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Fla. wildfire LODDs prompt recommendations

Firefighters Josh Burch and Brett Fulton were killed while fighting the Blue Ribbon Fire on June 20

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Florida Forest Service issued a report today outlining the findings and recommendations of the interagency Incident Review Team following their review of the Blue Ribbon Fire, where firefighters Josh Burch and Brett Fulton were killed while fighting the wildfire on June 20, 2011.

The report, entitled Blue Ribbon Fire Review, was developed by representatives of the Florida Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, Georgia Forestry Commission and Office of State Fire Marshal, who worked together to gather all factual information regarding the Florida Forest Services response to the Blue Ribbon Fire and to discover and define the environmental, management and human factors that contributed to the tragic incident.

“The Department suffered a great loss with the deaths of Josh and Brett,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“This interagency review of the incident is an important first step to understanding how we can protect our firefighters from threats to their health and well-being.”

“The men and women of the Florida Forest Service have one of the most important jobs keeping our families and our homes safe from the dangers of wildfire. We must do what we can to help keep them safe too.”

The reports recommendations for preventing similar occurrences in the future include:

  • Evaluate strategy and tactics used as fire danger increases.
  • Provide refresher training to firefighters on principles of LCES (lookouts, communications, escape routes and safety zones) and situational awareness.
  • Review radio frequencies and ensure proper channel and procedures are known and understood.
  • Evaluate benefits of Asset Tracker System and consider installation on all equipment.
  • Evaluate work/rest ratio to ensure proper rest of fire personnel.
  • Evaluate how fire shelters should be carried and stored on equipment.
  • Pursue avenues for increased availability of aviation resources.

The report also outlined the findings of the review of the incident, which led to the recommendations. Findings include:

  • Suwannee Forestry Center recognizes the benefit of multi tractor/plow operations during complex incidents.
  • Excessive smoke caused by the fire hindered visibility of crewmen operating tractors on the ground and the pilot monitoring the fire conditions from a fixed-wing aircraft.
  • Difficult terrain and limited visibility due to smoke hindered the ability of firefighters to escape dangerous conditions.
  • Traffic and interference on radio communication channels caused some confusion during the incident, though significant effort was made to resolve this issue.
  • Fire shelters were not used by the two firefighters who were killed.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is closely reviewing the findings and recommendations of the interagency Incident Review Team and assessing the needs of the Florida Forest Service. Commissioner Putnam will work with the Legislature to address the pertinent needs identified in the review.

“We’re considering the recommendations of the review team very seriously and well work to provide the members of the Florida Forest Service with the training and equipment they need to ensure they’re adequately prepared to fight wildfires,” said Commissioner Putnam.

The interagency Incident Review Team was formed on June 21, 2011, to review and investigate the Blue Ribbon Fire incident that occurred on June 20 in Hamilton County, Suwannee Forestry Center.

The team worked swiftly to visit the site of the Blue Ribbon Fire, interview all personnel associated with the fire and review data available.

In addition, the team evaluated the application of the 10 Standard Fire Orders and 18 Watch-Out Situations, standard practices and principles used by firefighters in Florida and on a national level, in regard to the incident.

The final report was provided to Commissioner Putnam, State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater, members of the Florida Forest Service and U.S. Forest Service.

Copyright 2011 States News Service