Sadler fire: who should have been held accountable?

A rocket scientist who calls himself “old coyote” wrote a ridiculous post on another wildland fire web site about accountability. He or she was offering an opinion about the disciplinary actions that were taken after the accident in which eight members of the Klamath Hot Shots were injured when their crew carrier was hit by a semi truck and rolled over on August 22, 2009 in northern California. According to rumors on that site, some members of the overhead on the hot shot crew were forced to take some time off as a result of their actions or inactions related to the cause of the injuries, reportedly for some members of the crew not wearing seat belts. “Old coyote” wrote:

When you think about it, the personnel actions fall right in line with the fall-out from the Sadler Fire. Now, why did practically a whole platoon of team overhead lose their quals due to an independent decision of a certain dumb-ass Crew Boss?

For the December/January 1999-2000 issue of Wildfire magazine (vol 9, no. 1) I wrote an analysis of the findings from the Sadler fire investigation report. I was moved to write the analysis due to the unique nature of the August, 1999 incident. The sheer number of errors in judgement that were made on that fire were astounding. Never before or since have I been aware of a large fire being run by a Type 1 Incident Management Team where so many poor decisions were made that seriously and adversely affected the safety of firefighters.

To imply that the single cause of the entrapment on the fire was the fault of a “dumb-ass Crew Boss”, or that the IMTeam should not be held accountable, is absurd.

The head of the Sadler fire approaching the backfiring operation.
The head of the Sadler fire approaching the backfiring operation.

The Incident Action Plan written by the Type 1 IMTeam for the Sadler fire stated that the tactics for every Division that day “will be announced at briefing”. And, neither the Division Supervisor nor the Branch Director were given copies of the written plan.

The strategy of backfiring from a dozer line out ahead of the fire that was developed by the Branch Director was presented to two hot shot crews by the Division Supervisor, but the crews refused the assignment. The Crew Boss of a Type 2 crew of National Park Service regular employees accepted it. They were not a full time organized crew.

The entrapment happened to six members of the crew as they were igniting the backfire along the dozer line in grass and sage vegetation. There were no lookouts posted, and unexpectedly to the firing team, the head of the main fire overran their location.

The entire article as it appeared in Wildfire is on our Documents page, but below are some excerpts, including a long list of some of the mistakes, errors in judgement, and sheer laziness in emergency management that were exposed in the report.

Continue reading “Sadler fire: who should have been held accountable?”

United States resources deployed to aid Haitian earthquake victims

Among the first to our knowledge of emergency services personnel being mobilized to assist the victims of the Haitian earthquake, the Los Angeles County Fire Department is sending their 72-member Heavy Rescue Task Force after being requested by the U. S. Agency for International Development.

Here is the way the LA County FD describes their Task Force:

California Task Force 2 (CA-TF2) is a specially-trained and equipped Urban Search and Rescue Task Force consisting of Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and paramedics rescue specialists, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, canine search dogs and handlers, hazardous materials technicians, communications specialists, and logistics specialists. This unique technical rescue team responds with 55,000 pounds of prepackaged search and rescue tools and medical equipment to conduct around-the-clock search and rescue operations at domestic and international disasters, both natural and man-made.

In addition to the very powerful 7.0 magnitude quake, there have been three seven aftershocks. Here is the data from the USGS:

USGS data as of 1855 MT, Jan. 12, 2009
USGS data as of 1855 MT, Jan. 12, 2009

Let us know if you are aware of any other large groups or incident management teams that are being mobilized.

UPDATE @ 1829 MT, Jan. 12


UPDATE @ 1:05 p.m., Jan. 14

Both task forces have arrived at Haiti. The Fairfax County folks arrived on Jan. 13, while the LA County task force arrived today.

L.A. County Board of Supervisors has the solution to the wildfire problem

A member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Michael D. Antonovich, has what he feels is the solution to the wildfire problem: an automated fire detection system. According to the LA Times, Supervisor Antonovich stated:

The goal of a technology-based system would be to identify new fires as they start and have a programmed airborne response within minutes to suppress the fire before it spreads.

This brings up two issues:

1. Automated fire detection

There is nothing wrong with the concept of an automated fire detection system, in fact there are a number of them up and running around the world, primarily in very remote areas. But the detection of fires in a county with a population of almost 10 million is not the problem. I would venture a guess that with the millions of cell phones in L. A. County, that all fires are reported within minutes.

2. “Airborne response within minutes to suppress the fire before it spreads”

(Sigh) It appears that this is just another politician that thinks aircraft put out fires. The fire agencies already have a “programmed airborne response”. Under certain weather and fuel conditions, and when appropriate, aerial fire resources are dispatched along with ground units. And it takes boots on the ground to suppress a fire.

The L. A. County Board of Supervisors at their meeting today will consider Supervisor Antonovich’s proposal, and if accepted, the county’s Quality and Productivity Commission would be directed to study options and report back in four months.

We are tagging this as a lame-ass idea.

UPDATE @ 4:10 p.m. January 13:

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Board of Supervisors did decide yesterday to pursue the concept, and instructed the county’s Quality and Productivity Commission to look for technology that could detect wildfires so that they could be “put out within minutes of starting”. Their report is due in May.

Type 1 Incident Management Team in California disbanded

Bill Molumby, as Deputy IC on the Lincoln Complex in Montana, Aug. 20, 2003
Bill Molumby, as Deputy IC on the Lincoln Complex in Montana, Aug. 20, 2003

One of the five Type 1 Incident Management Teams in California is being disbanded. Bill Molumby who had been Team 2’s Incident Commander for several years retired in November and apparently they are having a hard time replacing him. Mr. Molumby had worked for the U.S. Forest Service for a couple of decades, mostly on the Cleveland National Forest in southern California, and for the last several years of his federal career worked for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Fire Management Officer for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex/Southern California Zone

The California Wildfire Coordinating Group (CWCG) explained in a letter to the wildfire agencies why they decided to disband the team:

Participation on California Type 1 and Type 2 Incident Management Teams (IMTs) continues to decline. In 2009 all Type 1 Deputy IC positions were filled by employees previously retired from federal service and employed by local fire departments or hired by federal agencies under the AD authority during incidents. There were no new applicants for trainee Type 1 IC positions from the ranks of the Type 2 IMTs. CWCG has made the decision to reduce the number of Type 1 IMTs for 2010 due to the lack of qualified Incident Commanders and trainees. The Incident Commander of California IMT#2 (CIIMT 2) has retired and this team will be disbanded.

We have been hearing for decades that with so many experienced firefighters retiring “soon”, that there would be great difficulty in filling upper level positions in wildfire organizations and on incident management teams. Frequently in meetings of firefighters a speaker would ask all those that are retiring in the next 2-3 years to raise their hands, and it always seemed that there were a lot of hands in the air.

With some of the mistakes and errors in judgment that we have seen recently on wildfires and escaped prescribed fires, it makes you wonder if the chickens have finally come home to roost. Would it have made a difference if a more experienced person had made these decisions?

In an email on January 8 to some of his friends and former workmates, Mr. Molumby had this to say, in part, about disbanding Team 2. It is used here with his permission.

CIIMT2_logoThe decision to disband Team 2 at first take was purely a business decision, albeit the wrong decision. The primary issue raised was the lack of a federal incident commander as stated. This of course is contrary to previous decisions; hence, it appears as an excuse. I am stunned though at the lost California has just experienced in not accepting Joe Stutler as the incident commander. Joe stepped up and offered to lead the team with the intent of mentoring a “federal” replacement. There were those federal employees qualified to be his deputy but failed to redeem their responsibility. What was important though is what this meant to California and the national incident management team community. Joe not only brought excellence, as demonstrated in his years as a type 1 incident commander, but he brought more experience than all of the current California type 1 incident commanders combined (I venture to guess)! Be that as it may, this will be evaluated in years gone by for what transpires, not what we imagine.

Joe Stutler
Joe Stutler

Joe Stutler has offered to lead the team in order to mentor a trainee Type 1 IC until that person could become qualified for the position, but apparently the offer was not accepted.

Mr. Stutler was a long-time Type 1 IC, including leading Pacific Northwest Team 3. He retired from the federal government after working for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for 34 years and since 2004 has been the forester for Deschutes County in Oregon. He served as Lead Investigator for numerous wildland fire accidents and entrapments. His Type 1 team assumed command of the Thirtymile fire after the burnover that took the lives of four firefighters in 2001. The Seattle PI still has an interesting article online about that incident and Mr. Stutler’s team.

U.S. firefighters going to Australia; Secretary Clinton will visit them there

At least 17 firefighters from the United States will be going to Australia to assist with the bush fires down under. A Type 1 IC will be a member of the group, which is expected to be deployed for 30 days.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had previously scheduled a visit to Australia and will rearrange her schedule to visit with the U.S. firefighters while they are in the country. Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be attending the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations. She expects to arrive in Canberra on January 17.

We will update this story later in the day as more details become available.

Australian firefighter killed in vehicle rollover

UPDATE at 11:16, January 11:

The firefighter has been identified as Hugh Monroe. Here is information from CFA Connect dated January 11:


Tolmie & District Rural Fire Brigade member Hugh Monroe died yesterday after the tanker he was driving was involved in an accident on the way to an incident in Victoria’s North East. The accident happened about 14 kilometres from Tatong.

Mr Monroe, 62, had been a volunteer for nearly 11 years and was a much loved member of both his brigade and community. A dedicated firefighter and brigade 3rd Lieutenant, he was involved in the 2006 campaign through Victoria’s high country and the Black Saturday fires last year.


(The original article:)

A firefighter was killed and four others were injured when their fire truck rolled over while they were responding to a grass fire at Lake Mokoan near Benalla in northeast Victoria, Australia. (map)

Here is information from the Brisbane Times:


A 62-year-old volunteer firefighter was protecting his community in northeastern Victoria when he died in a tanker rollover that injured four of his brigade mates.

The man was travelling to put out a blaze ahead of extreme fire weather when he was killed at Tatong in northeast Victoria on Sunday.

Three men and a woman were also injured in the rollover, two suffering serious injuries.

Country Fire Authority (CFA) chief fire officer Russell Rees said the man, from nearby Tolmie, was one of five firefighters travelling to a fire at Lake Mokoan, near Benalla, when tragedy struck.

“One of our members tragically died and our condolences go to the family and the broader CFA family,” Mr Rees said.

“This is a sad event, it reinforces once again the dedication and commitment of our people across the emergency services, but particularly the volunteers who get up out of bed while you and I are slumbering away on a Sunday morning and go and do work for their community.”

The single vehicle accident occurred on the Spring Creek Road at Tatong, north of Mansfield, about 6.30am (AEDT).

The 62-year-old firefighter, believed to be the driver, was trapped inside the tanker and died at the scene.

Two men were flown to Melbourne hospitals in a serious condition and a man and a woman were transported by road ambulance to the Goulburn Valley Hospital in Shepparton.

Acting Premier Rob Hulls said his thoughts went out to the family of the deceased and those injured.

“I think it really reinforces that CFA volunteers put their life on the line and this is certainly very clear by what occurred today,” he said.

“A volunteer going to Lake Mokoan fire to further blacken out particular areas has tragically lost his life, really trying to protect (the) lives of others.”

It’s believed two of the injured firefighters went to a nearby house to raise the alarm and a doctor and an off-duty policeman were the first on the scene.

A man, aged about 42, was flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital with spinal and chest injuries.

Another man, aged 52, was flown to The Alfred hospital with neck, back and head injuries.

A woman suffering chest and abdominal injuries and a man with head lacerations were taken to Shepparton.