Investigators pointed to a lack of situational awareness, a common radio frequency, communication of a safety zone, and an escape route as contributing factors in the death of a Texas wildland firefighter.
Photo NIOSH/Texas Forest Service This brush truck was overrun by the fire crossing the highway from east to west. Due to the heavy smoke conditions, Firefighter Simmons was not found until after the fire had burned through the area.
While fighting a wildfire in Eastland County, Texas, on April 15, 2011, Firefighter Gregory Mack Simmons was either struck or run over by a brush truck. Visibility at the time of the incident was low.
The firefighters on the other trucks were unable to make progress on the brush fire but did escape, although five were burned, according to the February 21 NIOSH report.
NIOSH recommended that an incident management system be used to manage wildland urban interface incidents. This would include a proper personnel accountability system, so that command knows the names and locations of all firefighters at all times throughout the fire.
"One of the necessary components of accountability during wildland fire-fighting operations is to ensure for unity of command and effective span of control," the report said.
Such a system should be supplemented by effective communications systems, according to NIOSH. A dispatch, command, and tactical channel should be available during a large-scale incident.
The report also recommends establishing and using the decision-making techniques of Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones, which will keep firefighters and resources out of danger.
Firefighters also should have access to appropriate fire shelters and training for those shelters, which Firefighter Simmons did not have.
"Though used as a last resort, fire shelters greatly enhance the chances of survivability in the event of being overrun by a wildland fire," the report said.
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