The Flathead Beacon has an interesting article about the Flathead Hotshots. A crew that has been based on the national forest with the same name since 1966. The piece is well written and lengthy, but worth your time.
Two years later on the Deer Park Fire a crewmember suffered a broken femur that became more complicated when the Life Flight helicopter that was going to fly him out landed on the edge of a small helispot and tipped back, resting on its damaged tail rotor and 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.
A third fire not covered in the article occurred in 2012 when the crew turned down an assignment on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino, Idaho due to numerous safety-related concerns. The next day Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old firefighter from Moscow, Idaho, was killed while working on the fire. The U.S. Forest Service firefighter was struck when one tree fell and crashed into another tree, causing it to fall onto her in a domino effect.
One item in the newspaper article grabbed my interest:
A study in the late 1990s found that the average male hotshot will lose 15 percent of their bone density from the wear and tear of fire season. The average female hotshot can lose upwards of 23 percent.
I searched and could not find anything about this study. Do any of our readers know where it can be found?
This summer will be the 50th Fire season for the Flathead Hotshots!
A journalist, who is also an editor at Time, Inc., has taken a fresh look at the Dude Fire, 23 years after 6 firefighters were entrapped and killed in Walk Moore Canyon north of Payson, Arizona, June 23, 1990 — a day when the temperature in Phoenix reached 122 degrees, grounding jetliners because there was no reliable data confirming that fully loaded commercial aircraft could operate in that kind of heat.
Jaime Joyce conducted extensive research about the fire, talking to firefighters who survived, families that had to bury their sons, investigators who determined what happened and how the equipment functioned, and yes, attorneys who dealt with legal issues long after the funerals. She unearthed facts, stories, and perspectives that never made it into the official reports.
Firefighters can learn many lessons from reading the investigation report which was completed less than a month after the accident by Dick Mangan, Ted Putnum, Patricia Andrews, and six others.
Reading articles like the one written by Ms. Joyce can also impress upon a firefighter, especially those in the early part of their careers, that things CAN go wrong, horribly wrong, and how important it is to be responsible for your own safety (if you SEE something, SAY something) and to maintain situational awareness.
Ms. Joyce’s account, published at The Big Roundtable, brings to light details that would not normally be found in government reports — it shines a light on the accident from a different perspective. It also covers the battles fought by survivors and the victims’ families for various forms of restitution, largely futile, that persisted for years after the smoke cleared.
Below is an excerpt from the article:
“…The burnover lasted about 15 minutes. [Fire] shelters are designed to withstand temperatures up to 1,200 degrees. It must have been hotter in the heart of the flame front, since some of the shelters started to delaminate, the aluminum exterior separating from the fiberglass lining.
Davenport, Love, and LaTour stayed put. They waited inside their shelters until the area cooled down. LaTour used his radio to call for help but no one answered on any of the channels. Through the chatter, he heard someone say that help was coming. When the men finally emerged about 45 minutes later, shaky and weak, they followed the dozer line toward Control Road, their tattered shelters wrapped around their bodies like capes. As they walked, LaTour told the men not to look at the devastation that surrounded them. “We have to get out,” he said.
On the way down, they met Hoke, who was still inside his shelter. He emerged from his cocoon and joined the survivors. Ellis appeared next. As he walked toward the men, with his shelter tied around his forehead, his skin and clothing burned, the life drained out of him. “I’m dead,” Ellis told the others, and then he sat down on a log and died.
No one was waiting for the men at Control Road. Again, LaTour radioed for help and got no response. He headed west with his men about 200 yards, which is where a Forest Service truck met them. The men climbed into the bed of the pickup and were taken to a clearing, where they were given first aid. They were brought to the base camp next and flown by helicopter to Maricopa Medical Center, in Phoenix.
Before the flame front hit, the Alpine Hotshots foreman, Jim “J.P.” Mattingly, and his men had been conducting a burnout in Walk Moore Canyon just north of Perryville, using gasoline-filled drip torches to light small fires in order to clear vegetation and stop the spread of the blaze. When Mattingly saw the fire approaching, he had ordered his men to run north up the canyon, in the opposite direction of Perryville and Navajo. He had stepped away from the safety zone to take in his surroundings when he came across Paul Gleason, superintendent of the Zigzag Hotshots, and Paul Linse, superintendent of Flathead. Mattingly told the men that Perryville and Navajo had gone back toward Control Road, and that nobody else should be heading north up the canyon. But Gleason wanted to make sure no one was left. “Do you mind if we go back that way?” he asked. No one objected.
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.
Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old firefighter from Moscow, Idaho, was killed August 12 while working on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino, Idaho. The U.S. Forest Service firefighter was struck when one tree fell and crashed into another tree, causing it to fall in a domino effect.
On August 11, the day before Veseth was killed, the Flathead Hotshots arrived at the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protection Association (CPTPA) station to work on the Steep Corner Fire. They were briefed, received a radio clone, and showed up at the fire about 2 p.m., where they located the CPTPA incident commander. He briefed them on tactical duties, according to the SAFENET report filed three days later, but “had to be prompted for specifics on everything else.” The hotshot report said there was no direct link to Grangeville dispatch, no information on EMS or weather, and no medical plan besides “call the county.”
The report listed a slew of other heads-up flags on the incident, including no mention of hazards and no direction other than “jump in the middle and work south.” The IC was wearing jeans, and the hotshots immediately noticed several other CPTPA personnel without PPE or shelters.
The Flathead superintendent told the IC that they’d go scout the fire before committing the crew, and the IC told him to head down the burned line through the middle of the fire. The hotshot foreman then briefed the crew, and they established their own LCES and posted the first lookout of the day on the fire. The scouting superintendent radioed back that no one should be sent down the burned line — which was still hot — through the middle of the fire because of snag hazards and previously cut log decks. Continue reading “Safety issues noted one day before Steep Corner Fire fatality”