A report has been released for what turned out to be a difficult and complex rescue after a water tender rolled 150-feet down a slope. It occurred August 18, 2018 on the Cougar Creek Fire outside of Leavenworth, Washington. The steepness and heavy vegetation slowed efforts to extract and transport the 300-pound truck driver but in spite of the challenges the person identified as “Robert” in the report arrived at a Life Flight helicopter about 2 hours and 20 minutes after the first 911 call.
A system of ropes was necessary in order for personnel to access the victim from the top side, but the report heaps a great deal of praise on a Type 2 hand crew that from a lower road…
“…cut a highway through the forest in a matter of minutes.” In fact, the [Division Supervisor] later recalled that the crew was so fast and so efficient that they cleared the path in front of the Medics who were arriving from the bottom. These Medics coming up from the bottom were able to maintain a “comfortable walking pace” behind the crew as they worked.
The timber canopy virtually eliminated the possibility of extraction by a helicopter with hoist or short haul capabilities. Plus, there was a three-hour ETA for the helicopter.
The 30 people on scene carried the victim in a Stokes basket down the steep slope to a waiting ambulance below, using a standard carry and caterpillar (or conveyor belt) system depending on the incline.
A section in the report section titled “Drills Work!” included this:
Last year, a Montana Incident Management Team put the Type 2 Crew (who cut the access line up to the accident site on this incident) through a drill that taught them how to use the caterpillar system and polished their cutting skills. This crew’s members said specifically that the reason they were so successful on this incident was because of this earlier drill that they had experienced in Montana.
NIFC produced a video about the management of a serious injury complicated by a helicopter incident that occurred on the Deer Park Fire on the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho in 2013. In the video, which can be seen in the Wildfire Today article about the incident, you can see a description of the conveyor belt technique for moving a stokes basket in rocky or steep terrain. It begins at 5:25 in the video.
In August of 2010 Wildfire Today covered the Facilitated Learning Analysis about a serious injury complicated by a helicopter incident that occurred on the Deer Park Fire on the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho.
On that fire a member of the Flathead Hotshots suffered a broken femur caused by a rolling boulder. The initial treatment and extraction was complex and became an incident within an incident. A Life Flight helicopter that was going to fly him out landed on the edge of a small helispot and tipped back, resting on its enclosed tail rotor, in danger of sliding down a steep slope. This put the helicopter and the helispot out of commission — thus becoming an incident within an incident, within an incident.
The fire overhead, the Flathead Hotshots, and some smokejumpers on the fire organized to deal effectively with these three incidents — the fire, the medical emergency, and the aviation incident, and the successful results became a case study that firefighters can learn from.
The National Interagency Fire Center produced a video which features three of the firefighters involved in the incident, plus a telephone interview with the injured hotshot. The video includes a lot of photographs and video shot by firefighters during the incident. It is very well done and is worth 20 minutes of your time.
The Flathead Hotshots have been mentioned at least two other times on Wildfire Today. In 2008 several members of the crew were struck by lightning. And last August they turned down an assignment on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino, Idaho because of unresolved safety issues, including falling snags. The next day Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old firefighter from Moscow, Idaho working on the fire was killed by a falling tree.