Report reveals actions taken after fatal helicopter crash on prescribed fire

One person was killed during aerial ignition operations in Texas March 27, 2019

Helicopter Flight Tracking Daniel Laird firefighter killed

A report has been released about the fatal helicopter crash that occurred on a prescribed fire in Texas, March 27, 2019. One of the passengers, Daniel Laird, was killed. The pilot and the other passenger were injured and transported to a hospital.

Tribute to Daniel Laird

Daniel, was born August 30, 1977 in Yuba City, California, the youngest of four siblings.

Daniel went to school at Grace Christian Academy, then on to Bridge Street School, and graduated from Yuba City High School in 1995. He joined the U.S. Forest Service after high school and worked his way up through the ranks to the position of Helitack Captain on the Tahoe National Forest. Daniel had served 23 years with the Forest Service.

Daniel was an avid fisherman, a staunch supporter of the Sacramento Kings, and a competitive golfer. He was also a Yuba City skateboarding icon. His greatest love and highest priority was always for his family.

Daniel’s complete obituary.

Daniel Laird memorial

Below are excerpts from the 33-page Facilitated Learning Analysis which goes into much more detail than seen here, and includes lessons learned. The excerpts are primarily from the viewpoint of Hailei who was in the front of the Airbus AS350B3 helicopter with Matthew, the pilot. Daniel Laird was in the back operating the Plastic Sphere Dispenser which dropped small spheres that ignite 30 to 45 seconds after being ejected from the machine. This was one of the methods used to ignite the prescribed fire that day, in addition to firefighters on the ground carrying hand-held devices.

It is common in reports like this to not use real names, but the document does not specify if they were changed.

The following events, from the time of the Mayday until the injured were transported to the hospital, occurred within a short amount of time, from 1409 to 1517. Those injured were actually receiving professional medical care on scene within 15 minutes of the Mayday. The excerpt begins at about 1408 just before finishing ignition on the prescribed fire.


Mayday – The On-Site Response

Hailei talked to Daniel and told him to get ready to turn off the Plastic Sphere Dispenser machine after they made the next turn. They were about to button the whole thing up. “We had one little piece we needed to do. We were 99.9 percent done. As soon as we made the turn, that’s when everything just stopped, and went silent,” Hailei recalls.

Hailei continues, “I looked at Matthew but I wish I would have looked back at Dan, too.” Matthew was fighting with the controls. She doesn’t remember doing it at the time, but Hailei asked Matthew, “What is happening?” He was busy with the controls. Hailei had the “push-to-talk” in her right hand. She keyed the mic and tried to say: “Kendall, we are going down.” But the only thing they heard on the radio was: “Kendall, we are going d . . .”

Hailei remembers hitting the tops of pine trees and then coming to. She later recalled, “I think I got knocked out. The last thing I remember, I was thinking of my daughter.”

Texas March 27, 2019 helicopter crash aerial ignitions
The March 27, 2019 incident in Texas. Photo by Sgt. Erik Burse/Texas Department of Public Safety.

Hailei said, “We [the helicopter] slid 50 feet down a live pine tree and rolled over onto our right side. I realized I was alive and then the pain hit. I undid my seatbelt and looked at [pilot] Matthew and saw a tree had come through between his leg and across his chest. I remember standing there and realized Matthew was alive because he was talking. He looked like he was hugging the pine tree. His head was laying on the PSD sphere bag. He said, ‘Help me move this bag.’ It seemed like forever to get the bag loose. As his seatbelt was unbuckled he fell out of the seat, but his foot was lodged. I had to crawl back in and twist his foot to get him loose.”

Hailei told Matthew: “We’ve got to go.”

She recalled seeing fire around them. She explained, “I wanted Matthew to get up but he couldn’t. I wanted him to get up so I could help him walk out. I wanted to get the fire shelters. I started thinking where the fire shelters were and started looking but couldn’t get to them.

Hailei continues, “I remember seeing Dan’s legs and thought ‘Please move your foot.’ But that never happened. I knew in my heart, he was gone. I thought about my training and remembered that fire extinguishers on board the aircraft are for people—not the aircraft. So I found the extinguisher and gave it to Matthew and said: ‘I have to go get help.’ The entire scene was very quiet for what had just happened.”

Hailei wanted her phone so she could call for help but couldn’t find it. Matthew was able to reach in the console and hand her his phone and she called FMO John. At that moment, John Kendall [Fire Management Officer on the Sam Houston National Forests] sees a Portland, Oregon phone number calling his phone. He remembered thinking that he didn’t recognize the number and he was trying to limit the time he was on the phone, but for some reason, he answered it.

It was Hailei on Matthew’s phone.

Hailei screamed for John to come get her. Hailei kept saying that she could not get the fire shelters from the helicopter. John told Hailei to move east away from the fire, but Hailei was unsure of where she was. Fire was spreading all around them. She told John, “We can’t get out of here.” Upon hearing this plural pronoun, John surmised that there must be at least two alive.

Right then, Hailei looked down and her phone was lying in the grass in front of her. She quickly hung-up with John and put the pilot’s cell phone in her pocket. She called her boyfriend with her phone and told him: “My helicopter crashed, I think one of my crew members is dead, please call my daughter. I don’t want her to find out about this on social media or the news.”

Hailei ends the call with her boyfriend, calls John back on her phone, and tells him that she could hear the UTV. He told her to hang up and call Robbie because he was closer to her.

She called [prescribed fire crewmember] Robbie from her cell phone. Robbie picked up the call. Hailei told him she heard the UTV drive past her. She told them to turn around, drive back, and pick her up.

Hailei remembers: “I thought I was going to have to walk through fire but a path opened up.” Robbie recalled seeing her through the fire. She was in an unburned pocket within the burn unit. Hailei recalls: “I got to Robbie who picked me up and carried me to the UTV where I had a meltdown. I then asked Robbie to stay with me.”

Prescribed Fire Crew Member, Brody, ran by. Hailei told him to hurry because fire was coming and she pointed toward the crashed helicopter. He headed that way and was first on scene at the helicopter. Then Jack, the firefighter who was serving as trail guard and weather observer, responded quickly. Robbie told him, “You need to grab a hand tool.” Jack grabbed a hand tool from the UTV and headed into the crash site following Brody’s path.

When Brody found the helicopter he saw pilot Matthew on his hands and knees under the ship. He recalled, “I asked if he was okay and he said ‘yes.’ I asked about Daniel, and the pilot didn’t know his condition. I ran around and looked and noticed the position of Daniel’s body and knew he was pinned. I knew the only way to help was to keep fire away. I helped the pilot up. I knew there was likely to be fuel everywhere, so I went out away from there and began to dig line.”

At about 1421, Jack met up with Brody at the helicopter as Brody was putting in a handline. Jack saw that Matthew was up and walking around. Jack asked Matthew if he could walk out. Matthew didn’t exactly answer his question, but explained that he didn’t have a fire shelter. Jack gave Matthew his fire shelter and said: “If we need to evacuate, I will open-up the fire shelter and we will leave together.”

Jack asked Matthew to “Show me the location of the PSD Operator so I can check him for signs of life.” Matthew pointed in the general direction and replied: “I don’t believe he made it.” He also informed,

“You can’t get to him.” Jack walked in that direction and quickly determined that, because of the helicopter’s position, he couldn’t get to Daniel.

Jack started helping Brody finish the handline and they started lighting a backfire with lighters. Jack was working on the fireline while having an ongoing conversation with Matthew.

Robbie started driving—very carefully—Hailei out on the UTV. She asked, “Where are we going? Robbie replied, “I want to get you a little better help.” She said, “Well, you can go a little faster.”

It took them about 10 minutes to get to the ambulance. While on the UTV, Robbie gently told Hailei that once he got her to the ambulance he would need to go back to help at the crash site. However, at 1426,  once they made it out to the ambulance, FMO John told Robbie to stay with Hailei because there were enough people at the scene and he wanted Hailei to know that she was supported.

Robbie gave Hailei a few minutes to calm down. Hailei called her supervisor, Toby, the Helicopter Program Manager, at 1430. He didn’t know the crash had happened and answered in a calm laidback voice, “What’s going on?” Hailei explained that the helicopter went down. She reported that she was fine and Matthew was fine but that she wasn’t sure about Daniel. She then handed the phone to Robbie. Toby asked Robbie about Daniel. Robbie informed that Daniel was still unconscious. Toby cancelled the scheduled post-burn recon for the Davy Crockett burn, had a conversation with his pilot, and both agreed to fly back to the Angelina airport. Toby then began to make his way to the hospital in Conroe.

At around 1507, Sam called Dispatch to say Hailei was in route to the hospital. Hailei recalls that Robbie rode in the front of the ambulance and it made her feel better to know that he was going with her. She also recalls that the Medic in the back of the ambulance also made her feel calm. She said, “I was mad because they cut my favorite pair of Nomex off me. I told them not to cut off my boots but to unlace them and tuck my socks in them! After all I went through, my concern at the time was that I didn’t want to get stuck by a needle. The Medic said, ‘You won’t even know’—and I didn’t. I was so impressed.”

While on the way to the hospital, the Medic was answering Hailei’s phone calls and responding to texts for her. One of these phone calls was from Hailei’s dad. The Medic was able to reassure and calm him about Hailei’s condition.

Honoring Daniel with the Utmost Respect and Dignity

The Montgomery Fire Department stabilized the helicopter with lifts that they had carried in. Based on their experiences, they had packed in quite a bit of stabilizing equipment. But because of the position of the helicopter, they only needed a few pieces of equipment to secure it.

While waiting for the Justice of the Peace to arrive, they decided that they would not remove Daniel until they were able to honor him with the utmost respect and dignity. A member of the Montgomery Fire Department requested an American flag be brought to the scene. At 1622, the Justice of the Peace confirmed that Daniel had expired.

Bob, the Angelina/Sabine Assistant Fire Management Officer (AFMO), recalls pulling up to the scene when everyone was waiting for Daniel to be brought out. He said, “We got in line and Daniel was brought out wrapped in an American flag. It was something to see.”

Surprisingly, Hailei was released within three hours of arriving at the hospital. Evan continued to stay with Matthew until James arrived late that night.

Conclusions

4 Crashes
16 Years
8 Lives Lost

The helicopter crash on March 27 that claimed Daniel Laird’s life has opened up old wounds from previous helicopter crashes, including: the 2003 space shuttle support crash (two fatalities, Charles Krenek and Buzz Miller); the 2005 Sabine National Forest crash (three fatalities, Jon Greeno, Charles Edger, and Jack Gonzalez); and the 2015 De Soto National Forest crash (two fatalities, Steve Cobb and Brandon Ricks).

There have also been numerous helicopter near-misses that have left a lasting impression on those involved. Some qualified personnel on the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas no longer want to be included in helicopter operations. These realizations have left employees asking large-scale questions about the nature of their work.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Cory. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Holcombe Road Fire burns thousands of acres in Texas

The fire has blackened 18,000 acres in Crockett and Val Verde Counties

Map location Holcomb Road Fire Texas
Map showing the location of the Holcombe Road Fire in Texas at 2:35 p.m. CDT 4-21-2020.

(Originally published at 6:25 p.m. CDT April 21, 2020)

A wildfire 32 miles north of the Rio Grande and 28 miles southwest of Ozona, Texas has burned 18,000 acres.

The Holcombe Road Fire started April 19, 2020 in Crockett County and has since spread into Val Verde County. The suppression of the fire is being led by the Lone Star State Type 3 Incident Management Team, with Incident Commander Shane Crimm in unified command with the two counties.

The prediction Tuesday morning was for active fire behavior, long range spotting, and very high growth potential. Currently, 6 occupied residences and 50 outbuildings are threatened, as well as oil and gas infrastructure.

Resources working the fire on Tuesday included 50 firefighters, 7 dozers, 24 engines and 2 air tankers. One of the air tankers was Tanker 910, a DC-10 that was flying out of and reloading at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Each sortie took about three hours, plus 50 minutes on the ground between the two loads for taxi and reloading. En route to the fire it was flying 450 mph at 11,300 feet, and returning, 400 mph at 16,400 feet.

Air Tanker 910 a DC-10 Holcomb Road
The flight path of Air Tanker 910, a DC-10, working the Holcomb Road Fire in Texas. This was the second load of the day for the aircraft on the fire. The map was current at 6:25 p.m. CDT April 21, 2020.
Holcomb Road Fire. Photo by Texas Forest Service.
Holcomb Road Fire
Holcomb Road Fire. Photo by Texas Forest Service.
Holcomb Road Fire
Holcomb Road Fire. Photo by Texas Forest Service.

NTSB preliminary report on helicopter crash during prescribed fire

Flying low and slow in a single-engine helicopter while igniting fire below the aircraft is obviously very, very dangerous.

map helicopter crash sam houston national forest
Map showing heat in the Sam Houston National Forest detected by a satellite at 2:38 p.m. CDT March 27, 2019. The heat may have been produced by a prescribed fire.

After seeing the wildland firefighter accident and injury stats for 2019 I checked to see if the National Transportation Safety Board had any additional information about the helicopter crash on a prescribed fire in Texas March 27, 2019 that resulted in one fatality and two people with injuries. Here is an excerpt from their preliminary report:

On March 27, 2019, about 1435 central daylight time, an Airbus AS350B3 helicopter, N818MC, was substantially damaged when it collided with trees and terrain following a loss of engine power near Montgomery, Texas. The commercial rated pilot was seriously injured, one Forest Service crew member was fatally injured, and another crew member sustained minor injuries. The helicopter was owned by Mountain Air Helicopters, Inc and operated by the United States Forest Service (USFS) as a public use helicopter. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight which operated without a flight plan.

The helicopter and crew were conducting plastic sphere dispenser (PSD) applications in support of controlled fire operations in an area of the Sam Houston National Forest. Initial information provided by the pilot and surviving crew member report that after completing the application, the helicopter began flying back to the helicopter’s staging area when the engine lost complete power. The helicopter descended into trees and subsequently impacted terrain, coming to rest on its right side. One crew member and the pilot were able to exit the helicopter, however one of the crew members was partially ejected from the helicopter and sustained fatal injuries.

One of the firefighters was deceased on scene. The pilot and a second firefighter were transported to a hospital after rescuers extricated them from the wreckage using jaws and air bags.

Texas March 27, 2019 helicopter crash aerial ignitions
The March 27, 2019 incident in Texas. Photo by Sgt. Erik Burse/Texas Department of Public Safety.

It could be another six months or so before the final report is released.

The prescribed fire was in the Sam Houston National Forest about 30 miles southeast of College Station, Texas south of Highway 149.

In 2015 two were killed in Mississippi under similar circumstances on a prescribed fire when engine failure brought down a helicopter conducting aerial ignition operations. A third person suffered serious injuries.

Flying low and slow in a single-engine helicopter while igniting fire below the aircraft is obviously very, very dangerous. These three fatalities offer very compelling justification for using drones for aerial ignition instead of manned aircraft.

march 30, 2015 helicopter crash Mississippi aerial ignitions
The helicopter involved in the March 30, 2015 incident in Mississippi, N50KH, is shown with doors removed and Pilot and PSD operator positions visible.

Below is an excerpt from the final NTSB report for the 2015 crash in Mississippi (Accident #ERA15FA173:


Analysis
The purpose of the flight was to assist in the scheduled burn of an 800-acre wooded area. The helicopter was under contract with the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service. A Forest Service employee reported that, as the helicopter neared the conclusion of a 61-minute controlled burn mission, he observed it complete a turn to a northerly heading at the southwestern end of the burn area. About 7 seconds later, he heard a sound that resembled an air hose being unplugged from a pressurized air tank. A crewmember, who was the sole survivor, reported that the helicopter was about 20 ft above the tree canopy when the pilot announced that the helicopter had lost power. The helicopter then descended into a group of 80-ft-tall trees in a nose-high attitude and impacted terrain. Witnesses participating in the controlled burn at the time of the accident did not observe any other anomalies with the helicopter before the accident.

The fuel system, fuel pump, and fuel control unit were destroyed by fire, which precluded a complete examination. During the engine examination, light rotational scoring was found in the turbine assembly, consistent with light rotation at impact; however, neither the turbine rotation speed nor the amount of engine power at the time of the accident could be determined. The rotor blade damage and drive shaft rotation signatures indicated that the rotor blades were not under power at the time of the accident. An examination of the helicopter’s air tubes revealed that they were impact-damaged; however, they appeared to be secure and properly seated at their fore and aft ends.

On the morning of the accident flight, the helicopter departed on a reconnaissance flight with 600 lbs of JP-5 fuel. The helicopter returned with sufficient fuel for about 133 minutes of flight, and the helicopter was subsequently serviced with an unknown quantity of uncontaminated fuel for the subsequent 60-minute accident flight. Based on the density altitude, temperature, and airplane total weight at the time of the accident, the helicopter was operating within the airplane flight manual’s performance limitations.

Most of the cockpit control assemblies were consumed by fire except for the throttle, which was found in the “idle” position. Given the crewmember’s report that, after the engine failure, the helicopter entered and maintained a nose-high attitude until it impacted trees and then the ground, it is likely that the pilot initiated an autorotation in accordance with the Pilot’s Operating Handbook engine failure and autorotation procedures. A review of the pilot’s records revealed that he passed the autorotation emergency procedure portion of his most recent Federal Aviation Administration Part 135 examination, which occurred 1 month before the accident, and this may have aided in his recognition of the engine failure and decision to initiate an emergency descent.

Although a weather study indicated that smoke and particulates were present in the area before, during, and after the accident, witnesses reported an absence of smoke near the area where the helicopter lost power and impacted the ground.

Probable Cause and Findings
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
A loss of engine power for reasons that could not be determined due to postaccident fire damage.

Technology may detect some power line faults before they ignite wildfires

A new system being tested seeks to provide continuous situational awareness of the condition of each circuit

Vegetation power line cause faults fires electrically
Vegetation can cause faults and fires electrically. Distribution Fault Anticipation can detect this type of vegetation fault before the dangerous situation escalates. (Texas A&M Engineering)

Technology recently developed can shut off the power to a broken overhead electrical line before it hits the ground, possibly avoiding the ignition of a disastrous wildfire. But not all of the numerous large fires started by power lines in California were caused by broken conductors. Often they originate from failing hardware, two wires blown by the wind briefly touching, or a tree limb coming in contact with a line. These situations do not always start a fire when they first occur, but over time can become more serious problems.

A team of Texas A&M researchers has developed a new technology that helps electrical providers find the cause of outages, and anticipate and predict some failures before outages occur. A few utility companies in Texas started using it a few years ago and tests in California by PG&E and Southern California Edison have just begun.

From Texas A&M:


When your power goes out, you probably assume that your utility provider has a monitoring system quickly telling them exactly where the problem is. After all, this is the era of smart technology and big data.

But the electric grid wasn’t designed or built in this era. Utility companies may know if there is an outage, but they likely don’t know exactly where or what the problem is until crews inspect it and find the problem. Utility providers are essentially blind to developing problems in the grid other than whether the power is on or off.

Not only is their ability to assess a current outage limited, they also have no way of identifying a problem that may not actually be causing an outage or anticipating where a problem may occur in the future. For example, a failing device could be sparking, creating a dangerous situation that nobody is aware of for days or weeks before it completely fails and causes an outage.

But, not anymore.

Applying concepts of pattern recognition and advanced signal processing to more than a decade of data, a team of Texas A&M University researchers has developed a new technology called Distribution Fault Anticipation (DFA).  It has the capability to not only help utility providers find the cause of outages, but to also anticipate and predict some failures before outages occur. (Their published research, Application of DFA Technology for Improved Reliability and Operations, was presented at the 2017 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Rural Electric Power Conference in Columbus, Ohio.)

“Power distribution system electrical signals include specific failure signatures, which tell a story — for instance whether potential faults and outages are about to occur,” said Dr. B. Don Russell, a power engineer and the Engineering Research Chair Professor and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M.

An entirely new technology
Simply put, they’ve been ‘listening’ to the electric grid for more than a decade to analyze signals and identify which ones indicate a potential problem. Conceptually, it is not much different from an auto mechanic who can hear a problem in an old engine and know exactly what is causing it. Practically, however, this is an entirely new technology.

“A practical benefit of using DFA is the ability to detect and repair arcing and misoperating devices that often cause wildfires. In a four-year study just completed at Texas A&M, it has been proven that many fires can be prevented with this technology,” Russell said.

The Texas A&M research team led by Russell includes Carl Benner, Jeff Wischkaemper and Karthick Manivannan. Their research, sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute, developed the DFA technology. It is an autonomous, distributed computing system that provides electric utility operators a continuous situational awareness of the condition of each circuit. The result is increased reliability of their network and reduced outages. It enables the utility operator to predict adverse power line conditions and events generally not detected by conventional technologies.

“DFA recognizes the impending failure mechanisms of most distribution hardware, often allowing operators to find and fix failing devices before catastrophic failure,” said Russell. “The devices report line events to a master station server, which provides access to reports from a fleet of DFA devices on circuits across the power system.”

An obvious example of the benefits from this technology is wildfire prevention. High winds can cause electric lines to contact, causing arcing on the line and damaging it, but not causing a complete outage. The sparks from these faults have been known to start wildfires, especially during dry conditions and often without the knowledge of utility personnel. Repeated contact can burn the line down. DFA has also helped utilities detect and locate tree branches making contact with power lines and causing faults, which can start fires directly or break a line and cause it to fall to the ground.

An example of this situation was the devastating fire of 2011 in Bastrop, Texas, where a true worst-case scenario unfolded when high winds and severe drought conditions caused the most damaging wildfire in Texas history. Many wildfires in the western United States last year were also linked to electric faults.

Russell explained that awareness of adverse events and conditions, even before they cause a failure, enables utility companies to take preventive action by performing repairs or condition-based maintenance. The DFA technology is a result of more than 15 years of continuous research collaboration, resulting in the only system of its kind.

“A practical benefit of using DFA is the ability to detect and repair arcing and misoperating devices that often cause wildfires,” said Russell. “In a four-year study just completed at Texas A&M, it has been proven that many fires can be prevented with this technology. Whether preventing wildfires or dangerous power lines on the ground, DFA is the new tool that improves reliability and safety.”

Industry tested
This technology is not just lab tested, it is field proven as well.

Robert Peterson, director of control center and emergency preparedness at Pedernales Electric Cooperative, the nation’s largest distribution electric cooperative, said DFA has been invaluable in providing information that is not available any other way.

“DFA has enabled us to identify potential issues like trees on lines, failing clamps, failing arrestors, etc. and resolve those issues before they create power interruptions,” he said. “In one case, we were able to pinpoint the location of a branch on an overhead line that could have become an ignition source for wildfire in a rural subdivision. We have also used the monitors to provide information allowing us to proactively address issues with capacitor switches in order to keep our power factor within regulatory prescribed limits. Overall, the technology has proven itself to the extent that our plans now include expanding their use to the rest of our distribution system.”

Dr. Comfort Manyame, senior manager of research and technical strategy, and Robert Taylor, engineering specialist, at Mid-South Synergy were also complimentary of the technology. Taylor said, “It makes me wonder what we did before DFA,” while Manyame said they are hoping to expand their use of DFA in the coming years.

“DFA has so far been the single most important operational technology we have implemented which has given us wins in the shortest amount of time,” Manyame said. “We want to multiply our DFA benefits and improve our overall system reliability and resilience by expanding our installation, possibly to our whole system, in the next few years.”

Thomas Ellis, manager of engineering at Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, said that their control center operators have used DFA information to accurately determine the cause and location of multiple faults, including a fault that affected just one single customer on a stretch of circuit with more than 160 miles of overhead line.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to MrCAPT1409. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Texas Forest Service employe earns prestigious Bronze Smokey Bear Award

Bronze Smokey Bear Award
Texas A&M Forest Service Wildland Urban Interface Specialist Samuel McCalip, a self-taught videographer, was honored with the prestigious Bronze Smokey Bear Award by the US Forest Service September 27, 2019.

A Texas A&M Forest Service employee was honored with the prestigious Bronze Smokey Bear Award during today’s National Association of State Foresters Annual Meeting in Asheville, North Carolina.

Wildland Urban Interface Specialist Samuel McCalip, a self-taught videographer, has harnessed the power of storytelling to bring wildfire prevention awareness across the state.

“As a forester, wildland firefighter, public information officer and prevention team member, Samuel has combined his love of forestry and ecosystems, desire to protect natural resources and skill for educating the public,” said Texas A&M Forest Service Program Leader Karen Stafford. “In a matter of months, McCalip taught himself how to produce high-quality videos to help reach the citizens of Texas.”

Texas A&M Forest Service first utilized McCalip’s videos to increase awareness of wildfire prevention practices when wildfires burned in the Panhandle in 2017.

The following year, McCalip’s video “Dragging Chains,” a PSA meant to educate the public about the risk of causing sparks when dragging chains from a vehicle, was the foundation of the “Do Your Part, Don’t Let a Wildfire Start” series.

“Samuel has taken his skills behind the camera and his passion for prevention and mitigation and combined them into a very unique and effective tool for spreading Smokey’s prevention message,” Texas State Forester Tom Boggus said. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”

Since then, McCalip has produced several informational, educational and promotional videos for the agency and hosted multiple video production training sessions for other Texas A&M Forest Service departments to build the agency’s capacity.

“Samuel’s creativity and innovation has sparked those around him to come up with ideas to improve effectiveness and efficiency in delivering core agency messaging,” Stafford said. “He’s turned his passion for wildfire prevention into art.”

Across the nation, only 10 recipients are presented the Bronze Smokey Bear Award each year.

Visit https://bit.ly/2mGIqpE to watch McCalip’s latest video about Texas A&M Forest Service’s Texas Ranch Wildfire Program.

Visit https://bit.ly/2ndyPHv to watch McCalip’s “Dragging Chains” video.


From Texas A&M Forest Service

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].”