In a dual-purpose ceremony November 1 at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Florida (map) a group of land managers received an award and a memorial was dedicated to two deceased wildland firefighters.
In 1981 two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) firefighters were killed on the Ransom Road Fire at the Refuge. Scott Maness and Beau Sauselein were building fireline with a tractor plow when a passing thunderstorm caused a 90-degree wind shift in the wind direction with gusts up to 45 mph. They raised the plow and tried to escape on the tractor but it became high-centered on a stump concealed by palmetto. They dismounted and fled on foot but were overtaken by the fire. The two men shared a fire shelter but both were killed.
Today the Refuge hosted an outdoor ceremony near Cape Canaveral with 140 guests, including former co-workers and family members of Mr. Maness and Mr. Sauselein. The historic tragedy triggered dramatic improvements in the FWS fire program, culminating in a professional collaboration with federal, state, and local partners to support the safe operation of the spaceport while protecting a myriad of resident wildlife species.
The ceremony opened with the six-person uniformed FWS National Honor Guard presenting colors and symbolically placing firefighting tools at an inscribed granite marker in front of the Refuge headquarters. Designed and built by the Refuge’s fire crew, the new memorial is now a daily reminder to staff of how two men gave their lives, imparting lessons leading to improvements in firefighter safety.
Following the memorial dedication, FWS Chief of Fire Management Chris Wilcox presented the National Interagency Fire Center 2017 Pulaski Award to the Spaceport Integration Team of FWS, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (45th Space Wing), Florida Forest Service, and Brevard County Fire Rescue. The group award is given by NIFC fire chiefs including the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, National Association of State Foresters, and other fire programs.
About 35 attendees are also participating this week in a field study of the Ransom Road Fire. Modeled after a military leadership “staff ride,” the day-long exercise focuses on the progression of events and decision making that led to the loss of life. As the first formal staff ride at the Refuge, fire leaders hope to repeat the Ransom Road Fire exercise for more fire managers in the future.