After demob, rental car rolls over

Driver suffered a broken right arm and left shoulder

Rental car rollover, Frisco, Colorado
Rental car rollover, Frisco, Colorado.

Vehicle rollovers on fire assignments are not restricted to trucks, water tenders and dozers.

Below is the text from a Rapid Lesson Sharing report about an accident that occurred on Interstate 70 near Frisco, Colorado on August 21, 2018.

A Public Information Officer trainee was traveling in a rental car from the Cabin Lake Fire to Denver for a demob flight the following day.

“While driving on I-70 near Frisco, Colorado, she became caught in a severe storm with heavy rainfall. Her vehicle began to hydroplane, went off the road, and overturned.

“She received a broken right arm and left shoulder, was treated at a local hospital, and kept overnight. When she returns home, she will require surgery.


  • “The State Trooper investigating this accident said that the tread levels on rental car’s rear tires were well below the allowable limits.
  • With all the mobilization that’s going on around the West right now, there are surely a lot of vehicles being rented from various sources.
  • We look for dents and dings when we pick up a rental vehicle, but rarely think to check for tire wear.”
    (end of report)

Almost a quarter of the wildland firefighter fatalities between 1990 and 2014 occurred in vehicle accidents.

Wildland firefighter fatalities 1990-2014

Truck rollover, Cougar Creek Fire

Above: Photo of the truck after rolling over on the Aragon Fire, on the Santa Fe National Forest, in New Mexico; from the report.

In searching through the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned website looking for information about a dozer transport truck that rolled over while it was carrying a dozer on the Cougar Creek Fire in Washington, I ran across a few accidents we previously had not reported on. This is one of them.

On July 16, 2018 a four-door pickup truck slid off a rain-slicked road and rolled over. The accident occurred on the Aragon Fire, on the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. Below is an excerpt from the Rapid Lesson Sharing report:

…Two District fire personnel were driving Truck #1168 from the Aragon Fire to the Staging Area.

[Road] NFSR 505 contains a narrow section where the road is elevated above the natural drainage. Erosion had created a depression on the right side of the road in this narrow section.

The driver steered the vehicle to the left side of the road here to miss the eroded area. The vehicle began to slide off the road and over the embankment. The vehicle rolled completely over, coming to rest upright in the bottom of the drainage.

Several Forest Service employees witnessed the vehicle rollover. The driver and passenger exited the vehicle under their own power. An EMT arrived on scene less than five minutes after the accident. The EMT examined the individuals. While neither had visible injuries, both individuals were shaken-up and complained of soreness in their neck area.

For precautionary reasons, these two went to a local hospital that evening to be examined. Both were released within two hours…

Two water tender rollovers

One was on the Miles Fire in Oregon and the other was on the Ferguson Fire in California

Two water tenders rolled over while working on wildfires in California and Oregon earlier this month. According to the very brief Rapid Lesson Sharing reports filed with the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, there were no serious injuries. No assumptions were made about the cause of either accident, and road conditions were not mentioned as being an issue.

The first occurred on the Ferguson Fire in California August 10, 2018. The brief report can be downloaded here.

water tender rollover Ferguson Fire California
August 10, 2018 rollover of a water tender on the Ferguson Fire in California. Photo from Rapid Lesson Sharing report.

The other rollover occurred two days later on August 12 on the Miles Fire in Oregon. (brief report)

water tender rollover Miles Fire Oregon
August 12, 2018 rollover of a water tender on the Miles Fire in Oregon. Photo from Rapid Lesson Sharing report.

This is one of 51 articles we have written on Wildfire Today about rollovers of vehicles on wildland fires. They occur far too often.

It is not always possible to point to a single cause of many of these sometimes fatal accidents. But challenges facing drivers of emergency vehicles on wildland fires include visibility due to smoke or dust, long hours leading to fatigue, low standard or inadequately maintained roads, distractions, skills needed to drive a large heavy vehicle, top-heavy vehicles, weights exceeding manufacturer’s GVW rating, and shifting of weight caused by partial loads of water in the tank.

Of the 440 fatalities on wildland fires from 1990 through 2014, 22 percent were related to vehicle accidents.

The Rapid Lesson Sharing report for the accident on the Miles Fire reached this conclusion:

Statistics show that the biggest risk to firefighters today is the mundane task of driving to and from the worksite. Often, the function of driving is accompanied by fatigue from the day’s events and thoughts of what is yet to come.

Water Tender operators are asked to drive large, heavy vehicles in variable conditions repeatedly for multiple operational shifts. Just like line firefighters, these professional drivers must fight fatigue and complacency from the beginning of an assignment to its end.

Firefighter fatality on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park in California

We regret to have to report that a firefighter died this morning, July 14, on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park. CAL FIRE announced this afternoon that Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the fire. Mr Varney leaves behind a wife and two small children.

One of the firefighters on the fire reported this morning that he thought there was a dozer rollover, and just in case, he wanted to get medical help started to the scene. It turned out that the dozer had rolled several times and ended up in a location that was very difficult to access by foot or see from an aircraft.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Ferguson Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Just after 1 p.m. local time CAL FIRE made the official announcement about the fatality.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Varney’s family, coworkers, and friends.Varney fatality

86-year old firefighter killed in water tender rollover

The accident occurred near Overton, Texas.

A firefighter with the New London Fire Department in Texas died after the water tender they were using to respond to a vegetation fire rolled over near Overton, Texas. The U. S. Fire Administration released the following information:

Firefighter M.V. Hudson was injured in a fire tender (tanker) crash on the evening of February 28th. Hudson and two other firefighters were responding to a grass fire when the apparatus left the right side of the roadway and rolled over, badly damaging the cab and injuring all three occupants. The three firefighters had to be extracted from the vehicle and were rushed to the hospital. Two firefighters were subsequently released, but Firefighter Hudson died while in the hospital on March 10, 2018.

Mr. Hudson had 45 years of firefighting service and was 86 years old.

Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends, and co-workers.

Headache racks — rollover protection for an engine?

Above: photo from the report on the rollover of a U.S. Forest Service engine in Colorado September 12, 2017.

(Originally published November 30, 2017)

In a report released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center about the rollover of a U.S. Forest Service engine in Colorado September 12, 2017 one item listed under “What went well” was “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”. However, there was no explanation. As seen in the photo above, this is a structure behind the cab to serve as a mounting location for lights. It  has an expanded metal screen to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window during a sudden stop, but they are not expected to provide serious protection during a rollover.

Backrack headache rack
Photo from Backrack.

We checked with Backrack, a company that specializes in these devices, about how useful they would be in a rollover accident. A spokesperson told us that “because of  our insurance” they are not allowed to give out that information.

Perry Shatley, Wildland Sales Manager for BFX Fire Apparatus, one of our advertisers, told us their headache racks are not designed for rollover protection:

We noticed a recent article(s) about engine accidents (rollovers) on your site. In reading some of the comments regarding the article – Hauser Road rollover – it became clear that there is a misunderstanding about the intended use of this headache rack. BFX Fire Apparatus does provide a very robust rack but roll protection or its ability to help with this was never its intended use. This rack is there to provide a platform for emergency lighting which includes the lightbar, scenes lighting, walking surface lighting or other lighting that might be desired. It is also used to protect the rear cab window from damage if an object were able to make its way near this window. We understand full well the desire to provide crew protection within the cab, but the headache rack has nothing to do with this nor was it the intent.

Not only are headache racks not designed to maintain their integrity during a rollover, if they are mounted to a body component, the body AND the rack could become deformed or separated from the rest of the vehicle.

Water tender rollover
Water tender rollover on the Jolly Mountain Fire in Washington September 11, 2017. Photo from PNW RLS report.