Cause of death and plans for final arrangements released for firefighter killed in California

Dave Ruhl
Dave Ruhl. USFS photo.

The cause of death of the firefighter who was killed July 30 while fighting the Frog Fire in northern California was released today. The U.S. Forest Service said the autopsy that began August 4 determined that David (Dave) Ruhl’s death was attributed to “carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation.”

Mr. Ruhl went missing the evening of July 30 while engaged in initial attack on the Frog Fire, which was reported at approximately 5:45 p.m. on July 30 in a very remote area of the Modoc National Forest 46 air miles east of Mt. Shasta, California.

The Modoc County Sheriff’s Office was called for assistance. Search and rescue personnel started the initial search at approximately 8 p.m. It continued until about midnight when it was halted because of hazardous fire conditions. Efforts began again at 6 a.m. July 31 and Mr. Ruhl’s body was discovered at 9:17 a.m.

A National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team, with Incident Commander Bob Housman, is managing the aftermath of the fatality, while Norcal Team #1 with Incident Commander Jay Kurth is running the Frog Fire, which has now grown to 4,745 acres and has 523 personnel assigned.

Before Tuesday afternoon, the USFS released very little information about the fatality, and would not divulge if it was caused by a burnover, vehicle accident, lightning, or something else. A 72-hour preliminary report about the accident that was also released today further explained that while Mr. Ruhl was scouting the fire on foot during initial attack, he “was entrapped and killed.”

The fatality is currently being investigated by OSHA, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Agriculture, the County Sheriff, and a Coordinated Response Protocol (CRP) team. According to Safety Matters the CRP team is led by Mike Dudley, who also served as secondary team leader for the Serious Accident Investigation Team for the Yarnell Hill Fire and the deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2013.

Mr. Ruhl had been on a temporary detail since June 14 as an Assistant Fire Management Officer on the Modoc NF. His regular job was Engine Captain on the Black Hills National Forest in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Mr. Ruhl, 38 years old, began his Forest Service career in 2001 as a seasonal forestry technician. Previously, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard and as a correctional officer with the state of South Dakota. He lived in Rapid City with his wife and two children.

Dave Ruhl family
Dave Ruhl, his children Tyler and Ava, and wife Erin. Photo by Erin Ruhl. Used with permission.

Shalista Anderson, who has been a friend of Mr. Ruhl’s wife, Erin, for over 20 years, set up a GoFundMe account to support Erin and their two children, Tyler and Ava. Ms. Anderson told us that “Erin will have control over all funds and they will be deposited directly into her account.”

The goal of the effort is to raise $20,000, but I hope we can do a lot better than that.

Some of the final arrangements have been made.

Procession in California: In a procession from Mt. Shasta to Redding, California on Thursday, August 6, Mr. Ruhl will be accompanied by engines from the Modoc National Forest and will be joined by other fire departments during portions of the journey. The procession will depart from Mt. Shasta Memorial Chapel at 8 a.m. and will proceed along Interstate 5 and Hwy. 44 to the northern California Geographic Area Coordination Center in Redding. Mr. Ruhl will rejoin his family in a private setting at the center.

Procession in Rapid City, South Dakota: On  Sunday, August 9, a procession will begin at 1 p.m. from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 520 Cathedral Drive in Rapid City (map) to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center (map). The route will go north along 5th Street and conclude in the west parking lot of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Memorial Service: Visitation will be at 2 p.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, 444 Mt. Rushmore Rd., Rapid City, followed by a memorial service that will begin at 3 p.m.

Funeral: Mr. Ruhl’s funeral will be held Monday, August 10, at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Dave Ruhl services