Aerial firefighting on the Black Forest Fire

Blackhawk, June 12, 2013, Photo by Air Force Capt. Darin Overstreet

The military has been supplying numerous photos and some videos of their firefighting activities on the Black Forest Fire. Helicopters from the Colorado National Guard and Fort Carson as well as C-130 MAFFS air tankers are assisting firefighters on the ground. Here are seven photos of aircraft taken on June 12 by military personnel. The DC-10 is not military, but is working under a contract with the U. S. Forest Service.

Blackhawk dipping
Blackhawk dipping, June 12, 2013, Photo by Air Force Capt. Darin Overstreet
Blackhawk, dipping up to 500 gallons
Blackhawk, dipping up to 500 gallons, June 12, 2013,, Photo by Air Force Capt. Darin Overstreet

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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

A mother’s reaction to the criminal charges against the former Carson Helicopters employees

The mother of one of the firefighters killed in the crash of the Carson-owned helicopter has been following very closely the NTSB and criminal investigations into the crash that killed her son, Scott Charlson, six other firefighters, and two air crew members. Both investigations agreed that Carson Helicopters intentionally falsified documents about the performance of their helicopters which led the U.S. Forest Service and the flight crew to erroneously believe the Sikorsky S-61N could carry the load of firefighters when it attempted to lift off from a helispot on the Iron 44 Fire in northern California in 2008. The helicopter crashed and burned as it struggled to become airborne, killing nine people.

Last week a federal grand jury in Medford, Oregon indicted Steven Metheny, 42, former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, and Levi Phillips, 45, the former maintenance chief of the company, for charges which could earn them 20 or more years in federal prison if convicted.

Below is the reaction of Scott’s mother, Nina Charlson, to the indictments:


“I am very thankful the criminal investigation was pursued. While it does not bring our loved ones back or change the heartache and emotional torture surviving firefighters and families have had to endure the past 4 ½ years it does confirm some of the things we have been told since the crash.

Besides the sentences the Federal Government will hand out I would like for these two men, Steve Methany and Levi Phillips to sit before the family and friends (one family at a time) of Shawn Blazer, Scott Charlson, Matt Hammer, David Steele, Caleb Renno, Edrick Gomez, Bryan Rich, Roark Schwanenberg and Jim Ramage and hear how their lives have changed since 7:45 p.m. August 5, 2008. I would like for them to sit before Bill Coultas, Mike Brown, Jon Frohreich and Rick Schroeder and their families and hear how their lives changed that night. I would like them to sit before the firefighters that were on the mountain at the time of the crash and listen how their lives changed that night. I would like for them to sit before Grayback Forestry, US Forest Service, Cal-Fire and the entire firefighter brotherhood and hear what they have to say about that fateful night.

We were told this crash was preventable and predictable on many levels and sadly we have found that to be true. Initially when I was told about the crash – foul play was not what came to my mind. Accidents happen. But this was no accident and it complicates the grief we are experiencing.

Nothing that takes place in the future can bring our loved ones back to us or stop the emotional torment that is present in so many minds at this very moment because of the criminal acts these two men committed over and over again – even after the crash. No remorse – it was all about them, their greed and their life.

Several families of the fallen firefighters have determined to take as many steps as necessary to send a message to anyone in the future who may be driven by greed or glory. We will remind them of the bottom line – Our sons, fathers and husbands lives. We will do whatever it takes to help protect lives and families in the future. In Dec. of 2011 several families of the fallen traveled back to Washington DC to attend a Public Aircraft Forum hosted by the NTSB. There were very powerful worldwide leaders in the Public Aircraft world that were present. We were thanked by many of them for being there because we gave them a visual of what their good or poor decisions can do. It is not easy for us to make these trips financially or emotionally but if we can influence decisions to save future lives we will continue in the honor of our loved ones who paid the ultimate price.”

Australian football team evacuated ahead of advancing bushfire

Gippsland Power Football Club
Gippsland Power Football Club, waiting to be evacuated near Mount Feathertop

An Australian rules football team had to be evacuated by helicopters when they found themselves out ahead of an advancing bushfire in Victoria near Mount Feathertop.

According to the Border Mail, 36 members of the Gippsland Power Football team were training at high altitude and had no choice but to be flown out by helicopters when a bushfre approached their location. They were participating in a preseason training camp at Mount Feathertop, which is 6,300 feet (1,922 M) above sea level.

The fire that threatened the Gippsland Power Football Club
The fire that threatened the Gippsland Power Football Club. Check out what appears to be flames hundreds of feet above the ground, and a spot fire quite some distance in front of the fire.

Here is an excerpt from an article at the Border Mail:

…[Team doctor Wayne] Thompson said he and the team were on the 22 kilometre Razorback Trail up the mountain and as they started climbing, smoke started getting thicker.

“There was just smoke and all of a sudden the smoke got a bit thicker and then we could see flames,” Mr Thompson said.

Flames were about four kilometres away and with mobile coverage, they were able to keep in contact with emergency services while a helicopter hovered overhead monitoring the fire.

About 3.30pm and with flames only 100 metres away, a bigger helicopter was bought in to airlift 15 people at a time from a track between Federation Hut and Mount Feathertop.

They were taken to Hotham Village along with other hikers that had been rescued.

Mr Thompson said constant contact with emergency services kept any panic at bay.

All of these photos are from the football club’s Facebook page.

Gippsland Power Football Club

Gippsland Power Football Club evacuates in front of a bushfire
A Coulson helicopter, a Sikorsky S-61N, prepares to evacuate the Gippsland Power Football Club

I have to admit, I had to do a little research to find out what Australian rules football is all about. Apparently they use a ball that appears similar to the American football used in the United States, but the game resembles soccer (football in Europe) more than American football. Here’s more from Wikipedia:

Australian Rules Football

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.