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 F2003-36, 2005 Jul; 1-23
On October 29, 2003, a 38-year-old male career fire fighter (the victim) was killed and a 48-year-old male career Captain was severely injured when fire overran their position. The incident occurred during the protection of a residential structure during a wildland fire operation that eventually consumed more than 280,000 acres. The victim and his crew were part of a task force assigned to protect a number of residential structures located along a ridge on the flank of the fire. The victim's crew was in the process of preparing to defend the structure when the fire made a slope and wind-driven run through heavy brush directly toward their position. The crew retreated to the residential structure to seek refuge from the oncoming fire. Two of the four crew members were able to get into the structure while the Captain was attempting to assist the victim as the fire reached their position. The victim died near the structure and the Captain, who was seriously burned, had to be assisted into the structure by the other crew members. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments and fire service agencies should: 1. ensure that the authority to conduct firing out or burning out operations is clearly defined in the standard operating procedure (SOP) or incident action plan (IAP) and is closely coordinated with all supervisors, command staff and adjacent ground forces; 2. ensure that all resources, especially those operating at or near the head of the fire, are provided with current and anticipated weather information; 3. stress the importance of utilizing LCES (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes and Safety Zones) to help identify specific trigger points (e.g., extreme fire behavior, changes in weather, location of fire on the ground, etc) that indicate the need for a crew to use their escape route(s), and/or seek refuge in a designated safety zone; 4. ensure that, at a minimum, high-risk geographic areas are identified (e.g.; topography, fuels, property, etc.) as part of the pre-planning process and provide this information to assigned crews; 5. ensure that incident command system (ICS) span-of-control recommendations are maintained; and, 6. consider the implementation of a carbon monoxide-based monitoring program for wildland fire fighters. Additionally, 1. State agencies, local municipalities and community organizations should consider developing statewide guidelines and local community plans for managing fuels in the wildland/urban interface; 2. Fire departments and fire service agencies should provide members with annual medical evaluations consistent with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments; and, 3. Standard setting bodies (e.g., NFPA, NWCG, etc.) should consider developing a national standard that fire fighters can utilize during wildfire incidents for identifying and marking wildland/urban interface properties based on the ability to defend the structure(s) located on that property.