National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Dutch Creek Incident (California) – July 25, 2008


This Day in History is a brief summary of a powerful learning opportunity and is not intended to second guess or be judgmental of decisions and actions. Put yourself in the following situation as if you do not know the outcome. What are the conditions? What are you thinking? What are YOU doing?

Incident Summary:

Andy Palmer graduated from high school on June 12, 2008. He completed Basic Firefighter training on June 24 and S-212, Wildland Fire Chainsaws on June 28. The next day, he was hired as a seasonal firefighter on an engine crew at Olympic National Park. He completed his A Faller task book on July 4.

On July 22, the engine received a resource order for the Iron Complex in California. The supervision at the park was motivated to see the engine crew obtain an assignment and called them in on their day off. The crew suffered a series of complications en route to the fire, including mechanical problems with the engine that lead to the eventual separation of the crew and engine captain after arriving at the incident. The crew members were encouraged to pursue a line assignment as a falling team. The Incident Management Team (IMT) personnel assign the crew as a falling module. During that assignment, the crew cuts a tree that is outside their falling qualifications. A class C ponderosa pine is cut, falling downslope into a fire-damaged sugar pine. A portion of the sugar pine breaks off and falls upslope, hitting Andy Palmer, resulting in multiple severe injuries and the loss of a firefighter's life. It was Andy’s first fire assignment.

Zero Hour. July 25, a radio transmission came in to Iron Complex dispatch: “Man down, man down. We need help. Medical emergency. Dozer pad. Broken leg. Bleeding. Drop Point 72 and dozer line. Call 911, we need help.”

The local sheriff’s office received a call from incident command and began inquiring about a helicopter. Two air medical services declined the mission due to poor visibility from smoke, California Highway Patrol’s helicopter was not available and the US Coast Guard (USCG) had not yet been contacted.

Other firefighters arrived on scene. Nomex© shirts are used as pressure bandages on shoulder and leg injuries. The injured firefighter was reported as having severe bleeding and as conscious. The severity of the injuries and the sense of urgency were not communicated to paramedics dispatched in an ambulance to the incident.

As the medics arrived on scene, they realized the injuries were much more serious than they had been told and decided to facilitate a rapid evacuation via carryout.

55 minutes since the accident. The patient was prepared to move, and the decision was made to go to the ambulance rather than wait for the helicopter. The ambulance was approximately 2,000 feet down the dozer line.

1 hour and 25 minutes since the accident. A third paramedic arrived on scene and the decision was made to wait for the helicopter. Firefighters started clearing a zone for hoist extraction.

1 hour and 50 minutes since the accident. Multiple delays of the USCG helicopter are caused by poor communication of patient status, potential use of a Forest Service helicopter assigned to the fire, and method of extraction. Once the USCG is en route, communication about the new extraction location, radio frequencies, and patient status was an issue and slowed the extrication efforts. While being transferred to the hoist basket, personnel on the ground report profuse bleeding. No patient care can be given during hoist.

2 hours and 47 minutes since the accident. During the flight, cardiac arrest treatment protocol was initiated, and the helicopter landed at Redding Municipal Airport with CPR in progress.

3 hours and 26 minutes since the accident. An ER physician pronounced time of death, via radio. The coroner later determined that Andy Palmer’s death was caused by excessive blood loss.

Discussion Points:

  • Identify and discuss a variety of options for medical evacuation (ATV, wheeled litter, etc.), anticipating that a helicopter will not be available.
  • If the crewmember sitting beside you were to be seriously injured on the fireline, what would you and your crew do? How thorough is your unit or IMT’s incident emergency medical plan? Consider doing a scenario medical evacuation from start to finish. Utilize the Medical Incident Report (red section) in your Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461, to effectively communicate emergency information. Conduct an AAR.
  • Read Planning for Medical Emergencies under Operational Engagement (green section) in your IRPG.

We Will Never Forget You: Remembering Andy Palmer


This Day in History
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

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