NWCG announces recipients of the 2020 Wildland Fire EMS Awards

water tender fire rollover wildfire
File photo, transporting the victim of a water tender rollover in 2018. A total of 30 people—using a combination of standard carry and caterpillar carry, depending on the incline—transported the victim from the accident site down to the road via the pathway that the Type 2 Hand Crew constructed, where an ambulance was waiting. (Not associated with the awards below.) Photo from the report.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Emergency Medical Committee annually recognizes individuals and groups who have demonstrated outstanding actions or accomplishments that are above and beyond the expectation of one’s normal mission or job duties. The 2020 awards honor seven individuals and three crews:

Burns Interagency Fire Zone and Malheur National Forest T2IA Crews
Outstanding Wildfire EMS Crew of the Year
On Aug. 5, 2020, while the 20-member Burns Interagency Fire Zone and Malheur National Forest crews were providing initial response to a fire in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. A rock rolled downhill and struck their EMT on the head, rendering him unconscious with heavy bleeding. Just days prior, that same EMT had trained the crew on what to do if their EMT were incapacitated. The Burns Interagency Fire Zone crew immediately worked to stabilize the patient with the assistance of the Malheur National Forest crew. They were able to transport the patient to an ambulance within 20 minutes. The crew member had a severe head laceration and a skull fracture that required emergency surgery. According to the neurosurgeon, this type of head injury is typically not survivable. Due to the quick actions of both crews on the scene the EMT was able to get medical attention in time, make a full recovery, and be released to light duty. A report about the incident was developed to help train other crews on what to do in a similar situation.

Heather Wonenberg
Outstanding Wildland Fire EMS Individual of the Year
As the Assistant Helitak Foreman on Yosemite Helicopter 551 for the National Park Service, Heather Wonenberg provides supervision of the helitak crew, serves as a spotter, and is a park medic. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Wonenberg led required CPR training, ensuring employee safety with small class sizes, and adapting her teaching style to meet the needs of each student. Through her efforts, Wonenberg helped to prepare wildland firefighters for emergency medical situations while implementing pandemic safety measures.

Jayson Coil
Outstanding Wildfire EMS Distinguished Service Award
The COVID-19 pandemic poses unique challenges for the wildland fire management community. As a paramedic with the Sedona Fire Department in Arizona, Jayson Coil disseminated information and helped to inform decisions in the field, not only for his department but for numerous agencies and the Wildland Fire Medical and Public Health Advisory Team. To ensure he could provide accurate, meaningful information, Coil completed 15 courses in epidemiology and public health from the University of Washington and a specialization in Epidemiology in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. He engaged wildland fire leaders at multiple levels to address challenges with maintaining operations amid the pandemic. Coil’s efforts improved safety for wildland firefighters across agencies at a critical time.

Idaho Panhandle National Forest Helitack Crew (Eric Krohn, Jacob Hacker, Katherine Babcok, Matthew O’Neill, Maurice Theard, Rob Cole, and Randy Gaulrapp)
Excellence in Wildland Fire EMS/Rescue
Three members of the Forest Service Panhandle Helitack Crew were hiking into the Bonehead Fire in Aug. 2020 when the crew’s EMT inhaled a foreign object. She soon developed trouble breathing and exhibited signs of shock. She continued to provide guidance to her crew members as they ordered a Life Flight and coordinated with dispatch. The remainder of the crew, from a helicopter, lowered medical equipment the EMT had staged nearby. The crew hiked in to render aid while additional helicopter and engine crews provided contingency planning and communication support. After an hour, the EMT was hoisted off the fire and taken by Life Flight to a hospital. The crew member made a full recovery and returned to her firefighting duties a few days later. The employees who stepped up across multiple divisions and operated outside their normal roles to support the emergency medical response made this rescue operation successful.

John Dentinger, Nathan Navarro, Riley Currey, and Austin Lattin
Award of Excellence in Wildfire EMS/Rescue
In Sept. 2020, a firefighter at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Vale District Office collapsed from a heart attack. Nearby BLM staff acted promptly to summon help and provide life-saving measures. The employee was rushed to the local hospital and then flown to a cardiac hospital. His doctors informed him that he would have experienced permanent damage or death had CPR started just one minute later. The crew was nominated by the survivor, who said, “Without these guys and their quick response, I would have died.”

MaryJo Lommen
The Jannette Peterson Lifetime Achievement in Wildland Fire EMS Award
MaryJo Lommen has served in the Forest Service’s Region One medical programs for about 40 years. She started as an attendant in a field first aid station. She eventually became the Program Manager responsible for maintaining the region’s medical programs. Even after her retirement in 2016, she continues to assist the current Program Manager with annual training and records maintenance. Her unbridled passion and dedication have been a catalyst for a higher standard of care to employees as they work in the field and respond to wildfires.

More information about the awards program and a link to the nomination form can be found on the NWCG EMC webpage.

Robert Ziel receives Paul Gleason Lead by Example award

Robert (Zeke) Ziel
Robert (Zeke) Ziel

Robert (Zeke) Ziel, the fire analyst for the International Arctic Research Center’s Alaska Fire Science Consortium, was recently named one of the three recipients from across the wildland fire services for the 2019 Paul Gleason Lead by Example award. The award was created by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Leadership Subcommittee to remember Paul Gleason’s contributions to the wildland fire service. More information about the award, including past recipients, is available on the NWCG website. A group of managers from Alaska and the lower 48, representing the Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and National Park Service, nominated Zeke for the award. The following information is modified from their submitted nomination.

Zeke has been instrumental in the evolution of the interagency fire management and science enterprise in Alaska on many levels. His work is driven by the thought of how Alaska’s interagency management community might do better in the realm of modeling and analysis, and he has reinvented how fire analysis is performed in Alaska. His curiosity and drive are evident in the tools that are available to fire managers in Alaska today.  For example, his work with Predictive Services to build and maintain the Alaska Fire and Fuels website, an innovative web platform for displaying the fire, fuels and weather environment, as well as engagement with the GIS specialists and web designers to incorporate modeling outputs, have provided managers and decision makers with ‘one-stop shopping’ information.

Through classroom and web-based instruction, development of user guides, analyses relating fire behavior to fuels and weather inputs, and mentoring budding fire analysts, Zeke has enabled practitioners from different backgrounds within the fire community to more fully understand and successfully implement the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) in Alaska. He is a key figure in not only fire behavior, analysis, and decision support, but also the cross-boundary engagement of scientist and practitioners in the lower 48 and across Canada. The fostering of relationships across the continuum of science and practice is clearly Zeke’s passion. He finds opportunities to bring people together who may not otherwise interact. In doing so, there is a momentum that he starts, participates in, and feeds continually to address new ideas, challenges, and initiatives.

At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Zeke has been involved in several research efforts, including as a member of the Boreal Fires team under the current Alaska EPSCoR Fire and Ice project, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Examples of Zeke’s work:

CFFDRS Online Training Modules (initial framework, development, and implementation)
Fire Behavior Field Reference Guide (continued development and updates)
Why Alaska Fire Potential Assessments Are Different (2018 publication)
Fire Environment Poster (Developed 2019)
Fuel Moisture, Seasonal Severity, and Fire Growth Analysis in the US Fire Behavior Analysis Tools (2017 publication)
CFFDRS FBP Field Guide (2015 Publication)
CFFDRS FWI Field Guide (2015 Publication)
Modeling Fire Growth Potential in Alaska (2015 Publication)

University of Alaska Fairbanks

National Wildfire Coordinating Group Announces 2018 Recipients of the Emergency Medical Service Awards

EMS logoEarlier this year the National Wildfire Coordinating Group announced the recipients of the 2018 Wildfire Emergency Medical Service Awards. The annual awards program sponsored by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Incident Emergency Medical Subcommittee (IEMS), recognizes and honors individuals and/or organizations who have demonstrated outstanding work, actions, or programs in emergency medical service for our Nation’s wildland firefighters.

“The mission of IEMS is to identify the need for and establish national emergency medical and occupational health standards and procedures and provide information, updates, and guidance to support the health and safety of workers on wildland fire incidents”, said Kaili McCray, Wildland Firefighter Medical Standards Program Manager and current Chair of the IEMS Awards Selection Committee. “The efforts of the awardees for 2018 stood out to the selection committee as particularly significant contributions. They join an elite group who have received these prestigious National Wildfire EMS Awards and we’re proud of them”.

The purpose of the Wildfire Emergency Medical Service Awards is to recognize the unselfish acts and actions of individuals and/or organizations for going above and beyond their normal duties in rendering emergency medical service care and training for member agency incidents and programs.

  • Heather Wonenberg, Helitack Lead at Yosemite National Park, California. Outstanding Wildfire EMS Individual of the Year Award.
  • Ally Young, Airtanker Base Staff and Jeff Miller, Airtanker Base Manager at Hill Airtanker Base, Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest, South Jordan, Utah. Excellence in Wildfire EMS/Rescue Award.
  • Dr. Jon Jui, M.D., Regional Medical Director of Incident Medical Specialist Program, Pacific Northwest Region (Region 6), Portland, Oregon. Outstanding Wildfire EMS Distinguished Service of the Year Award.
  • Steve Otoupalik, Incident Medical Specialist/Manager, Willamette National Forest, McKenzie Bridge, Oregon. Janette Peterson Lifetime Achievement in Wildfire Emergency Medical Service Award.

Below are the details for each of the awards:

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