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.

Person responsible for helicopter crash that killed 9 firefighters gets early release from prison

Steven Metheny served less than half of his sentence

Sikorsky S-61N helicopter
Sikorsky S-61N helicopter

Last week a judge granted an early release from prison for  Steven Metheny, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters. Mr. Metheny’s falsification of records and other illegal acts led to the overloading of a helicopter that crashed while attempting to take off from a remote helispot in Northern California in 2008, killing seven firefighters and two pilots.

In August, 2015 he began serving what was to have been 12 years and 7 months in prison, but was released after six years and one month.

He pleaded guilty in 2014 to one count each of filing a false statement and of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud while submitting documents to obtain $20 million in firefighting contracts with the U.S. Forest Service.

He had filed for compassionate release from prison at least twice, first in November, 2020 citing his fear of contracting COVID-19, which was refused by a judge. In March of 2021 he filed again, saying his health was deteriorating. Over the next six months information was submitted indicating that he had chest pain, an abnormal echocardiogram, vision problems, high blood pressure, and migraine headaches.

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken who was the judge in the trial, denied the first request but in September, 2021 approved the second one saying that his time in prison, especially with his health problems, have “been harsher than the sentence originally contemplated at the time of sentencing.”

Nina L. Charlson, mother of 25-year-old Scott Charlson of Phoenix, Oregon who died in the crash, said, “If it was a stupid mistake we would still have heartache but we all make mistakes. It was not a mistake. He plotted and planned to lie to the government.

“After the crash happened he plotted and planned to cover his plot up, Charson said. “It took the National Transportation board one and a half years to dig up the truth about what he did. It took 5 more years to get him sentenced to prison in September, 2015 for 12 years and 7 months. He served 6 years which is less than half of what he was sentenced for.”

Mr. Metheny was accused of falsifying performance charts and the weights of helicopters his company had under contract to the U.S. Forest Service for supporting wildland fire operations. As of a result of his fraud, a Carson helicopter crashed while trying to lift off with too much weight from a remote helispot on the Iron 44 Fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California in 2008. He was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison in 2015 for attempting to defraud the government out of more than $32 million and has been serving time in Lompoc, California.

Nine people were killed, including the pilot-in-command, a U.S. Forest Service check pilot, and seven firefighters. The copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured.

Mr. Metheny went to great lengths after the crash to attempt to conceal the fraud. When he knew that investigators would be examining the company’s operations, he directed other employees to remove weight from other similar helicopters, including taking off a fuel cell and replacing a very heavy battery with an empty shell of a battery. Some of the employees refused to participate in that deception, with one explaining that he was done lying about the helicopter’s weight.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there was “intentional wrong-doing” by Carson Helicopters that under-stated the weight of the helicopter and over-stated its performance in the documents they provided to the U.S. Forest Service when bidding on their firefighting contract. The NTSB estimated that the actual empty weight of the helicopter was 13,845 pounds, while Carson Helicopters stated in their contract proposal that the weight was 12,013 pounds. For the purpose of load calculations on the day of the crash, the pilot assumed the weight to be 12,408 pounds, which was 1,437 pounds less than the actual weight estimated by the NTSB. According to the NTSB, for the mission of flying the firefighters off the helispot that day, the helicopter was already over the allowable weight even without the firefighters on board.

In Mr. Metheny’s plea agreement there was an admission that the helicopters had not actually been weighed.

Killed in the crash were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54; USFS check pilot Jim Ramage, 63; and firefighters Shawn Blazer, 30; Scott Charlson, 25; Matthew Hammer, 23; Edrik Gomez, 19; Bryan Rich, 29; David Steele, 19; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21. The copilot and three other firefighters were seriously injured.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Nina and Kelly.

Two water tender operators on the Dixie Fire died of COVID-19

Jose T. Calderon and Cessar Saenz, both of San Diego County

Jose T. Calderon
Jose T. Calderon

Two water tender operators have died of COVID-19 this month. They both worked for Brenda’s Fire Water based in Ramona, California. Two trucks with three drivers were dispatched from the company to the Dixie Fire in Northern California. They worked shifts to keep the water tenders working on the fire as much as possible.

Jose T. Calderon of Chula Vista California had spent much of his adult life driving virtually all types of trucks. He was the first of the two to die. On August 11 after 14 days of employment with the company and testing positive for COVID, he was taken from the west zone of the Dixie Fire to a hospital in Redding. He spent three weeks on a ventilator before passing away there September 5.

A family member told Wildfire Today that Jose’s death certificate listed the cause of death as respiratory failure, COVID-19, and smoke inhalation.

After Jose went to the hospital, his co-worker Cessar Saenz of El Cajon, California tested positive for COVID at the Dixie Fire and went home. When his symptoms worsened he was admitted to Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, California. About three or four weeks later he died on September 14. He had just turned 63 two weeks earlier.

Cessar Saenz
Cessar Saenz. Posted on his Facebook page Feb. 13, 2021.

On July 25 he changed his employment status on Facebook to “Started New Job at Happily Retired” and was planning on moving to Texas.

Cessar drove water tenders on fires off and on since 2001. John Clark thought of Cessar not just as a good friend, but like a brother. He said Cessar liked to ride his motorcycle, fish, and camp. Cessar had been a truck and charter bus driver for decades and for eight years drove a mobile clinic out of Alpine, California to seven Tribal Reservations for the Southern Indian Health Council. He also taught people how to drive school busses.

Brenda Dahl of Brenda’s Fire Water confirmed the deaths of Jose and Cessar, but declined to provide any additional information. Neither the US Forest Service or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection responded to multiple inquiries about these line of duty deaths. As far as we know there has been no official announcement from a fire agency about the passing of these two firefighters. The water tenders were under a call when needed contract with one of the two agencies.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and co-workers of Jose and Cessar.

OPINION
Before COVID, the line of duty deaths of contractors on wildfires was always announced and their service was honored even though they are not regular government employees. It is not clear why the FS and CAL FIRE now feel the need to cover up fatalities on fires. I can remember when reports were written and lessons were learned from serious accidents and fatalities in the line duty. Is the problem that there are now too many to document and they are offloading that duty to journalists?

Putting your head in the sand is rarely a successful strategy.

Two firefighters at California fires died, one from COVID, the other from unspecified illness

Updated at 8:53 a.m. PDT Sept. 5, 2021

US Army soldiers fire training
Active duty US Army soldiers receive fire training before assisting at the Dixie Fire Sept. 1, 2021. About 200 soldiers have been activated to assist with wildfires in California. InciWeb.

Two firefighters assigned to wildfires in California have died.

One of two emails sent to employees on the Stanislaus National Forest about the fatality of one of their employee/retirees said he “passed away earlier this week due to complications of COVID-19 while assigned to the French Fire near Kernville, CA. He had been hospitalized in Bakersfield.”

The person’s name has not been released by the Stanislaus, but at least three sources confirm it was Allen Johnson.

Allen Johnson
Allen Johnson. USFS.

Allen was a Forest Service retiree and was working as an Administratively Determined (AD) employee on the French Fire. The email to the forest’s staff said it’s very early in the process, but “Tentative plans for honoring Allen include a Dignified Transport of remains followed by a Memorial Service. To the best of our current knowledge, Allen’s dignified transport and Memorial Service will occur on or after September 26.”

California Interagency Incident Management Team 14 posted on Facebook Sept. 1, 2021, “Our team, the firefighting community, and the world lost a great friend, mentor, teacher and comrade last night. Retired South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team IC and Liaison Officer Allen Johnson passed away from complications related to COVID 19.”

So in the absence of official information from the US Forest Service about this line of duty death, it appears from the post by his incident management team that Allen died August 31, 2021.

Saturday night NBC Bay Area reported another fatality — a US Forest Service firefighter assigned to the Dixie Fire near Susanville, California.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service told NBC Bay Area Saturday that the firefighter, an employee with the Lassen National Forest died from an illness. The official added that the firefighter’s death was not related to the fire. No other details have been released at this time.

The official information from CAL FIRE about the Dixie Fire confirms there was a first responder fatality from an illness on September 2.

UPDATE at 11:08 a.m. PDT Sept. 6, 2021: NEWS4 reported today that the US Forest Service said the firefighter that died who had been assigned to the Dixie Fire was Marcus Pacheco, an assistant fire engine operator for the Lassen NF with 30 years of fire experience. He passed away Sept. 2 from what the USFS is calling an "unspecified illness". Late at night on September 5 the Lassen National Forest created a post on Facebook announcing the two fatalities and confirming the names.

The Dixie Fire has burned more than 889,000 acres near Susanville, California and is still actively spreading.

The 25,000-acre French Fire is west of Kernville, California.

Last week a strike team of five engines with 16 firefighters on the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe was quarantined for two weeks due to one of their members testing positive for COVID. There have been other reports of firefighters and crews sidelined, quarantined, or sickened, but specifics are hard to come by.

Two weeks ago Wildfire Today asked the five federal land management agencies for the number of their firefighters that have tested positive for COVID or had to quarantine after exposure. All five refused to release any information on the topic and would not explain their reasoning for keeping it secret. On September 2 we asked the US Forest Service again for the numbers of their firefighters who have tested positive for COVID, were hospitalized, or died. We are still waiting for the answers.

We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the two firefighters who passed away while on duty.

(Edited to include the names of the firefighters.)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to people who passed along this information.

Former Colfax, Washington Fire Chief dies while fighting wildfire

He had served with the department for 52 years

Jim Krouse
Jim Krouse. Photo: Colfax FD.

The Fire Department in Colfax, Washington released information about a line of duty death that occurred over the weekend:


Longtime Colfax Fire Chief Jim Krouse, who had served as Colfax chief for 40 years and a volunteer in Colfax for 52 years, died from an apparent heart attack Saturday afternoon while responding to his fourth call of the day.

Krouse was responding around 3 pm to a wildfire on Green Hollow Road and was pulling hose at the fire scene when he collapsed.

Colfax ambulance quickly responded and emergency medical care was given to Krouse on the scene and immediately transported to Whitman Medical Center in Colfax. Assistant Chief Craig Corbeill, who responded with the ambulance, said physicians worked on the former chief but they were not able to revive him.

Crews from several fire departments managed to control the fire.

Word quickly spread of Krouse’s passing. When the firefighters were finished they assembled at Whitman Medical Center and started the procession with the ambulance that carried Krouse’s body draped in an American flag to the Bruning Funeral Home escorted by Whitman County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Patrol.

Chief Michael Chapman met with his firefighters at the fire station, many of whom served with Krouse for a number of years, to help them debrief from the situation and to share stories about the former chief.

Chapman said there will be a critical incident debriefing in the next 24-72 hours for those on the scene today and those who served with Krouse for some of those 52 years.

Corbeill said that “Krouse was like a kid in a candy store” when he was making his fourth run Saturday, driving a water tender to the Green Hollow Road fire. Krouse who served as Colfax Chief from 1972 to 2010, followed his father, Earl, who was chief prior to Jim.

Because there was a fatality with the wildfire, fire marshal Chris Wehrung and Assistant Fire Marshal Tony Nuttman investigated the fire and to help determine the cause. At the time of this release, Nuttman, who is serving as the lead investigator, said the cause remains under investigation.

Final arrangements for Chief Krouse are pending at the Bruning Funeral Home in Colfax.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dan.

Firefighter dies at brush fire in Spokane County, Washington

Cody Traber firefighter
Cody Traber. Photo on left by Spokane County FD. Photo on right by Robert J. Shaer in 2002.

A firefighter with Spokane County Fire District 9 died while at a brush fire Thursday in Washington.

According to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, Mr. Traber fell from the Wandermere Bridge on Interstate 395.

In a Facebook post the Fire District said Mr. Traber was an 18-year veteran of the District and previously served at the Department of Natural Resources and two other fire departments. He leaves behind his wife, Allisyn and four young children.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Traber’s family, friends, and co-workers.