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.

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:

Continue reading “National Wildfire Coordinating Group Announces 2018 Recipients of the Emergency Medical Service Awards”

Extracting an injured firefighter – in 2 hours and 15 minutes

Las Conchas Fire extractionThe Wildfire Lessons Learned Center has released a video documenting the extraction of an injured firefighter from the 2011 Las Conchas Fire in northern New Mexico. Kenny Lovell of the Craig Interagency Hotshots is interviewed in the video and tells his story of being seriously injured, treated, and transported after being hit by a rolling rock. He suffered a broken pelvis, a broken fibula, and a large hematoma.

The title of the video, ROCK! Firefighter Extraction Success Story, describes the incident as a success. It was, in the sense that the Hotshot crew had access to equipment which was transported to the accident scene to treat and package the victim, there were several EMTs on the crew, the Hotshots had drilled for similar incidents, a helicopter with short haul capability was available, and 5 months later Mr. Lovell returned to work on the Hotshot crew. All that is great and the Hotshots and the helitack crew deserve praise for accomplishing what they did with the resources that were available..

Having said that, it is still troubling that 2 hours and 15 minutes elapsed before Mr. Lovell departed the accident scene in a helicopter, and 30 minutes later he arrived at a hospital. On the Deer Park fire in 2010 a firefighter with a broken femur was on the ground for 4 hours and 23 minutes before he was transported in a helicopter. And firefighter Andrew Palmer, who bled to death from a broken femur suffered on a fire in 2008, spent 2 hours and 51 minutes at the accident scene before he was extracted via hoist on a Coast Guard helicopter.

Agencies who place firefighters in remote areas should realize they have the ethical responsibility to supply the training, equipment, and aviation resources to at least begin transporting by air a seriously injured firefighter within an hour. I am surprised that OSHA has not cited the federal agencies for this. Of course getting injured firefighters to an appropriate hospital within the Golden Hour would be ideal, but depending on the distance involved that could be difficult. A helicopter with short haul capability can be helpful, but it is not the quickest or most efficient method for extracting an injured person. It involves several steps, especially, like in this case, when the helicopter responds to the scene without being fully configured for short haul.

Several agencies have helicopters with hoists which can quickly extract and then transport injured personnel from remote locations, including CAL FIRE, Los Angeles County Fire Department, and the Coast Guard. If the other federal and state agencies decided to take that step, it would not have to be a trial program with one helicopter like the U.S. Forest Service night flying helicopter effort this year, because other agencies have been using hoists (and night vision goggles) for decades,

“The organization is ethically and morally obligated to put an EMS program in place that is supported by the organization, and given the standardized training and equipment to make the program succeed.”

The above is from the 2010 facilitated learning analysis for the Deer Park Fire extraction, quoting a Senior Firefighter/Paramedic on the Sawtooth Helitack Crew.


Thanks go out to Brit

Video case study – Deer Park Fire serious injury complicated by helicopter incident

Deer Park Fire, patient on litter
An injured firefighter is moved using a “conveyor belt” technique on the Deer Park Fire. Screen grab from 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.

Deer Park Fire, tipping helicopter
The Life Flight helicopter on the Deer Park Fire, after landing, and in danger of sliding down a steep slope. Screen grab from the video.

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.

CAL FIRE installing hoists on helicopters

Fighting wildland fires can be a dangerous job. One of the most difficult challenges is providing treatment to an injured firefighter during that first “golden hour” if an accident occurs in a remote location.

The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection is taking a step to speed the transfer of a patient from the fireline to a hospital by installing hoist systems on their 11 firefighting helicopters. They recently completed the first round of training on the new systems at the CAL FIRE academy at Ione. Some of the hoists have already been installed and all 11 should be ready to go by the end of the year.

This is a great step in the right direction and may save firefighters’ lives if they suffer an injury during daylight hours.

Currently there are no CAL FIRE or U.S. Forest Service helicopters that can fly at night. The USFS is going to tip toe into night flying operations again next year by contracting for one helicopter with that capability. It is unknown if it will have a hoist.

The USFS was criticized for not taking advantage of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s night flying helicopters during the first night after the Station Fire started near Los Angeles in 2009. The fire was three to four acres at 7 a.m. on the second day, but no helicopters were used the first night. The fire took off at mid-morning on day two and later burned 160,000 acres, killing two firefighters.

There were accusations that the USFS employed a less than aggressive attack on the Station fire in an effort to save money. If that was their strategy, it failed. A GAO review estimated the cost of suppressing the Station Fire to be $93 million, placing it among the most costly fires in the nation’s history. This does not include the costs of rebuilding the 89 homes that burned in the fire which may have been another $15 to $35 million.
Thanks go out to Eric

Injured firefighter rescued by night-flying helicopter

Saturday night, August 11, an injured firefighter was rescued by firefighters on the ground and a night-flying helicopter on the Ramsey fire on the Stanislaus National Forest eight miles east of Dorrington, California. The U.S. Forest Service will not have night-flying ability until one helicopter comes on board with those capabilities in 2013, but thankfully a Firehawk from Los Angeles County Fire Department was dispatched to hoist the firefighter out of an active fire area.

Here is an excerpt from a very interesting article in the Calaveras Enterprise:

…A large opening was made in the trees by a hot shot team to make room for the helicopter evacuation.

“When the helicopter came in for the rescue, the rotor wash was the biggest concern – stoking fires and kicking up ash and (burning) debris,” Jacobus said. “That was probably the biggest hardship for us to contend with.”

The copter first came in at 4:30 a.m. in the dark and dropped a rescuer to brief the ground team on how the helicopter crew wanted the patient packaged.

“They brought the helicopter in a second time for raise and evacuation,” Jacobus said. “We dealt with some pretty extreme rotor wash both times. It’s like being in the beginning part of a hurricane, but instead of blowing air, it’s blowing hot ash and churning sparks at you.”

We have written many times before about how important it is for a seriously injured firefighter to receive appropriate medical treatment in the “golden hour”. Night-flying helicopters can be very useful for slowing fires at night even more effectively than during the day. But they can also save lives, especially if they have hoist capabilities.

The right thing for the wildland fire agencies to do, is to have multiple night-flying capable helicopters, with hoists, if they are going to fight fire at night in remote areas. In addition, they should have hoist-capable helicopters available during daylight hours, if they are going to fight fire in remote areas (which include, what, 75 percent of the wildland fires that the federal agencies fight?). It is a health and safety issue, not a luxury. I am surprised that OSHA has not cited the wildland fire agencies for their failure to provide this capability. And it is not just the U.S. Forest Service that should be under the gun here. Let’s not leave out the National Park Service, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management, as well as state agencies.