Human error not factor in firefighter's death

Firefighter Trampus Haskvitz died during last August's Coal Canyon Fire when fire trapped his apparatus in narrow canyon

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Human error was not to blame in the death of a wildland firefighter in S.D. last year, according to investigators.

Firefighter Trampus Haskvitz, 23, a seasonal employee with the South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression, died during last August's Coal Canyon Fire when fire trapped his apparatus in a narrow canyon during the initial attack.

“Everything that I read shows there was no human fault,” Wildland Fire Director Jay Esperance told the Rapid City Journal.

"The tragedy was the result of the chance conjunction of events, especially lethal erratic local fire behavior and unexpected combinations of normal human variability," the report said.

Firefighter Haskvitz was told to back out with the other apparatus, but he continued on the planned escape route and took shelter inside the vehicle’s cab before deciding to make a run for safety.

“It’s human nature to exit the same way you came in,” Esperance said.

While the driver made it out, Firefighter Haskvitz did not.

Investigators believe that Firefighter Haskvitz died almost instantly as he breathed in a burst of hot gases and flames, according to the article.

“The burst of heat missed the driver by only seconds, or he may have been holding his breath as he passed through it,” the report said.

Two U.S. Forest Service firefighters tried to reach the trapped men but were unsuccessful.

“Many decisions and actions on the Coal Canyon Fire were manifestly heroic, demonstrating the best of wildland fire professionalism," the report said.

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