2020 WOR Day 3: Lessons Used: Dutch Creek/Big Meadows
“On the morning of June 16, 2013, while en route to their assigned area of the fire, Luther Larkin, a member of the Horseshoe Meadows Hotshot Crew collapsed and quickly became unresponsive. Another crew member immediately assessed Luther and confirmed his breathing and heartbeat had stopped. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) from two IHC crews began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and one of the IHC Superintendents initiated a medical emergency response via radio. Paramedics from the spike camp were deployed to the scene. An automated external defibrillator (AED) was successfully utilized to reestablish a pulse in the patient. After medically stabilizing the patient, he was carried by stokes litter approximately ¼ mile to Helispot 1 and transported by air ambulance to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood, Colorado.” (Big Meadow Medevac )
Luther was 6 miles into the backcountry, far from any medical services. Yet after suffering sudden cardiac arrest, EMTs were with him immediately and kept him alive with CPR. Within 10 minutes, a paramedic with an AED arrived on the scene and successfully revived Luther. Sudden cardiac arrest has a survival rate of less than 10% (American Heart Association) in a major city. There are no official rates of survival when this happens in the backcountry, but it is presumed to be much less.
Having medically trained people and the AED available 6 miles in the backcountry enabled them to respond so quickly, which is directly linked with Luther’s survival. How and why were these vital resources so close and readily available so far into the backcountry?
The answer lies in the Lessons Used from the Dutch Creek Tree Felling Fatality (2008) Serious Accident Investigation and subsequent Safety Action Plan. (Dutch Creek Tree Felling Fatality LLC) On July 22, 2008, while assigned to the Iron Complex in Northern California, 18-year-old Andy Palmer was on his very first fire assignment. While his engine crew was dropping a hazard tree, a large section of a nearby tree fell and struck Andy, shattering his femur, and severing large blood vessels. For a variety of reasons, (detailed in the report) it was 3 hours 26 minutes from the time of the accident to the time he was pronounced dead due to loss of blood from a shattered femur and severed blood vessels.
Subsequent reviews and recommendations from the Dutch Creek incident have foundationally changed the way we plan for medical emergencies. These reviews gave us “Incident within an Incident” and standardized Medical Incident Reports. Before the Dutch Creek incident, there most likely would not have been a paramedic and certainly, there would not have been an AED staged miles into the backcountry at a spike camp, as was the case on the Big Meadows fire. If these lessons were not used in preparing the medical plan on the Big Meadows fire, Luther Larkin would not be with us today.
It is very difficult to even consider saying that something good can come from anyone’s death, especially an 18 year old just starting his adult life. But the lessons learned from Andy saved Luther’s life, and have probably prevented other accidents.
- There are hundreds of FLA/LLRs. How can we make sure valuable lessons are learned and not lost?
- What other major incidents have provided lessons that have made a real difference?
Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center
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