone”

  1. In my thirty-eight years as a wildland firefighter, I have never, never ever heard or read of such an outrageous statement as that elicited by Mr. Karels. Is this guy for real? Bill, I am amazed at your the restraint in you showed in the description of Jim Karels. Also, I realize that what he said does not reflect the views or professional capacity of the other 53 members of the investigation team, yet his statement and his position as the leader of the investigation does compromise the value of the team’s report.

  2. This leaves me speechless , what a embarrassment. This does however explain volumes about the ridiculous conclusions in the Yarnell report.

  3. Anyone who believes that any wildfire that isn’ t attacked with all the reasonable action necessary is a complete idiot. I have lived through too many wildfires to know how quickly they can move, and the desruction they leave behind is overwhelming.

  4. Imagine for a moment the surealness of requiring a 54 person team to come with the absurd statement that only one person is required to fight a fire. Fifty four investigators to write those remarks?

    1. Hey Steve,
      Just to be clear, the 54p panel was for the Yarnel Incident Review. The (absurd) quote from Mr Karels was in the context of an interview with local media in response to recent FL State legislation. His statements where as a Forester not as the Team Lead on the Review.(nor the work of the 54).

      However, the issue that Mr Gabbert raises is that how could such an individual hold the Solo-is-Ok opinion? An idea which is about as safe as making PPE out of tissue paper.

      Not to be “that guy” but we should keep the record clear on this. Also, if I misunderstood your post please ignore and pardon me.

  5. The disconnect between what is called leadership and the operational level of the fire service is a widening gap. Anyone with any experience knows more is better. The emphasis to protect those in the ivory tower and their perks on their way to their high three has resulted in a leadership vacuum. Decision making has been centralized to a point that has lost contact with the real world.

  6. Is this the same guy with expert knowledge as a ” SME” for the USFS getting the C130’s?

    After reading this, he is is an embarassment to the profession, and after “38′ years…….the word retirement….comes to.mind.

    This good ol boy deserves the ID10T box checked off on his FL Red Card

  7. Since 1993 I have been fighting wildland fires, in all that 21 years I have heard and witnessed so many things. I am amazed that this guy can be the head of an agency with such great wildfire management history. If I was a Florida DOF emplyee I would be embarrassed and looking for employment somewhere that cared about my personal safety, and the safety of my fellow employees. It is also my hope that when a tragedy strikes, that there is more care taken on the selection of the lead investigator and the team. Sickened……

  8. Thank you for posting. Please let us know when an investigation report we can learn from is completed. I’ve lost a lot of faith in the National-level people who may have my life in their hands some day.

    1. Jim “foot in his mouth” Karels is the Florida Forest Service Director, not a “National” (although many from the team were Federal employees). So, if you are loseing the faith in the “National-level” staff, might as well lose it for the state folks as well.

      Come join the club, we’ll be in the bar.

    1. Thanks for the link, Hotshot88. It is a resurrected film from 1948 that shows a Forest Smokechaser attacking a fire, alone. It is hard to believe that anyone would want to go back to how fires were fought 66 years ago.

      1. Great video! it reminded me of the the old movies they showed us when I statrted. I have all the respect in the world for these old timers that did this. However we have advanced past these days. Unfortunately there are many folks who would like to take our society back in time. You are right on to expose this nut from Florida.

    2. “Smokechaser John” is a fire fighting machine… He could have handled Yarhell Hill by himself….. No Globe Crew, No Granite Mountain, No Blue Ridge, No VLATS….

      WOnder how many “smokechasers” were killed by all of the dangers that occur on a fire, in that era, and the Agency never blinked an eyelid???

  9. Decades ago, Jack Friday used to say on Dragnet “we just need to know the facts”. I sense that this line of negative communications is operating on less than that admonishment, and arriving at conclusions that miss the true context rather than the one created by the media. I have known Mr Karels for many years and safety is at the top of his list in all decisions. But the fact is that in Florida, for decades, thousands of IAs have been made (and completed) by single tractor fire plows. And it was the ability to continue that as an option that Mr Karels responded to, rather than a new state legislative mandate that would tell him how to run his fire management organization by requiring that two people respond to every fire. How many of you in other states want your state legislature telling you how to run your job?

    1. I agree with this post. I think his statements were misconstrude about the subject. He appears to be refering to the management side of a fire response. Anotherwords do you need to send two planning chiefs to every fire. Possibly the proposed Florida legislation is to broad in scope and includes not only boots on the ground but also upper level ICS positions. I am just speculating. If nothing else, the communication gap in Florida harks of the current situation in Colorado. Growing pains!

      1. Roger the proposal states that two certified wildland firefighters will be dispatched to a wildfire regardless of conditions or time of day. one will act as the IC and Lookout, while the other provides initial attack. That is all it is asking for. Two people.

      2. Obviously, the Florida State Legislature doesn’t think much of Mr. Karels or the job he is doing and therefore, they are changing the law. I don’t see many legislatures mandating changes in executive branches unless there is major problem. I get the feeling the Florida legislature is nervous about the possibility of negligence lawsuits due to poor or inadequate supervision or unsafe working conditions….

    2. This is not the legislation mandating anything. The members of the Florida State Fire Service Association which is the Union who covers the Florida Wildland Firefighters has asked numerous times for Rangers to not be sent to fires by themselves. Repeatedly the agency has said no and continued to only dispatch one firefighter and then have that firefighter request help once on scene. Help which may be over an hour away. Due to high turn over rate (most of Florida’s Forest Rangers have less then 10 years of experience on average) and the fact that the agency has refused to even negotiate on this issue, thr members asked for it to be implemented into their contract. The only reason legislators are involved is because the state refused to bargain in good faith and the issue went to impasse. All the members are asking for is that a wildland firefighter never be dispatched alone and never be stuck on a fire by themselves without any back up on scene. If you listen to the whole interview from the meeting the cost given by the agency is $2.9 million dollars a year. That is all it would cost to ensure no wildland firefighter is dispatched to fires alone in Florida. I don’t see that as an unreasonable request.

  10. Well, unless you really look into the situation, the knee-jerk reaction is “WTH”? But…look at it from a different stand point – the State MANDATING how to respond to a fire? Anybody have a problem with that? A slippery slope, possibly? Also, he addressing “the lowest risk fire”, not some conflagration with the potential to rip a few hundred acres.

    The Yarnell Hill report, while obviously flawed, doesn’t have anything to do with this situation – it’s a bit of a logical fallacy to tie them together simply because the same individual was involved in both.

    I agree with Alan’s comment above.

  11. In reference to Alan Long…….

    There are many a State legislature trying and interjecting themselves and telling folks how to do their jobs.

    This would not be a news story …….. I would imagine……anywhere….

  12. I told you so!! That expert investigative team should of consisted of true wildland firefighters from the western US. Their conclusion did not take into consideration the objective reality of a non existent initial attack on June 28th and the failure of a quick, aggressive & proper IA on the 29th when on both days the tactical suppression ability was offensive and in the favor of the firefighter. Then on to the failure of not calling out the multiple 10 & 18 orders violated. Until the real truth,a failed IA, that created this tragedy is put out and firm direction to make corrections are put in place we will continue to increase the ratio of exposure to risk in wildland firefighting. A proper initial attack has the the lowest exposure with acceptable risk compared to any extended suppression action.

  13. I can think of a number of scenarios where a single agency firefighter could safely fight a wildland fire alone. A tractor plow or dozer operator could scratch in a line on initial attack prior to the arrival or possibly even dispatch of other resources. A fire prevention patrol could be dispatched to check a reported lightning strike in the area and take quick action upon confirmation of only a single tree involved. If you make a hard and fast policy, then the Forest Service employee would be reprimanded for putting out an unattended campfire that has burned a few feet beyond the stone ring.

    1. *Like*

      [Refreshing voice of someone still connected to the field.]

      Factors must be weighed. That is why over the years many areas have developed dispatch auto response plans and set priorities relative to weather conditions, etc. There are also times of year, yes and even in peak season, relative to the location we have waited for multiple reports before we even send anyone.

    2. I was reprimanded by my agency for putting a line around a lightning strike while waiting for an engine!

  14. Several months ago a firefighter was alone while attempting to locate a fire in New Mexico. His body was found about a week later. If someone else had been with him it may or may not have made any difference, but bad things can happen when you are in a remote area, and a wildfire nearby adds to the risk.

  15. Hey HS 88

    Hoping 1948 films will get one through a court case nowadays

    I think the Yarnell case based on CREWS would also infiltrate the “single person factor” as ANOTHER thing waiting to happen……….

  16. Unfortunately there are too many people like Jim who have wormed their way into the professional wildland fire service. They are seldom found on the hill when it’s on fire, but they always seem to make it to the funerals. Risk management starts at the top.

  17. Did anyone actually read the original article in which the original quote was referenced.

    Using quotes out of context in an attempt to discredit findings, adding fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories is sad.

    Also just as something to think about. For any who have attended a fire refresher in the last year, remember the intro to the video package? The old [historic] footage of the fire lookout responding solo to a lightning snag, leaving his wife to “man” the tower, as he all by himself cut down the tree and fought some ground fire for a couple of days without assistance.

    My how times have changed.

  18. I do not know the context of the entire statement but I can tell you as an 18 year wildland firefighter it depends on what stage of initial attack. You don’t send a single resource to a smoke report that a lookout spots, but if you are out patrolling alone and discover or hear of a smoke report and get there quickly enough you can easily contain the spread if it is small. That was the way we used to prevent large fires. Units were already in the woods and could respond when the fires were small. Now that guard stations have been done away with, response is from town and the fires get big before a shovel is put on them.

    1. ThankYou. From a retired 30 yr USFS firefighter 20 of which I as an FPT put out hundreds of fires by myself and only requested additional help when my experience told me such was needed and pissed off many an Engine crew when I cancelled them because they were not needed, again based on my experience and my equiptment that I had at hand.

  19. Some “leaders” in the fire service have been using this tactic for years. Cut staffing because the studies “show” that we dont need four on a structure engine, or two on a wildland engine. It is a false economy, in both terms of money and safety. It is a tactic being used to gain favor with the higher up in the political world.

  20. I have known director Karels for over 13 years which goes back to when he was the Fire Chief of Florida Forestry. I see and hear the comments made, but feel that this is only an exert of a long interview and someone who is a “hater” is taking the comments and running with them without seeing the entire part of the interview. I work closely for the FFS and we continue to see multiple rangers respond to calls for assistance. Director Karels is a fire service professional and is passionate about the business and his personnel. I have nothing but respect for him and have suspicions here that someone with sour grapes is leading this charge. Also….as pointed out…these comments that are highlighted have NOTHING to do with the Yarnell Hill Fire Investigation. What is the hidden agenda here?

    1. I would agree that the Yarnell report and this recent article are two separate things and should be treated as such. Just to be clear, I don’t know Karels and am not defending him, but I believe that most of the people making comments here are not familiar with the way of operations in the southeast. Many state agencies in the region struggle to keep more then one “Ranger” in each county. In my time working in the SE I have responded to incidents with one lone dozer operator struggling to answer all the calls. Most often, each county in Florida has two tractor plow units and an engine. Staffing wise, some counties struggle to staff the equipment they have. Also, the support from cooperators is huge. Usually there are multiple units from a county fire district or city department on scene exercising some form of command and control. A quarter acre fire in palmetto that has been knocked down by municipal individuals will often require a plow line. In cases like this, sending two folks to complete line around a dead fire with a command structure in place is reasonable. Obviously, if the call was for a hundred acre fire that is running in slash pine then the response should be different. I worked for DOF for a short time in a busy county and many times there would only be two on duty. We would respond with a plow unit and a type 6 to fires that required less then 20 minutes of dozer work. Every time, the county department was on scene and sure enough another call would come in and people wanted to know why it was taking so long to respond. People throw out “well there’s not lookout”. Well, I see no difference when a four person crew with a type 6 responds to a grass fire in Wyoming and immediately begins a rolling attack. They probably aren’t posting a lookout. Ill slow my rant down before I tick too many people off, but I don’t believe many of you are making educated comments. Think peoples frustrations with the Yarnell incident have pushed to a point where it is acceptable to now combine two stories with no connection other than the individual involved just to release anger over the situation. After all, the real failure here isn’t Karels perception on how he feels fires should be fought in his state, the failure is upon those who have overnight become experts in facilitating informal investigations and instead of offering actual insight, would rather just take jabs at the poor SOB that had to do the original investigation. Whatever happened to focus on the what, not the who? I guess that goes out the window when we disagree with others. If that’s the case, I’m sure Duty, Integrity, and Respect are soon to follow. But what do I know, Im just a former DOF employee, a current hotshot, and just a dumb ground pounder in general.

  21. The statements are being taken completely out of context. If you really want to make an informed comment about tactical fire operations in Florida I suggest you study more than an excerpt from an NPR article.

  22. I have read many comments. In Florida, the norm is to send one firefighter out on a transport carrying a tractor/plow unit to the fire. It is assumed the local structural fire department is already there in most cases, but not always. They are often on orders to not leave the pavement or run on a totally different set of frequencies, but a few will assist you if they can.

    The one state firefighter will show up, perform a size up, unload and start attacking the fire. Florida is a very wet and swampy area. I was stuck many times trying to stop a fire, only to wait another 2 hours or so before another unit could reach me. Year after year, the union tries to get the state to require a 2nd unit to respond. A 2nd body can help watch your fireline, handle radio traffic to dispatch, monitor weather conditions, and interface with any local FD that may or may not be there.

    Most of the men and women I work with qualify for food stamps and other government assistance. The pay is terrible, and raises are few and far between. It is also preached that firefighters (forest rangers) are a dime a dozen. Many of the folks won’t fight for what is right for fear of losing their job. Most of the men and women I started with have already left.

    1. Assumed? On dispatch you will know what/who is on scene. Crew dispatches are configured based on fire readiness levels, fire behavior/weather, and incident complexity. The IA crew has the authority to request additional resources at the time of dispatch or on size up after arrival. If incident complexity dictates they wait on additional resources prior to starting attack, they also have the authority to make that call. This is and has been SOP for FFS. This is a union driven issue that is being distorted to satisfy their agenda.

      1. Assumed! I’ve been dispatched many times and was told by dispatch, they didn’t know who was on scene yet or what was on scene. Multiple times they have said the county is requesting a tractor/plow. A few times I got there and no one was there. Sometimes the county units will leave if they know they can’t access the fire. The IA crew has the authority to request additional resources at the time of dispatch or on size up after arrival….and after 5pm, you ask for another tractor. How long until it is on scene with you? I’ve asked for another resource at dispatch and have been told to wait until I was on scene. The state has SOPs and we all know EVERY district is different.

  23. One size never fits all….. It is very frustrating for operational planners when new policies, albeit good intentioned, hand-cuff perfectly safe and efficient operations. I personnaly dont know Carls but I’ve heard very good things about him. I’d bet the VAST majority of FL wildfires are 1/10th acre fires on a road shoulder or a place with easy access that need only one responder to squirt 20 gallons of water and call it out. I’d also be that FL is in the top 3 states for number of IA calls. Requiring 2 responders would be inefficient.

    The word ‘idot’ was very much unjustified…quite the opposite should have been used. If its not safe, dont engage and wait for help. Different parts of the country have different SOPs for IA, and rightfully so…. one size doesnt fit all. I think a lot of negative comments were made without considering the reality of FL.

  24. I’m a ffs firefighter and have been for the past 8 years.I don’t always agree with what comes down from the state office but for years ffs firefighters have responded to wildfires alone without incident there is nothing in our policy that states that you are required to engage on a wildfires if you feel its
    unsafe for yoy to do alone.

    1. I am sure the Yarnell 19 felt things were safe. I bet every wildland firefighter that has died in the LODD felt safe. For years people people do a lot of stupid **** until sooner or later someone convinces the masses it is stupid. Smoking, racism, texting and driving, you name it…. bottom line is anyone that thinks it is ok for a firefighter to be alone on a wildfire is a *****.

  25. Mr. Gabbert: I’d like to start by saying that I usually enjoy your work and consider your website a service to the wildland fire community
    . In regards to this issue I find your comments concerning Jim Karels very disrespectful. I respect your right to disagree with the content of the Yarnell report and Mr Karels remarks concerning response levels (although there is strong evidence that they were taken out of context). Although Mr. Karels has a very difficult job of providing leadership not only with Florida’s fire organization but on the national level he commands a high level of respect for his ability and integrity.
    Referring to him as an “idiot” was very inappropriate and a cheap shot.


    Bill Edwards
    Waretown, NJ

    1. Coming from the eye-witness folks not just us the hikers but many from that weekend—Bill Gabbert stated it correctly above-

      That was not a disrespect what Bill stated-

      the DISRESPECT is the SAIR and the DISSERVICE they did for the fallen 19, prior fatalities, and that Yarnell community that was affected by that weekend. That is where the DISRESPECT lays. There is more to unfold in 2014. You will see more people coming forward on their time. Some are have their personal things going on right now or in the hospital, etc.

      Sorry Bill that a person jumped the gun and felt you were wrong to state that yet there is a whole firefighter/smokejumper community and common folk community that support that statement. As for me, I do not know if the word “idiot” is the word I would use (seems negative) but indeed this man did a huge disservice when he stood behind that report firmly. I was there through that weekend turned tragic and I can tell you last night when we were at the cowboy campfire making some cowboy coffee for Tex I looked Up and asked Him have I missed anything- give me a sign if I am doing good for the GMHS and in the flames popped out 3-D like; “19”…you had to be there but I posted it here the photo for my folks. http://www.zazzle.com/god_is_real_19_remembered_post_card-239396675381173612
      It made me see how very real this tragedy IS and that we all need to step up and share our accounts of that weekend to properly assess that weekend. I stand behind the truth.
      Anyone who is photo savvy can again see my photo is in “raw” format on that link—no edit or crops like you see out there. So to SEE “19” pop out in 3-D in the fire was for sure telling me I am on the right path to continue to seek the facts and truth. Ok, Bill-
      what is the definition of idiot anyways? http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/idiot
      I can agree to the informal way but not the psychology definition term yet foolish; sure.
      Another one comes forward:

  26. I have not been able to find the proper context in which it is explained where a single firefighter response is the way to go in some situations. Does anyone have a link?

  27. Remember the VHS video we used to use in teaching the 10/18/5?
    The example shown for the FIRE ORDERS segment showed a Florida tractor plow (working alone) on a fire in the pines, when the fire crossed over his plow line. (No 2nd unit, or swamper to notice this fire over the line).
    A short time latter in the video, the operator high centers his tractor on a stump or rock. He panics and runs… presumably dying..

    Interesting coincidence!

  28. My worst fear in firefighting is that someone under my command is injured or killed. I take the saftey and well being of persons under me exceptionally serious. I cannot fathom sending one firefighter out to IA a wildfire. I don’t care how small or innocent the fire is reported to be and where in the country it is. You just don’t hang your people out like that! Saftey and security for your people is not the place to try and save a buck! It will cost you 1000 fold in the end!

  29. As a wildland firefighter on the east coast for a state agency, I have a few points. 1, western wildland firefighters are not “true” wildland firefighters. Get over yourself. 2. We respond to fire year round. Not just June until September. And most of them, on a yearly basis, are minor. I cant imagine being forced to send 2 firefighters to a roadside fire in december 3. We are blessed with abundant vfd resources. You are rarely entirely alone. 4. let local people make their own decisions.
    I usually like this forum but this is getting way off base today. Definately not the entire story being considered.

    1. Woah there buds, pump the brakes.

      Obviously you’ve got some sort of chip on your shoulder but still your point number 1 is a pretty ridiculous statement. I’ve worked fire in Fl and Ga plenty, with state and fed agencies, learned a lot and worked with some real great folks who show a hell of a lot more experience and humility (the number 1 trait in a good FF) than you. To be making these off the cuff remarks screams a real lack of maturity.

      1. i think we are on the same page. I have respect for Karels experience. I was responding to the comments that Karels wasn’t qualified because he wasn’t western. I don’t have tolerance for the regional biases and minimizing others experience.

        Rod Wrench on February 19, 2014 at 10:30 am said: “I told you so!! That expert investigative team should of consisted of true wildland firefighters from the western US. “

    2. Sorry John, I did not mean to offend you or any eastern wildland firefighter. My statement was meant to mean that an investigative team and their leader, of a tragedy like Yarnell, should of consisted of personnel with extensive experience & knowledge of regional conditions, fire behavior and suppression tactics. Firefighters lacking these characteristics whether they are from the west, east, north or south are at a disadvantage of reporting a true and complete finding. I have been involved in wildland firefighting all over the U.S. and I can tell you it is different depending the region your in. And by the way, the west also has wildfire year around, depending on the weather of course, IE: 2,000 ac. mid January 2014 on the Angeles NF east of Los Angeles, just to name one. During my 30 year career with the USFS in SoCal I was involved in wildfire suppression in every month of the year.

  30. I would think it would be obvious to someone in the wild land field he’s talking about sending one tractor plow to a new start in favorable conditions in fl. Not sending a guy with a council rake into a box canyon out west alone. I’ve seen one tractor stop a fire in no burn history southern rough. It’s all about the wx, time of day ect. Comparing apples and oranges here in this article. Pretty irresponsible to take something out of context and apply it to a fatality fire just to be inflamitory . In my opinion.

  31. I’ve done a couple rolls in Florida as part of an IHC. On one of these we were sent to a fire where 2 equipment operators became stuck, fled, and died. It sounds like a common situation to get a piece of equipment stuck which is obviously a potentially fatal situation given Florida’s fuel conditions. I can’t fathom trying to justify not sending 2 people to a fire initially given instances like these as well as the death of Token Adams in NM this summer.

    I agree with negative assessments of Karels. The man is a manager, not a firefighter. Prove me wrong by listing his extensive, quality wildland experience. Yes, he was
    completely unsuited to lead the Yarnell Investigation, which is another matter but relevant. We need experienced firefighters leading when it comes to our well-being and safety. Not “managers” who’ve wrangled political barriers to get to the top. The assertion that Karels is well regarded nationally is laughable. In AZ we were left scratching our heads when we heard this man would lead the investigation team. I am not surprised to hear these things come out of his mouth.

    1. Jim Karels begin his career as an entry level Florida Division of Forestry firefighter. Eventually he promoted to Assistant Fire Chief and then Fire Chief. He’s now the Director of the agency, which became the Florida Forest Service in 2011. It’s just not true that he’s a manager who has no wildland fire background. While his education was in forestry, his work experience is deeply rooted in wildfire and prescribed fire.

      Mr. Karels was reluctant to lead the Yarnell Hill investigation, it was not something he sought out or really wanted. The loss of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain crew came just 2 years after Karels lost two of his own firefighters on the Blue Ribbon Fire in June 2011.

      As others have said here, the findings of the Yarnell Hill investigation team and whether or not the Florida Forest Service sends two firefighters to every response are two separate issues. I believe we should treat them as such and not muddy the waters with personal attacks. For the family and friends who lost loved ones and for the wildland fire community who lost brothers on the Yarnell Hill fire, no finding from an investigation team could ease their pain. The leader of the investigation team had a thankless job and would receive criticism no matter where the investigation led.

      The safety of the men and women that Karels is charged with leading is his number one concern. That has been the case in every role that he’s held in the agency. Everyone should take some time and listen to his comments in their entirety. For safety, he would prefer to have two agency firefighters on every wildfire. However, he doesn’t have the available personnel to accomplish that. Unlike the federal government, Florida must balance its budget.

      The firefighter union – in this case the Florida State Fire Service Association – and the Florida Forest Service management must work together to ensure firefighter safety. The intentions of the union are good in this case, but Mr. Karels, as the leader of the agency, is concerned with the unintended consequences.

  32. I echo some of the recent comments that the personal attacks on Jim Karels are totally unwarranted and unprofessional. They add nothing to this serious discussion. In 1998, my Area Command Team managed one of the largest fire events in history in Florida. I got to know Karels very well. I can assure you he cares about his people and their safety. .
    On a completely different subject, I believe both Yarnell investigations were lacking in depth. Perhaps we need a completely different process that better allows us to get all the facts. Not knowing all the factors that led to the death of 19 of our finest is unaccecptable.
    Rex Mann

  33. Whether or not there has been personal attacks, whether or not its State or Federal, whether or not its one or two people doing IA, whether or not legislative folks are looking over shoulder, whether or not penny pinching is prevalent in every facet of State or Federal wildland firefighting, etc

    One thing is for sure…….for a lot of those HRO LMA organizations……..folks may brag about SAFETY and STANDARDIZATION………it really appears that no matter what…..nobody is really on a same sheet of music anywhere….

    Then everyone flips out trying to defend folks, I imagine who were once told to be very careful about statements made in front of the press, no matter where they are…..

    Folks in the LMA world with more than 5 years in permanent full time status ought to KNOW this better than anyone.

    If Karels did indeed open his mouth……he ought to have known his environment, otherwise known as SA, if the press was anywhere in the area.

    Whether Yarnell is related or not, there a lot of things in the wildland fire that could stand a lot of improvement………

    Making speeches and writing FLA’s, SAIT’s and any other accident reports definitely come to mind…..especially the Yarnell report !!

  34. I am somewhat glad now I didn’t go to the interview with the Florida Forest Service when they called. Was kinda regretting it but maybe it was a blessing in disguise. The starting pay and relocating the family just made it not worth even going to the interview. I am sure there are good quality people who work there, unfortunately they don’t seem to be adequately compensated for there personal risk…

  35. Staffing on structure engines used to be 5 or 6. In some places it is 2 or 3. Some municipalities send one “public safety officer” on the engine. Safety may be our “primary concern” but we have elected to spend the money elsewhere in a lot of cases. What are the “unintended consequences” of safer firefighters?

    Firefighter safety has not been our primary concern for a long time.

  36. Other than cost what is the negative of sending 2 firefighters? Even Karels said if he could he would…. well ok you are the Director… do it!

    Budgets over safety should never be a factor…ever…

  37. I’ve worked for the Ms. Forestry Commission for nearly 10 years in southern Missississippi. We use a 2 man crew; tractor plow operator and a crew member. I have been an operator from the start. I have been the IC on larger fires when multiply units are operating on scene. I’ve also over the last couple years been the crew boss of a 20 man state hand crew responding to western fires. I write all of this to get to the simple point that I am not just spouting off with out experience to back me up.
    I was told years ago that Fl. state responds to wildfires as a single man with a tractor plow or maybe a dozer. My question then and now are still the same. Does Fl. crews not burn out (back burn) the fuels between thier firelines and the fire? That is one (of many) very good reason to have a crew member. I’m in the pine woods (southern rough) here and you HAVE to remove the fuels or you are begging for a jump. Burn out requires a hand on the ground dragging a torch. The only exception that I have personally experienced was back in 2011 fighting the wildfires in eastern Tx. but then we had atleast 2 tractor plows working intandem.
    Firefighter safety first!

    1. Alan, current policy (though it seems things are changing) has been 1 tractor/plow and firefighter on 90% or on FL fires, plow it out, blade the lines for access, then maybe do a burn out to improve containment as part of mop up, bring the fire along with the tractor is not common practice for us, Esp. in southern Florida in the heavy palmetto/Galberry fuels we have..

      1. Only Mississippi and North Carolina have a Tractor Plow burn out policy in the southeast. Meaning a crewman is paired with the tractor/plow to burnout between the line and unburned fuel as they plow, securing the anchor point and creating a black safety zone. Other SE states try to “break up the head” going in front of the head and putting in flanking lines after.

        Maybe this is better posted in the TP burnover article?

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