Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Day 3: Learning from the Nuttall Fire Shelter Deployment - 10 Years Ago Today

Day 3


On July 2, 2004, Coronado National Forest, a firing group, consisting of four Hotshot crews, two medics and a Firing Group Supervisor, was assigned to Division E to contain a 7 acre slop-over which occurred above H4 and to assess firing needs between the slop-over and H4 . A portion of DIV E had been fired the previous evening and DIV E resources worked late the previous night and were required to mitigate work/rest on the morning of July 2. The two firing group medics were staged on the upper end of the line close to DP 20 rather than committing them down the steep line. That morning, two helitack crew members were inserted, by helicopter, on H4 without the knowledge of either the Firing Group Supervisor or the DIV E Supervisor.

The incident structure protection group which was installing hoselays in support of slop-over containment, as well as Plumas and Lassen IHC’s which were working the upper end of the slop-over, were directed to hike out based on observations of significant increases in fire activity and intensity.

After mitigating work/rest and participating in a 10 AM briefing, the DIV E Supervisor, DIV E medics, Safety Officer, and the Superintendent from the Mt. Taylor IHC began hiking down the DIV E line toward H4. All other crews assigned to the division remained at DP20 while DIV E Supervisor tied in with Firing Group Supervisor at a lookout point above H4.

Flagstaff and Augusta IHC’s moved out to the main line after completing the slop-over handline, preparing to burn the main line down to H4. When a downhill crown run into the drainage below H4 was reported by the Flagstaff IHC Captain, both crews were directed to immediately make their way to H4. Within minutes, the fire made a rapid uphill run to H4 which cut off the two crews from H4. They reversed course, moving upslope back into the slopover. During the hike back to the slop-over, a member of the Flagstaff IHC became incapacitated from a heat stress-related illness and was evacuated to the slopover by members of the Flagstaff and Augusta IHC’s.

Members of Flagstaff IHC at H4 fired all vegetation around the helispot. There were 13 firefighters on the helispot at the time the fire made its first run at H4. The Firing Group Supervisor could not make contact with Augusta and used a trail on the lee-side of the ridge (short-cut trail) to access the slop-over from H4. Upon meeting the crews in the slop-over he was informed of the crewmember injury and the inability to move the individual through the black up to DP 20 due to the steepness of the slope. Remaining pockets of receptive
fuel around the slop-over were burned.

Based on ember/ash fallout and heavy acrid smoke conditions –the Flagstaff Superintendent ordered the other 11 individuals including the 2 helitack crewmembers at H4 to deploy their shelters while he ensured everyone remained in place. None of the 12 firefighters sustained injury.

Once the heat dissipated enough, the Firing Group Supervisor hiked to H4 and then returned to the aspen grove with the paramedic assigned to DIV E and the Division E Supervisor, who was also a paramedic. At the aspen grove the ill crewmember received ALS treatment for heat exhaustion and once Plumas IHC cleared the trail from below DP 20 down to the aspen grove the crewmember was carried via stokes litter to DP20 and transferred to a waiting ambulance.

Discussion Topics
  • The South Canyon, Cramer and Nuttall fires all involved helitack personnel deploying shelters at or near their Helispot. What information do you need prior to being inserted into a remote helispot? What questions may be deferred until landing at the helispot? Should the helicopter ever be considered the “E” in LCES? 
  • Helitack are often inserted onto helispots during suppression activities to support logistical missions. What are the communication responsibilities between fireline supervision and helitack? Where should they be shown on an Incident Action Plan? Do they report to the Division Supervisor or Air Support? 
  • On July 2, the Firing Group Supervisor staged his medics because of terrain and fitness concerns; the DIV E supervisor brought his medics down to H4 to support the evening burn operation planned from H4 to H5. Because of their physical fitness level, the DIV E medics could not be sent back up the escape route at the same time as Plumas and Lassen which added two inexperienced people at H4. The medics, however, played a critical role in stabilizing the injured IHC crewmember and provided ALS treatment promptly. Do you have a plan and the equipment to provide ALS treatment and extract the patient to an ambulance when aircraft cannot be used? What are your units SOP/Rules of Engagement for medical treatment and emergency transportation? 
Read the Nuttall Comples Fire Shelter Deployment Review.

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