Report issued for water tender rollover in Northern California

Mendocino National Forest, September 27, 2020

Water Tender rollover
The water tender after the rollover. September 27, 2020. IMT photo.

This is the 66th article on Wildfire Today about rollovers of wildland fire vehicles. But, it is the first we have heard about in 2020.

From the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center:

At approximately 0755 hours on September 27th, August Complex South Zone communications was notified of a Water Tender accident via radio by another Water Tender Operator who was also working in the area.

The Water Tender involved in the accident was full with approximately 4,000 gallons of water being utilized for road dust abatement.

Before experiencing radio challenges, the first Water Tender on scene was able to notify communications that there had been an accident and the Water Tender Operator had an injury to the shoulder, back and neck.

It is unknown if the driver was ejected from the vehicle during the accident, but the first water tender on scene did observe the driver climbing out from underneath the front bumper area of the wreckage.

Due to the accident’s location and lack of clarity of the nature of the accident/injuries, the Incident Management Team started a Life Flight response per the Medical and Incident Within an Incident (IWI) Plan. Upon activating the local Life Flight care provider, it was determined that the closest two helicopters were unavailable due to maintenance issues, leaving the third option of an ETA of 35 minutes. The decision was made to utilize the exclusive use Helicopter 514, staffed with an EMT, to transport the paitient with a 10 minute ETA.

A Safety Officer assigned to the incident arrived on scene, provided a size-up of the incident and assumed command of the IWI. When units arrived on scene, the Water Tender was upright, resting on its wheels against a tree with its tank separated from the chassis.

The area of the accident had a suitable landing spot. The patient was loaded into the helicopter and taken to the local trauma center for evaluation.

Water Tender rollover
Photo shows the divot in the road created by the upper passenger corner of the Water Tender’s tank during the rollover. September 27, 2020. IMT photo.


  • Always take the time to put on your seatbelt. This should be a given because it is a state law, but in a rush to accomplish a task or when a task is short duration, clicking a seatbelt can get skipped. A properly worn seatbelt can reduce injuries during an unintended outcome.
  • It is critical for any vehicle operator to keep vehicles at a reduced speed to the extent possible while vehicles are under heavy load driving on surfaces with increased stopping distances.
  • Beware of soft shoulders, narrow sections, blind corners, compromised visibility, and distractions— any combination of these conditions is especially dangerous.
  • Given the frequency with which water tenders roll on wildland fires, be very judicious about assigning work for tenders. Always ask: “Is this mission necessary?”

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has reports for 13 Water Tender Rollovers from 2015 to 2020.

Report released for rescue and extraction of water tender rollover victim

It happened on the Cougar Creek fire in Washington

water tender fire rollover wildfire
A total of 30 people—using a combination of standard carry and caterpillar carry, depending on the incline—transported Robert from the accident site down to the road via the pathway that the Type 2 Hand Crew constructed, where an ambulance was waiting. From the report.

A report has been released for what turned out to be a difficult and complex rescue after a water tender rolled 150-feet down a slope. It occurred August 18, 2018 on the Cougar Creek Fire outside of Leavenworth, Washington. The steepness and heavy vegetation slowed efforts to extract and transport the 300-pound truck driver but in spite of the challenges the person identified as “Robert” in the report arrived at a Life Flight helicopter about 2 hours and 20 minutes after the first 911 call.

water tender fire rollover wildfire
The pink flagging marks where Robert’s Water Tender slid off the road and rolled down the hill. From the report.

A system of ropes was necessary in order for personnel to access the victim from the top side, but the report heaps a great deal of praise on a Type 2 hand crew that from a lower road…

“…cut a highway through the forest in a matter of minutes.” In fact, the [Division Supervisor] later recalled that the crew was so fast and so efficient that they cleared the path in front of the Medics who were arriving from the bottom. These Medics coming up from the bottom were able to maintain a “comfortable walking pace” behind the crew as they worked.

The timber canopy virtually eliminated the possibility of extraction by a helicopter with hoist or short haul capabilities. Plus, there was a three-hour ETA for the helicopter.

The 30 people on scene carried the victim in a Stokes basket down the steep slope to a waiting ambulance below, using a standard carry and caterpillar (or conveyor belt) system depending on the incline.

water tender fire rollover wildfire

A section in the report section titled “Drills Work!” included this:

Last year, a Montana Incident Management Team put the Type 2 Crew (who cut the access line up to the accident site on this incident) through a drill that taught them how to use the caterpillar system and polished their cutting skills. This crew’s members said specifically that the reason they were so successful on this incident was because of this earlier drill that they had experienced in Montana.

NIFC produced a video about the management of a serious injury complicated by a helicopter incident that occurred on the Deer Park Fire on the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho in 2013. In the video, which can be seen in the Wildfire Today article about the incident, you can see a description of the conveyor belt technique for moving a stokes basket in rocky or steep terrain. It begins at 5:25 in the video.

The entire 11-page report about the August 18, 2018 accident on the Cougar Creek Fire can be downloaded HERE (1.4 MB).

Water tender rollover on the South Umpqua Complex

It occurred July 26, 2018

In searching for a report about the rollover of a dozer transport, I ran across this very brief “24-hour preliminary report” about a water tender rollover. It occurred July 26, 2018 on the South Umpqua Complex on the “Umpqua National Forest and Medford BLM”. There is no indication that a Rapid Lesson Sharing report is being prepared.

Below is the text from the report, dated July 27, 2018:

Location: South Umpqua Complex, Umpqua National Forest and Medford BLM
Date of Occurrence: July 26, 2018
Time of Occurrence: Approximately 2400
Activity: Wildland Fire Suppression
Number of Injuries: 0
Number of Fatalities: 0
Property Damage: damage to non-federal contract operated water tender
Narrative: A water tender assigned to the South Umpqua Complex Fire was traveling on an unpaved road and rolled backwards off the road resulting in the vehicle rolling on its side. The vehicle came to a rest on the driver’s side. There was only one crew member, that individual was transported back to base camp. There were no injuries.