Autopsy shows CAL FIRE firefighter died of heat exposure

His body temperature was 107.4 degrees

Yaroslav Katkov
Yaroslav Katkov

A CAL FIRE firefighter who died July 28, 2019 in San Diego County died of a heat exposure, reports NBC San Diego.

Yaroslav Katkov, 28, collapsed during his second attempt at a 1.45-mile training hike near the De Luz Fire Station while wearing full gear and carrying 20 to 30 pounds of weights, according to an autopsy.

He was flown in an air ambulance to Temecula Hospital but suffered a two-minute seizure while en route. When he was admitted, his body temperature was 107.4 degrees. Fifteen hours later he was pronounced dead.

CAL FIRE’s preliminary report on the incident, the “Green Sheet”, said the three-person crew began a physical training hike at 8:40 a.m. with the expectation that they would finish within the 30-minute time limit. Mr. Katkov struggled, stopping multiple times, completing the hike in 40 minutes. After a 20-minute break to rehydrate, the Captain had the crew repeat the hike at 9:40 a.m.

NBC San Diego described what occurred on the second hike:

Katkov took more than 20 breaks along the trail which were documented by the captain, the report said. About halfway through the trail, the second firefighter noticed Katkov stumbling and losing his balance. He was told to hike directly behind Katkov and hold onto him so that he didn’t fall off the trail.

As they approached a ridge, the firefighter had to push Katkov’s back to help him get over. Once Katkov did, he fell forward and sat down. Katkov was then told to remove some of his gear so that he could cool down but was unable to, the report said.

More gear was taken off, and water was poured over Katkov’s head. At around 10:38 a.m. when the fire captain noticed Katkov’s mental status declining, he called for an air ambulance rescue.

Cal Fire’s helicopter arrived over Katkov and the crew at approximately 11:19 a.m. and Katkov was hoisted from below, according to the report. About 15 minutes later, the Cal Fire [helicopter] dropped Katkov off at a site where a Mercy air ambulance was waiting to transport Katkov to the hospital.

The second helicopter took off with Katkov inside at around 12:04 p.m., about an hour-and-a-half after the fire captain called for emergency assistance. On the way to the hospital Katkov was unresponsive but breathing, according to the report.

KNTV reported that Mr. Katkov was flown to Temecula Valley Hospital. Google Maps shows it would take an estimated 31 minutes to drive from De Luz Station to Temecula Valley Hospital, part of the time on curvy county roads. Based on that, we can assume it would take no more than 10 minutes for the Mercy air ambulance to arrive at the hospital — at about 12:14 p.m. This was approximately one hour and 36 minutes after the request for extraction by helicopter. Presumably the incident occurred in a remote area inaccessible by ground ambulance. It is likely that the medical crew on the Mercy helicopter began treatment of the patient as soon as he arrived at their location during the 30 minutes before the helicopter took off.

Estimated time line:

10:38 a.m. — Air ambulance rescue requested
11:19 a.m. — CAL FIRE/San Diego Sheriff Dept. helicopter arrives at scene
11:34 a.m. — (Approximate time) The CAL Fire helicopter delivered Mr. Katov to Mercy Air ambulance
12:04 p.m. — Mercy air ambulance departs for Temecula Valley Hospital
12:14 p.m. — (Approximate time) Mercy air ambulance arrives at hospital.

(UPDATE September 28, 2019: here is a link to the CAL FIRE “Green Sheet”.)

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+

11 thoughts on “Autopsy shows CAL FIRE firefighter died of heat exposure”

  1. Heat exposure is a catch-all term. Certainly Mr. Katkov succumbed to heat stroke which is a true medical emergency. Pouring water over his head probably would have had little impact on the downward spiral he was in. It is most unfortunate that CalFire/SDSO response took so long. I am certain that the Mercy Air med team was on Katkov as he was carried from the first chopper but Katkov’s Golden Hour was up.

    Earlier recognition of the emergent heat related trauma could have saved his life. And once again initial response time played a key role in the outcome. LR

  2. This seems like a blatant case of overzealous training of a young man and should never have occurred. Demanding these young people to perform in high heat with heavy loads is inexcusable. No life is worth this unreasonable demand.

    1. You are correct, it didn’t need to happen.
      But until there are reform measures put in place, these deaths will continue to happen.
      After the heat related death of my son, Caleb Hamm in 2011, the CDC made recommendations, but those have continued to be ignored.
      Even the military has guidelines in place, why not the firefighters?? Why do we continue to place these men and women in harms way, with little to no access for emergency treatment??

      At least his family was told the truth about his death and didn’t have to read the accident report emailed to them to find out the truth….

      Lynnette Hamm

  3. I have to say that when I read the Green Sheet I was shocked. There were warning signs on the first hike that this man was having problems and should not have gone out 20 minutes later for the second go-around. On the second hike it was evident from the start that he was in trouble.
    I was a member of CDF/Cal Fire for 39 years and during that entire time my first priority was to keep my crew safe. It’s bad enough when someone is killed on an incident. It’s abhorrent when someone dies during training because of bad judgment.

  4. This is very sad. As I read this I wonder if another level of supervision was appropriate? Perhaps those in positions of oversight and responsibility could take another look. It’s Monday morning to be sure but this life should not have been lost. Was this firefighter aware of when to say “enough”, I need help, I am not OKAY?

  5. At least in my son’s case, the “level of supervision” was his team captain/leader, who for whatever reason which remains known only to himself, would not seek help till it was clear my son was dead.
    Perhaps that “level” of supervision should be addressed.

  6. I am a retired nurse from LA County Fire Department and spent the past 15 years teaching about firefighter health hazards. Dear Lynnette, I know your son Caleb’s story very well and have tried to honor his memory by paying tribute to him and others that have lost their lives to exertional heat stroke. My heart is hugging you as I can only imagine how this tragedy is affecting you and your family. And of course the same for this young firefighter’s family and friends as well.

    Exertional heat stress is a top health hazard for firefighters regardless of environmental temperatures. The internal heat generated during heavy exertion while wearing personal protective equipment that inhibits the ability to offload heat is a recipe for Exertional Heat Stroke, regardless of how physically fit and well hydrated the firefighter is. Everyone is at risk and the firefighter that is in trouble usually doesn’t realize it is happening to him or her. Once the core body temperature starts to increase the first signs are often feelings of extreme fatigue, pounding headache, poor muscle coordination… in fact, every exertional heat stroke autopsy report I have read reports that the firefighter initially was seen staggering or stumbling. This occurs before any change in mental status. Recognition is just the start. ACTIVE COOLING must take place whenever possible… Ice Water arm immersion, Ice Cold Towels around the neck and head are great strategies for recovery in addition to hydration and nutrition. In the event of exertional activity and an altered mental status you must assume Exertional Heat Stroke for which the gold standard treatment is Total Body Ice Water immersion or layering the body with Ice Water Towels prior to and during transport. Exertional Heat Exhaustion can progress to Extertional Heat Stroke within a matter of minutes. Every training site should have the equipment to perform active cooling measures. There is also a cultural issue that may or may not have been part of this story. It is crucial to implement a buddy system, educate the trainees on the signs and symptoms and order them to report if they are struggling or see someone else that is struggling. See something, Say something. Lastly, the research is clear on the topic of pacing hikes and work/rest ratios… Pace the Race.

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of Yaroslov Katlov, may he rest in peace. My heart goes out to everyone involved in this incident.

    Nurse Mary

  7. Thank you Nurse Mary for getting the information out there!
    Your words are invaluable tools to be used.
    The loss of this fine young man is such a tragedy for his family, and friends. Our hearts hurt for them as they now try to pick up and go on.

    1. My 25 year old son worked with CalFire San Diego, and is now with SDFD. I’ve been following the Yaroslav Katkov tragedy since it occurred. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a Fire Mom/Fire Family to get news of a situation like this that could have been prevented. My heart breaks for them and for your family, Lynnette, since Caleb’s untimely passing.

      These young men and women enter the fire service with a passion to assist others in their greatest hour of need. It is a dangerous profession for which they are fully trained. You don’t expect them to lose their life on a routine training hike. May all who suffer this end be held in God’s grace and rest in eternal love and peace.

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