Alabama firefighter killed while responding to brush fire

Michale Johnston was a member of the Equality Volunteer Fire Department

Michael Johnston Equality Volunteer Fire Department killed
Michael Johnston of the Equality Volunteer Fire Department was killed in a water tender rollover October 18 in Alabama.

Michale Johnston of the Equality Volunteer Fire Department was killed October 18 in a single vehicle rollover while responding to a brush fire. The Coosa County Sheriff’s Office said EMS and Deputies arrived at the scene within minutes and later reported that Mr. Johnson died after the accident.

Mr. Johnston, 45, was driving the 2004 GMC water tender when it overturned at 3:25 p.m. while en route to a fire in the Speed Community south of Rockford, Alabama. He was ejected from the truck in the single-vehicle crash on Coosa County Road 14.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Johnston’s family, friends, and colleagues.

Attempting to redefine the common denominators of tragedy fires

“A Classification of US Wildland Firefighter Entrapments Based on Coincident Fuels, Weather, and Topography”

Above: Figure 1 from the research paper. Distribution of 166 US wildland firefighter entrapments that occurred within CONUS (1981–2017) by time of day (local time) and month of the year.

On October 9, 2019 a document was published that summarized the work of four researchers who sought to find commonalities that led to the entrapments of firefighters on wildland fires. The paper is titled, “A Classification of US Wildland Firefighter Entrapments Based on Coincident Fuels, Weather, and Topography.” Apparently they were hoping to confirm, fine tune, revise, or update the “Common Denominators of Fire Behavior on Tragedy Fires” defined by Carl C. Wilson after the 1976 Battlement Creek Fire where three firefighters were killed near Parachute, Colorado.

Mr. Wilson developed two lists, one with four items and another with five. Here is the five-item list:

  1. Most of the incidents occurred on relatively small fires or isolated sectors of larger fires.
  2. Most of the fires were innocent in appearance prior to the “flare-ups” or “blow-ups”. In some cases, the fatalities occurred in the mop-up stage.
  3. Flare-ups occurred in deceptively light fuels.
  4. Fires ran uphill in chimneys, gullies, or on steep slopes.
  5. Suppression tools, such as helicopters or air tankers, can adversely modify fire behavior. (Helicopter and air tanker vortices have been known to cause flare-ups.)”

The four more recent researchers conducted an analysis of the environmental conditions at the times and locations of 166 firefighter entrapments involving 1,202 people and 117 fatalities that occurred between 1981 and 2017 in the conterminous United States. They identified one characteristic that was common for 91 percent of the entrapments — high fire danger — specifically, when the Energy Release Component and Burning Index are both above their historical 80th percentile.

They also generated an update of the time of day the entrapments occurred as seen in the figure at the top of this article. This has been done before, but it’s worthwhile to get an update. And, this version includes the month.

You can read the entire open access article here. If you’re thinking of quickly skimming it, the 7,000 words and the dozens of abbreviations and acronyms make that a challenge. There is no appendix which lists and defines the abbreviations and acronyms.

The authors of the paper are Wesley G. Page, Patrick H. Freeborn, Bret W. Butler, and W. Matt Jolly.

Below are excerpts from their research:


…Given the findings of this study and previously published firefighter safety guidelines, we have identified a few key practical implications for wildland firefighters:

  1. The fire environment conditions or subsequent fire behavior, particularly rate of spread, at the time of the entrapment does not need to be extreme or unusual for an entrapment to occur; it only needs to be unexpected in the sense that the firefighters involved did not anticipate or could not adapt to the observed fire behavior in enough time to reach an adequate safety zone;
  2. The site and regional-specific environmental conditions at the time and location of the entrapment are important; in other words, the set of environmental conditions common to firefighter entrapments in one region do not necessarily translate to other locations;
  3. As noted by several authors, human factors or human behavior are a critical component of firefighter entrapments, so much so that while an analysis of the common environmental conditions associated with entrapments will yield a better understanding of the conditions that increase the likelihood of an entrapment, it will not produce models or define characteristics that predict where and when entrapments are likely to occur.

[…]

The one characteristic that was common for the majority of entrapments (~91%) was high fire danger. As a general guideline, regardless of location, the data suggest that entrapment potential is highest when the fire danger indices (ERC’ and BI’) are both above their historical 80th percentile. Until recently, spatially-explicit information on fire danger has not been widely available as most firefighters have relied on fire danger information available at specific weather stations, which are often summarized into Pocket Cards [83]. Fortunately, fire danger forecasts across CONUS are now available in a mobile-friendly format (see https://m.wfas.net) that can be displayed spatially for each of the fire danger indices separately or combined into a Severe Fire Danger Index.

[…]

Conclusions

The times and locations where wildland firefighter entrapments occur in the US cover a wide range of conditions. Current firefighter safety guidelines seem to emphasize only a subset of the possible conditions due to a focus on the factors that maximize the potential for extreme fire behavior. While many of these safety guidelines are still intuitively valid, caution should be exercised during relevant firefighter training so as to not ignore or undermine the fact that entrapments and fatalities are possible under a much wider range of conditions.

Despite the wide range of environmental conditions associated with entrapments, we have shown that it is possible to identify unique combinations of environmental variables to define similarities among groups of entrapments, but these will necessarily be context and site specific. For most entrapments, the only common environmental condition was high fire danger, as represented by fire danger indices that have been normalized to represent the historical percentile at a particular location. As such, at large spatial scales, fire danger and its association with fire weather should continue to be monitored and reported to firefighters using both traditional methods (i.e., morning fire weather forecasts) and also newer methods that take advantage of advancements in mobile technology.

Firefighter injured last month passes away in hospital

Christian Johnson, 55, was severely burned on the Spring Coulee Fire in Washington

Christian Johnson
Christian Johnson, Assistant Chief of the Okanogan Volunteer Fire Department.

A firefighter who received second and third degree burns over 60 percent of his body September 1, 2019 while battling the Spring Coulee Fire in Okanogan County, Washington passed away yesterday, October 2, 2019. Christian Dean Johnson, 55, of Okanogan was surrounded by his wife Pam, family, and friends at Harborview Medical Center.

From the GoFundMe page that was created September 3:

Christian has served his country as a sergeant in the Us Army, and was deployed with the Washington State National Guard from November 2003-May 2005 in Baghdad. He retired after 22 years of service and has volunteered for the Okanogan Fire Department for 20 years.

Christian is a selfless man, who is always willing to help those in need, and never ask for anything in return. We are now asking for your help to make this long journey a little easier for him and his family. Any amount of donations are greatly appreciated and will go towards helping his wife (Pam Johnson) with travel, housing, food, etc.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Christian’s family and friends. May he rest in peace.

Autopsy shows CAL FIRE firefighter died of heat exposure

His body temperature was 107.4 degrees

Yaroslav Katkov
Yaroslav Katkov

A CAL FIRE firefighter who died July 28, 2019 in San Diego County died of a heat exposure, reports NBC San Diego.

Yaroslav Katkov, 28, collapsed during his second attempt at a 1.45-mile training hike near the De Luz Fire Station while wearing full gear and carrying 20 to 30 pounds of weights, according to an autopsy.

He was flown in an air ambulance to Temecula Hospital but suffered a two-minute seizure while en route. When he was admitted, his body temperature was 107.4 degrees. Fifteen hours later he was pronounced dead.

CAL FIRE’s preliminary report on the incident, the “Green Sheet”, said the three-person crew began a physical training hike at 8:40 a.m. with the expectation that they would finish within the 30-minute time limit. Mr. Katkov struggled, stopping multiple times, completing the hike in 40 minutes. After a 20-minute break to rehydrate, the Captain had the crew repeat the hike at 9:40 a.m.

NBC San Diego described what occurred on the second hike:

Katkov took more than 20 breaks along the trail which were documented by the captain, the report said. About halfway through the trail, the second firefighter noticed Katkov stumbling and losing his balance. He was told to hike directly behind Katkov and hold onto him so that he didn’t fall off the trail.

As they approached a ridge, the firefighter had to push Katkov’s back to help him get over. Once Katkov did, he fell forward and sat down. Katkov was then told to remove some of his gear so that he could cool down but was unable to, the report said.

More gear was taken off, and water was poured over Katkov’s head. At around 10:38 a.m. when the fire captain noticed Katkov’s mental status declining, he called for an air ambulance rescue.

Cal Fire’s helicopter arrived over Katkov and the crew at approximately 11:19 a.m. and Katkov was hoisted from below, according to the report. About 15 minutes later, the Cal Fire [helicopter] dropped Katkov off at a site where a Mercy air ambulance was waiting to transport Katkov to the hospital.

The second helicopter took off with Katkov inside at around 12:04 p.m., about an hour-and-a-half after the fire captain called for emergency assistance. On the way to the hospital Katkov was unresponsive but breathing, according to the report.

KNTV reported that Mr. Katkov was flown to Temecula Valley Hospital. Google Maps shows it would take an estimated 31 minutes to drive from De Luz Station to Temecula Valley Hospital, part of the time on curvy county roads. Based on that, we can assume it would take no more than 10 minutes for the Mercy air ambulance to arrive at the hospital — at about 12:14 p.m. This was approximately one hour and 36 minutes after the request for extraction by helicopter. Presumably the incident occurred in a remote area inaccessible by ground ambulance. It is likely that the medical crew on the Mercy helicopter began treatment of the patient as soon as he arrived at their location during the 30 minutes before the helicopter took off.

Estimated time line:

10:38 a.m. — Air ambulance rescue requested
11:19 a.m. — CAL FIRE/San Diego Sheriff Dept. helicopter arrives at scene
11:34 a.m. — (Approximate time) The CAL Fire helicopter delivered Mr. Katov to Mercy Air ambulance
12:04 p.m. — Mercy air ambulance departs for Temecula Valley Hospital
12:14 p.m. — (Approximate time) Mercy air ambulance arrives at hospital.

(UPDATE September 28, 2019: here is a link to the CAL FIRE “Green Sheet”.)

Report released for a firefighter fatality in Texas

Occurred on a wildfire in March, 2018

Texas LODD firefighter 2018 map
The initial firefighting operations with Grass 5-1 and Grass 5-2. The green
arrows indicate the direction of travel for the brush trucks. The red arrow is the
direction the fire is traveling. The time is approximately 1124 hours. (NIOSH)

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released a report about a 68-year old firefighter that died from burn injuries while fighting a grass fire in Texas last year.

“Firefighter A” was one of three firefighters on a Brush Truck, Grass 5-1, that was initial attacking a grass fire on March 10, 2018 that was burning in two to three foot high Little Bluestem grass. He was riding on an open side step behind the cab when he fell off and was overrun by the fire. The firefighter was flown to a burn center but passed away March 23, 2018.

Below is an excerpt from the report:


“Grass 5-1 began attacking the fire from the burned “black” area. Grass 5-1 was attempting to extinguish the fire in the tree line and fence line while moving north. A bulldozer was operating north of Grass 5-1. A citizen was operating a private bulldozer independent of the fire department operations. The bulldozer was attempting to cut a fire break in the very northern part of the property ahead of the fire.

“Grass 5-2 arrived on scene at 1121 hours. Another fire fighter from Fire Station 5 had responded in his POV to the scene. He got in the cab of Grass 5-2 at the tank dam. Grass 5-2 went east in the field towards the fence line. The grass fire was near the POV owned by Fire Fighter “B” on Grass 5-1. Grass 5-2 extinguished the fire around the POV and moved north towards Grass 5-1.

“Grass 5-1 reached the head of the fire and lost sight of the bulldozer. The driver/operator of Grass 5-1 attempted to turn around and the wind shifted, causing the smoke to obscure his vision. The driver/operator inadvertently turned into the unburned grass. The driver/operator described the grass as two to three feet tall. The time was approximately 1124 hours.

“The wind shift caused the fire to head directly toward Grass 5-1. Grass 5-1 Fire Fighter “B” advised the driver/operator to stop because they were dragging the “red line” (booster line). Fire Fighter “A” and Fire Fighter “B” exited the vehicle to retrieve the hoseline. The driver/operator told them to “forget the line” and get back in the truck. Fire Fighter “B” entered the right side (passenger) side step and Fire Fighter “A” got back on Grass 5-1 on the side step behind the driver. Fire Fighter “A” had a portion of the red line over his shoulder. When the driver accelerated to exit the area, Fire Fighter “A” was pulled from the apparatus by the red line that remained on the ground due to the gate not being properly latched. Fire Fighter “B” started pounding on the cab of Grass 5-1 to get the driver/operator to stop the apparatus. Grass 5-1 traveled approximately 35 – 45 feet before the driver/operator stopped the apparatus. The time was approximately 1127 hours.

“When Fire Fighter “A” fell off of Grass 5-1, he fell into a hole about 6 – 12 inches deep and was overrun by the fire. The driver/operator and Fire Fighter “B” found Fire Fighter “A” in the fire and suffering from burns to his face, arms and hands, chest, and legs. They helped Fire Fighter “A” into the cab of Grass 5-1 with assistance from the two fire fighters on Grass 5-2. The driver/operator of Grass 5-1 advised the County Dispatch Center of a “man down”. Once Fire Fighter “A” was in the cab of Grass 5-1, the driver/operator drove Grass 5-1 to the command post, which was located near Tanker 5. Fire Fighter “B” was riding the right step position behind the cab of Grass 5-1. The time was approximately 1129 hours. At 1131 hours, the County Dispatch Center dispatched a county medic unit (Medic 2) to the scene for an injured fire fighter.”


Texas LODD firefighter 2018 side step
The side step position on Grass 5-1 showing the gate latching
mechanism and the short hoselines on each sided of the apparatus
(NIOSH Photo.)

Instead of wearing the fire resistant brush gear or turnout gear he had been issued, Firefighter A was wearing jeans, a tee shirt, and tennis shoes.

Contributing factors and key recommendations from the report:

Contributing Factors

  • Lack of personal protective equipment
  • Apparatus design
  • Lack of scene size-up
  • Lack of situational awareness
  • Lack of training for grass/brush fires
  • Lack of safety zone and escape route
  • Radio communications issues due to incident location

Key Recommendations

  • Fire departments should ensure fire fighters who engage in wildland firefighting wear personal protective equipment that meets NFPA 1977, Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Firefighting
  • Fire departments should comply with the requirements of NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program for members riding on fire apparatus

The report referred to an August 17, 2017 tentative interim amendment to NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus, 2016 edition with an effective date of September 4, 2017.

“NFPA 1906 Paragraph 14.1.1 now reads, “Each crew riding position shall be within a fully enclosed personnel area.”

“A.14.1.1 states, “Typically, while engaged in firefighting operations on structural fires, apparatus are positioned in a safe location, and hose is extended as necessary to discharge water or suppressants on the combustible material.” In wildland fire suppression, mobile attack is often utilized in addition to stationary pumping. In mobile attack, sometimes referred to as “pump-and-roll,” water is discharged from the apparatus while the vehicle is in motion. Pump-and-roll operations are inherently more dangerous than stationary pumping because the apparatus and personnel are in close proximity to the fire combined with the additional exposure to hazards caused by a vehicle in motion, often on uneven ground. The personnel and/or apparatus could thus be more easily subject to injury or damage due to accidental impact, rollover, and/or environmental hazards, including burn over.

“To potentially mitigate against the increased risk inherent with pump-and-roll operations, the following alternatives are provided for consideration: (1) Driver and fire fighter(s) are located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab. Water is discharged via a monitor or turret that is controlled from within the apparatus.
(2) Driver and fire fighter(s) are located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab, but water is discharged with a short hose line or hard line out an open cab window.
(3) Driver is located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab with one or more fire fighters seated and belted in the on-board pump-and-roll firefighting position as described in a following section.
(4) Driver is located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab. Firefighter(s) is located outside the cab, walking alongside the apparatus, in clear view of the driver, discharging water with a short hose line.

“Under no circumstances is it ever considered a safe practice to ride standing or seated on the exterior of the apparatus for mobile attack other than seated and belted in an on-board pump-and-roll firefighting position. [2016b].”

Firefighter fatality after training hike

The U.S. Fire Administration received notice of the following firefighter fatality:

Yaroslav Katkov

Firefighter
CAL FIRE, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

On Sunday, July 28, 2019 Firefighter Katkov was on a training hike with his crew in San Diego County. During the hike he suffered a medical emergency and was immediately flown to Temecula Valley Hospital in Riverside County where he passed away on Monday, July 29, 2019.

Age: 29
Gender: Male
Status: Wildland Part-Time
Years of Service: 1

 

Our sincere condolences go out to Yaroslav’s family, friends, and co-workers.