Three smokejumper injuries, one serious

Early last week two Missoula smokejumpers suffered minor injures during training jumps. But a much more serious injury occurred in April when a BLM jumper experienced a hard landing. Below is an excerpt from the accident report:

At 1158 on April 15, 2015 an accident occurred during a BLM smokejumper parachute training mission south of Boise, Idaho. The accident occurred when the smokejumper involved landed in strong winds while his main canopy was misaligned with the wind line. The misalignment caused the smokejumper to experience a hard landing, characterized by a substantial lateral and backwards movement at his point of contact with the ground. The smokejumper sustained a broken right humerus, dislocated right shoulder, with structural damage to the right shoulder, and a fractured rib upon landing. The injury occurred at Blacks Creek practice jumpspot. The injured jumper was given initial treatment on scene by Great Basin Smokejumper EMTs and transported to St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise, Idaho, by St. Lukes #1 Life Flight for further treatment.

Deviation from policy may have saved firefighter’s life

Freezeout Ridge Fire
Freezeout Ridge Fire, September 21, 2014. InciWeb photo.

Managers on the Freezeout Ridge Fire in Idaho made a conscious decision on September 21 to deviate from aviation policy in order to potentially save the life of a very seriously injured firefighter. The individual was knocked unconscious by a falling snag and suffered from severe head injuries including a skull fracture, broken jaw, lacerations to the face and head, two broken arms, dislocated thumb, and minor burns.

The aircraft, (Aerospatiale AS350B3) and pilot designated as the medivac helicopter were carded for short-haul operations, however, due to the lack of Department of Interior crew members the ship was not officially short-haul capable at the time. With sunset approaching, the decision was made to long-line the patient to a helispot where he could be transferred to the interior of a helicopter and from there transported to the helibase, and then via air ambulance to the hospital.

Because of the deviation from policy, a Safecom was filed:

Narrative:
At 1845 while assisting a communications tech in setting up a remote command repeater I was the helicopter manager and overheard a call to Air Attack from Div Y to advise him that a firefighter had been struck by a snag. It was identified as a serious accident with life threatening injuries. We were assigned as the medevac aircraft for the incident. Our pilot and aircraft are carded for short-haul operations, however, due to the lack of DOI crew members we were not short-haul capable at the time.

The communication tech and I began moving towards the aircraft in case we were needed. Air Attack was unable to fill an order for an extraction helicopter locally in the time frame needed, therefore we were asked to assist with the medevac. At approximately 1855 we departed the repeater site and flew to the helibase. The patient update that was relayed from the accident site was that the patient was unconscious, but breathing, and needed immediate extraction.

At 1915 we landed at the helibase to reconfigure the aircraft for a medevac and to pick up the paramedic to take with us to the accident site. The Type 1 crew with the injured crewmember began to construct a helispot immediately after the accident and Div Y informed Air Attack that the helispot was close to being finished around 1930. After a recon and a thorough risk assessment by the pilot and helicopter manager it was determined that the spot was too dangerous for landing due to snags and logs in the LZ.

The pilot and manager agreed that the only way to get the patient to definitive care before nightfall was to long line the patient to H2 and then load the patient internally to be transported to the Helibase to meet an air ambulance. We landed at H2 at approximately 1950 and configured for a long line mission, the patient was packaged in a TRS {Traverse Rescue Stretcher} with the extraction four point harness.

Personnel at the accident site had been trained and were familiar with how to rig the TRS for helicopter extraction. The aircraft lifted with a 150 ft long line and remote hook to be received by Div Y to be hooked up to the TRS with the patient. The accident location and the helispot were located 1/4 mile apart with several hundred feet of elevation gain in steep rugged terrain. The pilot lifted the patient and flew back to H2 to be received by the helicopter manager and paramedic. Due to limited daylight {“Pumpkin time“ was 2013} the patient was loaded internally immediately and flown to Helibase. We landed at 2012 and the patient was attended to by numerous EMTs and Paramedics until the air ambulance arrived at 2028. The patient was transferred to the air ambulance crew and departed for the hospital at about 2100 hrs.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:
This event highlights the need to expedite the development of policy to ensure agency contracted helicopters and agency personnel have the capabilities and training to perform extraction missions for injured agency personnel.

LESSONS LEARNED: Due to the lack of policy support, agency personnel worked within the Forest Service Doctrine Framework to make decisions to do what was needed to preserve life. The decision was made by subject matter experts utilizing the risk management process to assess hazards and make timely decisions based on the capabilities of the crew involved. There was support from the Incident Management Team and local unit/agency to do what was necessary to save a life despite having to deviate from policy. Many things went well on this incident that contributed to the successful outcome for the patient and others involved including: having discussions prior to the accident as to how to evacuate a seriously injured firefighter, using the right crews for the tasks at hand, supporting doctrine operations in the event of life threats, and supporting the crews involved with CISM if needed.

Here is a photo of a Traverse Rescue Stretcher.

The official “72 Hour Report” is at Wildfire Today.

Rappel training academy for firefighters

Rappel training in Salmon ID

About 80 rookies are going through the National Rappel Academy in Salmon, Idaho this week.

Below is an excerpt from an article at LocalNews8:

The National Rappel Academy in Salmon is one of a kind. For the fourth consecutive year veteran rappellers, who trained two weeks ago, are teaching nearly 80 rookies for a week in preparation of a busy summer season.

The rookies go through ground training before practicing from a tower that simulates a helicopter. A spotter, check spotter and rappeller all practice from the top of the deck.

Don Campbell, a specialist at the National Rappel Academy, has actual experience in every position. He said the future heli-rappellers will focus on the initial attack on wildfires.

Carrie Bond, a rookie from Iowa, said her week of training has been busy but exciting.

“It’s intimidating to look at the towers and look at the helicopters go up, but the crew here has been awesome,” said Bond. “I couldn’t ask for a better crew.”

Yellowstone area helicopters make two short haul rescues

Yellowstone Helitack crew, short haul training. NPS photo.
Yellowstone Helitack crew, short haul training. NPS photo.

Helicopters in the Yellowstone area made at least two short haul rescues in August, both of them with ASTAR B3 ships.

The first occurred on August 17 in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. The helicopter from Yellowstone National Park had been assigned to the general area for fire and rescue support working out of Wenatchee when a climber had a medical problem at the 12,000′ level on Mount Rainier at Disapointment Cleaver. The Mount Rainier rangers knew the Yellowstone helicopter was in the area and requested it to respond after they evaluated the condition of the climber and considered the rescue alternatives.
short haul rescue

The other happened on August 27 after a snag struck a Chena Hotshot crew member while assigned to the Kelley fire on the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho. The rescue was performed by a Jackson, Wyoming Teton Interagency helicopter while the ship was assigned to the fire. The National Park Service describes this rescue:

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“…Immediately after the accident, the Chena superintendent requested a medical evacuation, prompting air attack to request an air ambulance and a hoist-capable helicopter. Hearing the radio traffic, a Teton Interagency Helitack crew member assigned to the helibase notified air attack that the crew and Helicopter N26HX, which was conducting water drops from a dip site near Helibase, were short-haul capable. Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual is suspended below the helicopter on a 100 to 200 foot rope. This method allows a rescuer more direct access to an injured party, and it is often used in national parks like Grand Teton National Park in the Teton Range where conditions make it difficult to land a helicopter in the steep and rocky terrain. Patients are typically flown out via short-haul with a ranger attending to them below the helicopter.

Operations diverted the helicopter from a water bucket mission, and the crew began preparing for a short-haul. Pilot Chris Templeton and short-haul spotter Garth Wagner flew a reconnaissance mission. Tasks included locating a suitable insertion spot, conducting environmental and power checks, and determining that a short-haul mission was the appropriate tool. Based on the recon flight, the crew completed a short-haul and Green-Amber-Red (GAR) risk assessment, then readied for the mission. They configured the helicopter by removing the doors, attaching a “three-ring” backup to the cargo hook, and inspecting and attaching a 150-foot-long short haul rope to the cargo hook. They also checked the harnesses for the short-hauler and spotter, as well as the communication systems. A litter was prepared with a harness and attachment points.

While the helitack crew was preparing helicopter N26HX for short-haul, another helicopter delivered medical gear to the site of the injured firefighter. An EMT on the Chena Hotshots and other crew members prepared the patient for transport. The helicopter inserted short-hauler Ron Johnson, whose normal job is as a Jenny Lake climbing ranger at Grand Teton National Park, with a litter and line gear into the extraction site. Rescuers transported the patient on a spine board the 150 feet to the extraction site. Because the patient was already packaged, the helicopter extracted him and the short-hauler about 15 minutes after inserting Johnson on site. They were flown back to helibase where a team of Teton Helitack members caught the patient and litter and transferred him to an awaiting life-flight helicopter.

Teton Interagency Helicopter
Teton Interagency Helicopter. NPS photo.

During the week before the successful rescue mission, the Teton Helitack crew flew nearly three hours of short-haul training in typical terrain for pilot proficiency. Such proficiency training is required every 28 days, and in this case, the training was also essential in preparing the helitack crew to receive the patient and litter at helibase.

Using the short-haul method is relatively new to wildland fire, but is one of the preferred methods of rescue in the rugged terrain of several national parks, including Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion and Grand Canyon. The Yosemite Helitack crew performed a successful rescue earlier in August on the Green Ridge fire on the Deschutes National Forest.”

2013 Airtanker and Water Scooper Forum

The U.S. Forest Service has scheduled an “Airtanker and Water Scooper Forum” to be held in Boise November 19-20, 2013. Today they posted a notice about it at the GSA site that is normally used for solicitations about contracts and requests for proposals, fbo.gov — an odd way to advertise a conference. It even has a Solicitation Number (SN-2014-01). But, almost everything the federal government does concerning fire aviation is odd.

This is rather short notice for a meeting like this.

The topics include:

  • Questions (preferably submitted in advance) and answers.
  • Review of accidents.
  • Future strategy for airtankers, VLATs, and water scoopers: next-gen, legacy, budgets, fleet design, aerial supervision, policy and operational changes, pilot practical test standards.
  • Contracts Q&A.
  • Aviation audits.
  • Technology: ATU, AFF, AFUE.
  • Aviation program updates: FAS-AVID report, night flying, public aircraft operations, retardant avoidance areas.

More information about the “Forum”.
The agenda.
Registration form.

Speaking of aviation, I checked into air fares between Rapid City and Boise and was shocked — $858 was the lowest. Holy Crap. RAP is expensive to fly out of because of a lack of competition.

Thankfully, as far as I know there is no admission fee to attend the Forum.

Tanker 910’s engine problem

Tanker 910's engine problem, Beaver Creek Fire
Tanker 910’s engine problem, Beaver Creek Fire

It’s just a guess, but what you see in this photo of Tanker 910 over the Beaver Fire in Idaho may be evidence of what led to the replacement of the number two engine last week. The image is a screen grab from the video below which has many excellent still images from the Beaver Creek Fire.

Aerial firefighting on the Brown Road Fire

Information Officer Shawna Hartman wrote this description of the air attack operation on the Brown Road Fire July 25 near Orofino, Idaho.

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“The job of Air Tactical Group Supervisor in the firefighting world is somewhat like a traffic policeman at a busy intersection. In Orofino on Thursday, the Air Tactical Group Supervisor, James Grasham, Zone Assistant Fire Management Officer from Idaho Panhandle National Forest stationed in Grangeville, with pilot Dave Parker coordinated the air support on the Brown Road Fire which greatly assisted in putting that fire out. Air support working the fire in Orofino, included 4 helicopters, 4 single engine air tankers (SEATS), 2 heavy air tankers, and a lead plane. With 11 aircraft over the fire, one could imagine the chaos that could ensue, hence the need for someone to coordinate the effort.

Due to effective regional communication and local pre-positioned air resources, aerial attack was immediate for the Brown Road fire. The terrain in that area makes on the ground firefighting difficult, and the aerial attack allowed the local firefighters to respond directly to the homes for structure protection. Circling above the fire, Grasham, is able to talk with firefighters on the ground as well as the air craft supporting the fire. In coordination with the ground Incident Commander, the Air Tactical Group Supervisor sets objectives for the fire and directs each retardant or water drop on the fire.

In Orofino last week, the helicopters were able to dip from nearby ponds and cool hot spots while the SEATs returned to Grangeville Tanker Base where they reloaded with retardant. The heavy air tankers were flown in from Missoula to assist with the Braun Road fire also. The “heavy” tankers are larger planes that may carry up to 2,000 gallons of retardant and also require a lead plane. The lead plane identifies the line in which the air tanker will drop their retardant load. While identifying that line the lead plane leads the tankers in and “checks the air”. These larger planes returned to Missoula to be refilled and one of them returned with another load to Orofino.

The SEATs hold up to 800 gallons of retardant per load; however, for safety reasons each load is usually only 725-750 gallons. The SEAT pilot can control the amount or coverage of retardant on each drop. If the fuel on the ground is heavy timber the pilot will likely release their complete load to ensure that it will reach the ground and coverage is good. The pilots stationed in Grangeville are highly qualified for wildfire and each year attend training and are recertified to continue to pilot SEATs.

When the SEATs get to the Grangeville Air Base, support personnel on the ground manage the safety of the “ramp”, the site of the retardant reloading station. SEAT managers keep track of flying time, safety, roll times loading and compliance with contract standards. There are at least 5 interagency dispatched personnel at the base that assist with the tanker base. As fire activity increase in the area, the more aircraft are called in and in turn more support personnel will arrive to help manage the Tanker Base.

The Idaho Department of Lands and the US Forest Service work closely together and share use of the SEATs. The Idaho Department of Lands holds the contract with the SEAT companies while the US Forest Service provides the airport support and staffing to maintain the Grangeville Tanker Base. This mutual aid agreement allows both entities use of this valuable firefighting resource without carrying the financial burden alone. The SEATs usefulness and efficiency of all personnel involved was exhibited on the Brown Fire and the air show over Orofino was entertaining as well.”