The only firefighting dozer team in the U.S. Air Force is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California. The 30th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operators’ fire dozer team consists of approximately ten Airmen and civilian workers. Their job is to support the firefighters by helping to limit damage and contain the spread of wildfires.
“Because of the sheer size of our equipment we can accomplish a lot within seconds,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Robertson, a heavy equipment operator. “When we go out to a fire, those who have already responded breathe a sigh of relief because we can accomplish a huge amount of work in a short amount of time.”
When a fire breaks out, the base firefighters are the first to respond. When the fire is too difficult to control, the fire dozer team is called to assist.
“We are supporting the fire department, and will get their call if they need us,” said Raymond Boothe, 30th CES equipment supervisor. “We are not sitting around waiting for a call though — we are constantly working all over base, performing our job as heavy equipment operators.”
“Vandenberg is the only base in the Air Force that has a fire dozer team,” said Robertson. “So this is the only place in our career that we are going to get this kind of experience and training.”
Airmen also receive a Red Card certification, which states the holder has the experience and training necessary to fight wildfires. This certification is utilized by both state and federal fire agencies and is useful for civilian jobs across the nation.
Another significant component of the job is supporting the space mission. The fire dozer team is on stand-by during every launch, prepared to contain fires that start and prevent damage to base assets.
The Adventure Fire burned about 100 acres 8 miles northwest of Placerville, California Thursday afternoon. The only reason we’re writing about this 100-acre fire is that we ran across this excellent photo of a dozer that we wanted to share.
But, since we’re here — we might as well mention also that we have an unconfirmed report saying the first engine that arrived at the fire observed a slow rate of spread and canceled the aircraft. Sometime after that, the slow rate of spread changed to a rapid rate of spread.
CAL FIRE said it was reported at 12:05 p.m. In mid-afternoon quite a few additional resources were ordered, including several crews and an “immediate need” strike team of engines. Later, many resources, both on the ground and in the air, were able to corral it. By about 5 p.m. most of the spread had been stopped.
Below are the weather observations taken from the Pilot Hill RAWS weather station 3 miles west of the fire:
By 1 p.m. it was 90 degrees with 26 percent relative humidity and a 7 mph wind gusting to 13. Over the next three hours it got hotter and drier.
One of the cardinal rules of initial attack on a wildland fire is, do not turn around any responding firefighting resources until you are absolutely, totally, unreservedly, unconditionally, altogether, certain that they are not needed.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has released a preliminary report on the July 6 dozer rollover on the Monticello Fire southeast of Lake Berryessa in Yolo County.
“On July 6, 2014, at approximately 1320 hours, a CAL FIRE dozer was operating on Division M of the Monticello Incident. The dozer was working sidehill, constructing fire line in steep terrain. The dozer became unstable and rolled at least two times coming to rest on its tracks in a small drainage below. The operator sustained a head injury and a possible loss of consciousness.
Fire line personnel immediately responded to assist and treat the operator. A CAL FIRE helicopter performed a hoist rescue. The operator was transferred to a waiting medevac helicopter and was transported to a trauma center for evaluation. The operator was released from the hospital later that evening.”
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has released a preliminary accident report, a “Green Sheet”, for an accident on the Pond fire in the northern part of the state, June 14, 2012 in Mendocino County. The dozer was privately owned and there were no injuries to the operator.
The fire occurred in an area of steep slopes, heavy fuels in a Wildland Urban Interface/Intermix setting. The fire was spotting in areas due to winds, steep slopes and receptive fuel beds.
As the dozer operator took action along the road, he observed the fire had extended below the road at a bend. The operator attempted to flank the fire and tie a dozer line in between the two road segments. The operator stated the visibility was very poor due to heavy smoke lying down in the area. The operator stated as he began to climb uphill to tie the line in, the slopes became very steep. Due to the steepness of the slope, the operator made three unsuccessful attempts to connect the line to the upper portion of the road.
On his third attempt to connect the line, the operator encountered a log in his path. As the operator attempted to move the log, his dozer slid perpendicular to the slope, reducing the dozer maneuverability. The operator then stated he attempted to make his way off the slope. As he moved down the slope, he encountered a soft spot of soil which caused him to slide a short distance downhill (approximately 10 feet). The operator stated the slide caused his downhill tracks to settle on a loose root wad mass. The operator said as he began to move the dozer the root wad mass acted like a fulcrum and flipped the dozer onto its side/top. The operator said he shut the dozer off and waited to ensure the dozer was done moving. Once he was confident it wasn’t moving any further, he released his seat belt and exited the dozer without any further incident.
The equipment operator self extricated himself from the dozer and did not complain of any injuries.
The dozer has a bent grab handle on the right side of the cab. No other cosmetic damage was noted. The extent of the mechanical damage has yet to be determined.
Two dozer operators rolled their dozers on Tuesday. One was wearing a seat belt and one was not.
A private contractor assigned to the Cold fire in Plumas County suffered a fractured skull, a dislocated shoulder and injuries to one ear when the bulldozer he was operating rolled over, said Dave Olson, a fire information officer for the Canyon Complex of fires on Plumas National Forest.
The employee of Oilar Agricultural Services, based in MacArthur, was flown to Enloe Medical Facility in Chico, where he was in stable condition Wednesday with no life-threatening injuries, Olson said.
In Siskiyou County, a contract operator was digging a fire line between the Alps Complex fire and the Ironside fire when his bulldozer rolled 80 feet down an embankment, said Alexis West, a fire information officer on the complex of fires burning on Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The operator was wearing a seat belt, which probably saved his life, West said. He was taken to a Redding hospital, where he was treated for arm and shoulder injuries.
He was conscious and alert in Mercy Medical Center on Wednesday morning, West said.