US Fire Administration releases information about line of duty death of Allen Johnson

Died the same day he was admitted to a hospital

Allen Johnson
Allen Johnson

Today’s announcement by the US Fire Administration about the line of duty death of retired US Forest Service firefighter Allen Johnson provides information that previously had not been widely known.

Allen Johnson was a retired 40-year Forest Service veteran serving as a Liaison Officer on the French Fire in California when he contracted COVID. He was working as an Administratively Determined (AD) employee on the Incident Management Team. On September 8, 2021 the Forest Service confirmed his death but with few other details.

The USFA announcement states that Allen was exposed to COVID-19 on the French Fire, tested positive August 24, placed in isolation at the incident, and transported to the hospital on Aug. 31, 2021 where he passed away that day.

That was not a typo. After testing positive he was in isolation at the incident for eight days, then transported to a hospital where apparently he died within a matter of hours.

Below is the text from the USFA announcement:

The U.S. Fire Administration has received notice of the following firefighter fatality:

Allen Johnson
Liaison Officer

United States Forest Service, Stanislaus National Forest, Sonora, CA

While assigned to the French Fire near Kernville, CA, Liaison Officer Allen Johnson became ill and tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 24, 2021. There were other confirmed cases of the virus on the French Fire. Liaison Officer Johnson was placed in isolation at the incident and transported to the hospital on Aug. 31, 2021 where he passed away.

Age: 68
Gender: Male
Status: Wildland Part-Time
Years of Service: 49
Date of Incident: August 24, 2021
Date of Death: August 31, 2021

Allen began working for the Forest Service as a seasonal employee in 1972 on the Angeles National Forest. In 1975 he received his first permanent appointment on the Cleveland National Forest as a firefighter before becoming superintendent on the El Cariso Interagency Hotshot Crew. He finished his career as district fire management officer on the Stanislaus National Forest, from which he retired in March 2010. Throughout his career he was a well-known incident commander and liaison officer assigned to two different California Incident Management Teams.

The Union Democrat, based in Sonora, CA, has a very good article about Allen.

We are thankful that the US Fire Administration has released facts on wildland firefighter line of duty deaths that have not been disclosed by the federal land management agencies.

May he rest in peace.

Other articles on Wildfire Today about line of duty deaths of wildland firefighters related to COVID-19.

Firefighter/paramedic dies of COVID and fungal infection

Assigned to the McCash Fire in Northern California

4:30 p.m. PDT October 21, 2021

Firefighter and masticator on the McCash Fire.
Firefighter and masticator on the McCash Fire. InciWeb Aug. 13, 2021

The U.S. Fire Administration has reported that a fireline paramedic, Marshall Grant Brookfield assigned to the McCash Fire in Northern California, died September 29, 2021. He was employed by Emergency Response Logistics of Grand Lake, Colorado.

Here is the complete statement from the USFA: (Update Oct. 25, 2021; some of the details in the USFA report have come into question and may or may not be accurate.)

Wildland Firefighter/Paramedic Marshall Grant Brookfield was deployed to the McCash fire in Orleans, CA when he contracted COVID-19 and a rare fungal infection that was found to be directly associated to the wildfires and smoke inhalation. He was removed from the incident due to severe illness and sent to the hospital where he was admitted and remained in the Intensive Care Unit until his passing on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021.

Age: 41
Gender: Male
Status: Wildland-Contract
Years of Service: 1
Date of Incident: Sept. 13, 2021
Date of Death: Sept. 29, 2021

A GoFundMe account has been established to assist his wife and three children.

Matt Possert, one of the people who donated funds for Mr. Brookfield’s wife and children, wrote this on GoFundMe:

Marshall and I worked on the McCash Fire together as Paramedics. My first impression of Marshall is that he was a stand up guy. Very professional, passionate about his craft and confident and competent while humble. One of the first things Marshall told me was the challenge of getting 2 weeks of childcare arranged basically overnight. He did this so he could be a part of the team and support the mission of saving lives, protecting property and helping others. And he also did this to provide for his family as a strong and dedicated husband and father. I’m privileged to have gotten to know Marshall and to take care of my fellow brother while he was ill in the acute stages.

Unlike firefighters who are killed by other hazards on fires, we may never have a full accounting of how many are being killed by COVID on wildfires.

If you have information about others who have died from COVID after being infected on a fire, leave the information in a comment. Include a link, if you have it, to more details about the line of duty death.

We send our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and coworkers of Mr. Brookfield.

Forest Service reluctant to reveal how many firefighters have been hospitalized or killed in the line of duty by COVID-19

Wildland firefighters in the Departments of Agriculture and Interior need to be exfiltrated, and given refuge in the Department of Homeland Security

Revised at 6:56 p.m. PDT Sept. 10, 2021

Ukonom hand crew from the Six Rivers National Forest
Ukonom hand crew from the Six Rivers National Forest. USFS photo, 2021.

Since March, 2020, 680 U.S. Forest Service employees in the agency’s California Region have tested positive for COVID-19 according to Anthony Scardina on September 7, 2021, the Deputy Regional Forester for State and Private Forestry. Of those, 561 were wildland firefighters, he said. *Stanton Florea, Fire Communications Specialist for the Forest Service at the National Interagency Fire Center said on Sept. 8 that approximately 918 wildland fire employees within the entire agency have tested positive for the virus.

Mr. Florea said they do not formally track the number of their employees that have been hospitalized with COVID.

In the last week word leaked that one of those firefighters who tested positive died due to the coronavirus, and a reporter discovered that another died of an unspecified illness. Subsequently, the Lassen National Forest released a statement late at night September 5 confirming the two fatalities and the names of the deceased, but nothing about the cause of death, dates, or the location.

Marcus Pacheco was an assistant engine operator who had 13 years of fire experience with CAL FIRE and 30 with the FS. He died of an unspecified illness while working on the Dixie Fire.

Allen Johnson was a semi-retired 40-year FS veteran and was serving as a Liaison Officer on an Incident Management Team on the French Fire when he contracted COVID.

During an interview September 7 with Wildfire Today we asked Mr. Scardina how many FS firefighters had died in the line of duty after contracting COVID.

“I’m not going to report fatalities of our employees when it comes to personal illnesses and other privacy matters in terms of deaths at this point in time,” he said.  “We’re taking a look at those situations, what the review process will be to make sure we understand the facts. And it’s just simply too early out of respect for the family of being appropriate for us to comment at this point in time on those situations.

The deaths were first officially announced to the public in a manner more formal than Facebook Sept. 7, 2021 by Mr. Scardina at a news conference. It was tweeted by both the FS and the California Office of Emergency Services. The CAL OES recording below had much better audio than the FS version.

On September 8 Mr. Florea said there have been two deaths of FS fire personnel that are suspected to be related to COVID. Requests for more details, such as names, dates, name of fire, or location did not receive a response, so it is not certain if these two are the fatalities disclosed by Mr. Scardina on September 7, who also provided no details.

Historically the FS has disclosed fatalities within 24 to 48 hours. The agency usually waits until the families are notified before releasing the names of the deceased, which may take a little longer. Most of the time the general circumstances will also be released, such as hit by a falling tree, vehicle accident, or entrapped by a fire. But for firefighters who contracted COVID on the job, the FS has been extremely reluctant to disclose any information about these line of duty hospitalizations and deaths. The agency’s public information officers whose job is to inform America about FS activities, fires, and circumstances that affect the health and safety of their employees and the public, have been keeping it secret, slow-walking and dissembling when finally responding to requests from journalists about line of duty illnesses and deaths of fire personnel.

One firefighter told Wildfire Today about something he noticed about supervisory personnel at fires. “I’m noticing that all Incident Management Team members are wearing wristbands and being screened everyday,” he said. “This is not happening for firefighters. They are wearing colored wristbands to show they cleared the screening, but nothing for firefighters.”

The firefighter said in order to help protect his family when he got home, he asked to get tested while being demobilized from the fire, but the request was denied.

We are hearing rumblings that some fires are being hit very hard by COVID, with large numbers of personnel testing positive or being quarantined but this is difficult to confirm without the agencies’ cooperation.


Fighting wildfires has always had a long list of recognized risks. An analysis by the National Interagency Fire Center determined that from 1990 through 2014 there were 440 fatalities in the line of duty among wildland firefighters. The top four categories which accounted for 88 percent of the deaths were, in decreasing order, medical issues (usually heart related), aircraft accidents, vehicle accidents, and being entrapped by the fire.

The COVID pandemic adds a new category and level of risk from which these firefighters now have to defend themselves. They already wear Kevlar chaps to prevent a chain saw from cutting into their leg, a helmet, leather gloves, hearing protection, safety glasses, fire resistant shirts and pants, and a five-pound foldable shelter to climb under when entrapped by a fire.

Many of these highly-trained firefighters comprise more than 100 hotshot crews. They are tactical athletes who carry more than 30 pounds of gear up and down steep, rugged terrain for up to 16 hours every day while battling a fire, sometimes miles from the nearest vehicle. They immerse themselves in wildland fire science and fire behavior to anticipate what the fire will do in order to avoid unnecessary exposure to risks.

But now their employer, the US Forest Service, is reluctant to fully disclose to them a key fact related to their safety — how many of their fellow firefighters have been hospitalized or killed in the line of duty by COVID.

Ventana Hotshots firefighters Monument Fire
Ventana Hotshots holding a line on the Monument Fire in Northern California, August, 2021. USFS photo.

The FS has not been disclosing COVID line of duty deaths the same way they announced that two firefighters were killed in an airplane crash or one died after being hit by a falling tree, all within the last two months.

COVID among firefighters is not really a “personal illness”, as described Mr. Scardina, when it is caused by a requirement from their employer, for example, to travel across the country and work with 4,809 others at the Dixie Fire in California. For decades the Forest Service and the other four federal land management agencies have, as far as we know, reported all line of duty deaths, including illnesses such as cardiac issues, which might be described as a “personal illness”.

It is puzzling that the leadership in the federal wildland fire organizations are so scared or reluctant to talk about the effects of COVID on their work force. I don’t see any upside in a doomed-to-fail effort to keep it secret. Maybe it is a holdover thought process from the previous administration whose leader said at least 38 times in 2020 between February and October that COVID-19 is either going to disappear or is currently disappearing.

By refusing to be transparent about pandemic related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths on the job, the perception could be that the government has something to hide or they want to restrict the disclosure of news that could reflect negatively on the administration. It would be impossible to argue that withholding this information is in the best interests of the employees. And it degrades the trust that an employee would hope to have in their leadership.

Far more important than protecting the political future of the President, is being honest with their firefighters about the degree of risk they are taking while serving their country battling wildfires.

Something has to change

Federal wildland firefighters work for the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service. The first responsibility of these agencies is the safety of their personnel, including the 15,000 firefighters. If they are so cavalier about this responsibility to not even care how many have been hospitalized in the line of duty, and keep secret as much as possible the extent of how many have gotten seriously ill or died from COVID while working for them, then something has to change.

The primary job of these five agencies is not fighting fire — it is very far from it. They inspect meat packing plants, issue what used to be called Food Stamps, clean rest rooms, manage visitors, and grow trees. Those at the top of the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior where they presently reside, in most cases have no background in emergency services. It is not in their DNA to worry night and day about those under their command being injured or killed in the line of duty. Career fire personnel understand this.

The firefighters in these five agencies need to be exfiltrated from the DOI and DOA and given refuge in a new agency within the Department of Homeland Security where top management pays attention to the risks emergency management personnel face. If I was a betting man, I would wager that they care how many of their employees have been killed or hospitalized by COVID, at least publicly to the extent allowed by the White House.

This new agency of 15,000 wildland firefighters could be named National Fire Service. It could even welcome the structural firefighters that work for the Department of Defense.

Below are the stated values and principles of wildland fire leaders. They may have been forgotten by a few at the top of the five federal wildland fire management organizations.

Duty Respect Integrity
Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles.

*At 6:56 p.m. PDT the article was edited to correct the numbers of Forest Service fire personnel who tested positive for COVID since March, 2020; 918 nationally, and 561 in the California Region (R5). The regional and national numbers do not conflict. 

Will unvaccinated firefighters be restricted from traveling to fires?

Colorado engine 4321 Dixie Fire
Colorado DFPC SLV Engine 4321 on the Dixie Fire, California, 2021. DFPC photo.

A letter from the US Forest Service’s new Chief, Randy Moore, dated August 17, 2021 could lead a person to believe that Federal firefighters might be restricted from traveling to wildfire assignments. The initiative apparently stemmed from a July 29, 2021 White House statement:

Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel.

The Chief Moore document says all federal agencies are working to establish specific safety protocols for fully vaccinated individuals and those who are not fully vaccinated. These protocols will be consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) July 27, 2021 guidance and align with the revised model safety principles from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.

The last link above is from, Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Agency Model Safety Principles, Issued July 29, 2021. Here is the section on travel:

Federal employees should adhere strictly to CDC guidelines before, during, and after travel.

For Federal employees who are fully vaccinated, there are no Government-wide restrictions on travel (although agency travel policies still apply).

For Federal employees who are not fully vaccinated or who decline to provide information about their vaccination status, official domestic travel should be limited to only necessary mission-critical trips. International travel should also be avoided, if at all possible, unless it is mission critical (e.g., military deployments, COVID-19 response deployments or activities, diplomats traveling, high-level international negotiations that cannot occur remotely). Heads of agencies should issue specific guidance to account for the particulars of their agency’s mission.

So after wading through all those documents, including a post from Chief Moore that triggered this journey of discovery, it at first appears that only “mission critical” travel will be allowed unless you are an international diplomat or a member of the military.

But all this is left up in the air, for now, since the letter says, instead of using clear text, the USFS is “moving forward … to establish specific safety protocols.”

Of course if the five federal agencies that fight wildland fire simply decree that firefighting is “mission critical”, end of discussion.

Meanwhile firefighting goes on, but with reduced numbers of available firefighters.

Examples of COVID outbreaks among wildland firefighters

From firefighters to an Area Command Team

firefighter Dixie Fire California
A firefighter and another person at Diamond Mtn. Rod on the Dixie Fire. Photo by Luanne Baumann. Posted August 11, 2021.

Over the last few days we ran across a number of examples of COVID outbreaks among wildland firefighters.

Dixie Fire

In an August 20 article, the Redding Record Searchlight, a Northern California newspaper, reported that CAL FIRE said there have been 14 positive cases at the Dixie Fire’s West Zone fire camp.

The positive cases include five from one crew, two from the same dozer, two from the same water tender and five “random cases,” the agency said. “These personnel were immediately released from the incident.”

Two of the cases led to hospitalizations, with one individual now in San Diego, who Cal Fire said is “doing well.” A second person, now in Redding, is “showing improvements,” the agency said.

The information below came from the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.

Area Command, October 2020

In October of last year while working on the August Complex of fires, 9 of the 14 members of an Area Command Team that were working out of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Redding tested positive. The first case was discovered after the team had been released and they were all in travel status followed by days off. That made it difficult to contact everyone. Some family members of individuals who tested positive also became infected. Given these unintended outcomes, a Facilitated Learning Analysis was initiated to develop lessons learned that could be shared with the wildland fire community.

The next four all occurred in California this year:

Hotshot crew, May

Four days after the crew began their season, one person tested positive. The crew Superintendent and Forest took immediate action to identify close contacts; 19 employees were identified. Of the 19, 7 were fully vaccinated (and returned to work immediately) and 12 were placed into quarantine (some at home and some in hotels).

Fuels module, May

On May 14th a fuels module member developed COVID-like symptoms; the person received a positive COVID test on May 16th. Contact tracing identified 10 close contacts (7 other fuels crew members and 3 additional employees who worked in the building). All of the close contacts were encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 and advised to quarantine (although 4 had been vaccinated, it was not used in the decision). One unvaccinated individual lived in barracks and moved to a hotel on the 16th. A second individual (the supervisor of the module) tested positive on May 17th.

Two additional cases were confirmed later that week (4 total in the cluster); none of the vaccinated employees tested positive or showed any symptoms. At the time of the review (June 2), one of the sick employees had returned to the office and others were teleworking. One of the four individuals was contacted by county public health, two were contacted by state public health, the fourth individual was never contacted by any public health department.

The four vaccinated employees did not get sick while four of the seven unvaccinated employees ultimately tested positive

Hotshot crew, July

An Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) finished a 14-day assignment with 18 crewmembers and arrived home June 22, 2021 (the IHC had 2 additional crewmembers who returned early and were not exposed); no employees were aware of exposure or had symptoms. The IHC was off duty on June 23-24, 2021 for mandatory rest.

On June 24th a crewmember developed a fever and took the initiative to get a COVID test immediately; the test returned a positive result the same day. Contact tracing found that the 17 other crewmembers were close contacts within 48-hours prior to the onset of symptoms. All of the close contacts were other IHC crewmembers (during travel home) and no other personnel were identified.

Of the 18 crewmembers who returned from assignment on June 22nd, 3 were fully vaccinated and returned to work on June 25th. The remaining employees (15) have not returned to work; the sick employee was put into isolation and the remaining close contacts on the crew were told to self-quarantine for 14-days by unit leaders. The 2 crewmembers who returned early (1 vaccinated) were not impacted.

None of the vaccinated employees got sick while 6 of the unvaccinated employees have tested positive.

Engine crew plus others, July

On July 6, 2021, the local county public health contacted the Forest Service regarding an employee who had been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19. The employee had no symptoms and received negative test results (rapid test and PCR test). Public health advised the employee to quarantine for 10 days.

No other FS employees were involved in this exposure since they were considered a secondary contact because the employee was exposed outside of work.

The employee in quarantine impacted the availability of a fire engine during high fire danger, therefore an employee from a different station began working on the engine on July 6, 2021.

On July 7, 2021, the employee covering for the engine (from the other station) developed COVID-like symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 on the same day.

This cluster involves 12 employees, with only 1 vaccinated and one who was in quarantine and not exposed. By July 12, 6 of the unvaccinated employees tested positive for COVID -19. All unvaccinated employees (10) were placed into quarantine. One employee chose to stay in a hotel and all others remained at their residences.

The vaccinated employee did not get sick while 6 of 11 unvaccinated employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Lessons to be learned?

While the Delta variant, which began spreading widely in the United States in July, changed how easily it is to become infected even among those who are vaccinated, it is still true that a vaccination greatly reduces a person’s chance of severe infection, hospitalization, and death.

Here are the final paragraphs from an excellent, detailed article published August 18, 2021 at Healthline:

Vaccines are highly effective even if they’re not perfect

The COVID-19 vaccines were developed to stop developing severe forms of the disease that can lead to hospitalization and death. In that aspect, they have been extremely successful even if the vaccines are not 100 percent effective.

While it is true that some partially and fully vaccinated people have developed COVID-19, breakthrough infections should not be a concern for most of the population. Doctors, however, do still recommend people exercise caution in areas with low vaccination rates and high transmission.

Vaccines also greatly reduce the likelihood of mild and symptomatic infections as well as prevent death and hospitalization.

Kullar noted that the Delta variant is both more contagious and transmissible, and those who are harboring the Delta variant can carry as much as a 1,200 times higher viral load than the original strain.

“Given all of this information, it is important for everyone not only to get fully vaccinated but also follow infection prevention measures, such as wearing a face mask in the public, physically distancing from others, and avoiding large crowds until we round the turn of this surge.”

After working on a fire in Colorado, firefighter dies of COVID

Charles Scottini had been hospitalized for six months

Laramie Co Fire District 2

A firefighter who had been assigned to a wildfire in Colorado in 2020 died today after battling COVID-19 in a hospital for six months.

From information released by Laramie County Fire District 2:

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Charles “Chuck” Scottini. Chuck passed away peacefully with his family by his side on the morning of April 24th, 2021 after a long six-month battle with COVID-19. Chuck contracted COVID while on a wildland fire assignment in Colorado and was quickly moved to University of Utah hospital where he stayed for 6 long months trying to recover.

Chuck has been a Firefighter with Laramie County Fire District 2 since 1998, where he currently held the position of Assistant Chief. Chuck was our Mr. fix it, our mentor, and was a wealth of knowledge to the Fire service. He will be dearly missed by all. We will release information on a memorial service at a later time.

The Oil City News reported that earlier this week emergency personnel in Laramie and Cheyenne had honored Assistant Chief Scottini as he was transported from Utah to hospice care in Cheyenne.

Laramie County Fire District 2 was established in 1945 and protects about 1,100 square miles north of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of Assistant Chief Scottini.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) found that 76 workers at the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins, Colorado tested positive for the virus and 273 had to be quarantined at various times over the course of the fire. Two were hospitalized, the report said. One was admitted to a hospital near the fire on August 24 and by the 31st was placed on a ventilator. The machine breathed for him while in a medically induced coma until he was weaned off October 7. In December he was released to a rehab center.

The FLA did not provide any details about the second person on the fire that was hospitalized.

NBC News reported August 29 that one BLM employee in Alaska died August 13 shortly after testing positive while on the job. Another was in critical condition at that time.

The U.S. Forest Service confirmed that 643 FS wildland fire personnel had tested positive for coronavirus as of January 19, 2021, according to spokesperson Stanton Florea.

Of those, 569 had recovered by then, Mr. Florea said, but 74 had not yet fully recovered or returned to work as of January 19. At that time there had been no reported fatalities in the FS tied to coronavirus, he said.

When we asked in January, the Department of the Interior refused to release any statistics about COVID-19 positive tests, hospitalizations, or fatalities among their range or forestry technicians who have wildland fire duties. Spokesperson Richard Parker wrote in an email, “We respectfully decline to comment further on this topic at this time.”

Four land management agencies in the DOI employ fire personnel, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Park Service.