Jury awards $17,500 to fireman arrested at scene of accident

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

Federal court jurors awarded $17,500 on Wednesday to a fire captain arrested by a Hazelwood police officer in a dispute over where a fire truck was parked during a 2003 car crash rescue.

Juror Betsy Vennemann said after the verdict, “We wanted to make a statement that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Capt. David Wilson won $7,500 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages. Jurors, including a nun, said they went easy on the defendant, Officer Todd Greeves, because he has a family and they weren’t sure who would pay the bill. Jurors hear dispute over arrest of firefighter at scene

Wilson testified that the Robertson Fire Protection District truck was parked in a way to protect rescuers working to free a victim from wreckage along Interstate 270 at McDonnell Boulevard.

Greeves ordered that the truck be moved to accommodate passing traffic and arrested Wilson for ignoring him. Wilson was released after 23 minutes and never charged. He sued, claiming civil rights violations that opened him to anxiety and humiliation.

Greeves told the court the truck was creating a hazard and not adding to safety at the scene.

Here is a link to another article about the case written before the jury reached a verdict.

Man Convicted of Starting the Day Fire

Day Fire mapYesterday a federal jury convicted a homeless man, Steven Emory Butcher, of starting the Day Fire, which in 2006 burned over 160,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest. The charges included willfully setting debris on fire in the forest and allowing a fire to escape from his control. The same jury also found him guilty of causing the 2002 Ellis Fire that burned about 70 acres in the same area.

The 49-year-old man faces up to 11 1/2 years in prison. The fire started in a remote area where Butcher camped for part of the year. It burned for four weeks through 254 square miles of chaparral and scattered pines in and around the Sespe Wilderness, a remote area with steep and rugged terrain. It destroyed 11 structures. The costs for suppression were over $73 million.

Incident Commander Welcomed Back to the Fire Scene

Jeanne Pincha-Tulley
Jeanne Pincha-Tulley

Jeanne Pincha-Tulley has been invited back to the town that was threatened when she, as Incident Commander of California Incident Management Team #3, managed the 48,52-acre Castle Rock fire that some feared would burn the homes in the Wood River Valley near Ketchum, Idaho. An article in the Idaho Mountain Express describes her in glowing terms, including calling her the “darling of the Wood River Valley”. With all of the controversy that surrounds much of the wildland fire world these days, it is refreshing to see some good news about our firefighters.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

“Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, darling of the Wood River Valley who oversaw the successful fire-fighting effort last summer that kept the 48,520-acre Castle Rock Fire from overrunning homes, lives and businesses, is returning to the valley for a visit next week.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, Pincha-Tulley will participate in a public conversation at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum.”


During the wild time that was the Castle Rock Fire, Pincha-Tulley’s presence became a calming factor in the local community. During successive public meetings, she gave local homeowners, public officials and others frank assessments about where the fire was headed, and what actions firefighters would take to control the fast-moving blaze.

Time after time, Pincha-Tulley achieved the near impossible. Standing in front of crowds that typically numbered well into the hundreds, she managed to restore calm to local homeowners inching toward panic due to the proximity of the flames and the scarcity of information.

Rumors bandied back and forth through the community were quickly dispelled by her fact-based reports.


Report Released on 2007 Southern California Fires

2003 Fires, Lessons LearnedThe Lessons Learned Center organized a group of five people to analyze the fires in the fall of 2007 in Southern California to determine the potential for lessons learned. They just released their 44-page report. It is very interesting reading.

The five-person team consisted of Dan Frazee, Phoenix, AZ Fire Department, Dennis Baldridge, U.S. Forest Service, Kevin Pfister, BridgerTeton National Forest, Dave Christenson, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, and Jim Hollingsworth, Cal Fire.

Pay and Retention Issues for U.S. Forest Service in Calif.

The Associated Press is picking up on the pay and retention issues the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies are facing in California. The USFS is losing a great many experienced firefighters to CalFire and other fire departments in the state who pay much higher salaries than the federal agencies. The complete article can be found at the San Diego Union web site.

“WASHINGTON – A top federal official acknowledged Tuesday that the U.S. Forest Service is losing federal firefighters in California to state and county departments that pay more.

But Agriculture Department Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, told concerned lawmakers he’s still evaluating how much of a problem that is. “On the one hand you hate to lose trained people. On the other hand they’re still fighting fires under a unified command system,” Rey told a hearing of the House Appropriations Interior subcommittee. “They’re going to be on the fire line along with the federal firefighters.”

Lawmakers convinced there is a problem ordered the Forest Service to come up with a plan by Feb. 1 to increase recruitment and retention for Southern California forests. That deadline has passed but the agency is working on it, officials said.”

Firefighter, Nearly Electrocuted: ‘I Should Be Dead’

firefighter near electrocutionFrom a story on TampaBayOnline:

“Jimmy Branca doesn’t know exactly what saved his life: his Chevy truck, a safety device on the powerline up above, or maybe God.

But he recalls his first thought after a getting struck by an electric line yesterday: “Thank God I didn’t get killed and I get to go home and see my wife and kids.”

Branca and another firefighter were outside their trucks Monday, assessing a wildfire on northwest Josephine Road. Two poles were on fire, and they were about to make a decision on whether to put them out.

That’s when both utility Glades Electric poles snapped, and the power lines fell.

“One pole landed not far from me,” Branca said. “The wire hit me, and took me to the ground.”
Branca, 47, is a burly Navy ex-corpsman who has been working in emergency services since 1979. He
pointed to an abrasion on his left elbow.

So how is it that Branca is alive today?

The wire, he said, caught in the space between the driver’s side mirror and the door of his white three-quarter ton command vehicle. He thinks that created enough tension to trip the breaker on the power line. In a fraction of a second, the wire de-energized.

“I should be dead right now,” Branca said.”