Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE 98-F30, 1999 Mar; :1-7
On October 28, 1998, a 40-year-old male Forest Ranger II (the victim), died after receiving second- and third-degree burns on September 9, 1998, while he was operating a crawler tractor (bulldozer). The victim was clearing vegetation at a wildland fire site consisting of 285 acres of thick natural regeneration pine trees approximately 25 feet high when the incident occurred. The victim was operating a John Deere 450 bulldozer with a V-blade in front and a plow in the rear. The victim's bulldozer was third in line of the four machines. As the four bulldozers were clearing the line, staying approximately 60 to 70 yards apart, except for the lead bulldozer which was more than 200 yards ahead, the second bulldozer operator noticed the winds shifting and rapid fire movement coming toward the bulldozers. He advanced his bulldozer forward to a safe area while trying to communicate by radio to the other bulldozer operators to immediately leave the area. His radio communication did not succeed because of weak radio batteries which caused the radio to switch channels erratically. After adjusting his radio, he again attempted to notify the other machine operators in the area, but was unsuccessful due to the loud noise from the bulldozers. Finally, he successfully made communication with air attack and told them to have the remaining bulldozer operators immediately leave the area due to changing winds. Within a few seconds, the fire grew in intensity. At that time, the victim put his bulldozer in reverse and traveled about 10 to 15 feet backward when the V-blade in front of the bulldozer became lodged on an eight-inch diameter tree. Since he could not move his bulldozer away from the advancing heat/fire, he exited the left side of the cab of the bulldozer and ran away from the direction of the intense heat and fire. The victim walked a short distance until he was seen by another Ranger who assisted him approximately one-quarter of a mile to the main road. First aid was administered and he was transported to the local hospital by an ambulance on the fire scene. The victim had received second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body and was later transported to the burn unit at a children's hospital where he underwent surgeries and skin grafts. After 7 weeks of hospitalization, the victim died. NIOSH investigators conclude that, to prevent similar occurrences, the Forestry Commission and fire departments engaged in wildland fire fighting should: Ensure all radio equipment is functional and durable, with the capacity for extended operation, and ensure frequency compatibility with contractors and aircraft operations. Configure bulldozer operator radio systems to allow full reception of transmissions in a high-noise environment while operating machinery. Provide wildland personal protective equipment (PPE) that is NFPA 1997 compliant, and monitor to ensure its use. Conduct annual fire shelter refresher training for all personnel and ensure shelters are readily available for all bulldozer operators. Implement the Incident Command System (ICS) for the management of all fires and establish an Incident Command Post (ICP) as needed to facilitate command and control, especially on complex fires involving multiple agencies. Utilize National Weather Service (NWS) Fire WX Forecasters for all fire weather predictions and immediately share all information about significant fire behavior events with all personnel (e.g., long-range spotting, torching, spotting, and fire whirls).