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Forest Fire Service Fire Fighter Monitoring Prescribed Burn from Roadway is Struck and Killed When Smoke Obscures Visibility Following a Wind Shift – New Jersey

FF ShieldDeath in the Line of Duty…A summary of a NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation

F2013-06 Date Released: April 1, 2014

Executive Summary

During a prescribed burn on March 28, 2013, a 35-year-old male state forest fire service hourly fire fighter (the victim) lost his life after being struck by a motorist. The victim, working alone but in close proximity to his other crew members, was monitoring a prescribed burn from an adjacent roadway while in his state forest fire service vehicle. For an unknown reason, the victim, exited this vehicle and walked onto the roadway. Even though signs had been placed to warn motorists approaching from different directions of an ongoing prescribed burn, the victim was struck by a passing motorist because smoke from the prescribed burn had obscured visibility. Lifesaving measures were immediately started and the victim was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Aerial View

Aerial view of section of roadway where incident occurred.
(Adapted from Google Earth® satellite image.)


Contributing Factors

  • Victim working in unprotected travel lane
  • Inconspicuousness of the victim
  • Smoke-obscured roadway
  • Shifting winds in the burn area

Key Recommendations

  • Forest fire services should ensure that personnel receive proper training and have sufficient equipment and that appropriate procedures are in place for operating on or near roadways
  • Forest fire services should ensure that safety circulars or standard operating procedures providing guidance on identifying and the importance of remaining in a safe location while working in or near moving traffic are implemented and enforced
  • Forest fire services should establish pre-incident plans and agreements regarding traffic control incident management with local fire departments, EMS, law enforcement, local or state departments of highways, and other public and private sector responders
  • Local, state, and federal department of highways should evaluate different types of media to ensure that motorists have ample warning of roadway hazards while operating a motor vehicle, especially when approaching and driving through a traffic incident management area, so that they avoid striking emergency responders, other vehicles, and/or traffic control devices.


Read the full report

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. In 1998, Congress appropriated funds to NIOSH to conduct a fire fighter initiative that resulted in the NIOSH “Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program” which examines line-of-duty-deaths or on duty deaths of fire fighters to assist fire departments, fire fighters, the fire service and others to prevent similar fire fighter deaths in the future. The agency does not enforce compliance with State or Federal occupational safety and health standards and does not determine fault or assign blame. Participation of fire departments and individuals in NIOSH investigations is voluntary. Under its program, NIOSH investigators interview persons with knowledge of the incident who agree to be interviewed and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the death(s). Interviewees are not asked to sign sworn statements and interviews are not recorded. The agency’s reports do not name the victim, the fire department or those interviewed. The NIOSH report’s summary of the conditions and circumstances surrounding the fatality is intended to provide context to the agency’s recommendations and is not intended to be definitive for purposes of determining any claim or benefit.

For further information, visit the program Web site at or call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).