National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2022 Week of Remembrance Day 2

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Blue Ribbon Fire (Florida) – June 20, 2011

Today’s topic is dedicated to all of Florida’s fallen firefighters.


Perspective from the Florida Forest Service


A female firefighter holding a hose.

Between June 1 and 16, 2011, northern Florida and southern Georgia experienced widespread drought conditions contributing to 659 fires in Florida alone. Live fuel moistures were critically low on the Blue Ribbon Fire located on a slash pine plantation. Several fires ignited by lightning from a passing front on June 16 in the same area. Dry swamps and heavy fuels made accessing and controlling fires difficult. Contained the first day, the Blue Ribbon Fire would jump containment lines four days later. The Incident Commander (IC) arrived June 20.

  • 1510 – The fire was 5 to 8 acres and moving fast.
  • 1555 – A Type 3 open cab tractor/plow unit calls in that he is “stumped” and a Type 2 closed cab tractor-plow (T/P) unit replies, “I’m going to push you.”
  • 1600 – Another unit on the fire noted that the smoke column changed direction.
  • 1620 – The IC noted that he had not heard from the two T/P units and was unable to make contact. The units were found, and they had been burned over. It appeared that the second T/P unit, in an attempt to push the stumped unit off, had become blocked between numerous large stumps. The firefighter/operators had left their immobilized units and were overtaken by fire. Neither had deployed a fire shelter. Evidence indicated that neither tractor was suitable for sheltering. The two firefighter/operators did not survive.

The loss of Joshua Burch and Brett Fulton significantly impacted their local unit and the Suwanee Forestry Center, as well as the Florida Forest Service (FFS) at all levels. “We’re going to do everything we can to train and communicate and to develop a fire program where, to the best of our ability, we’ll never have this happen again.” That is the living legacy of Josh and Brett.

To ensure that legacy, the FFS chose to develop a staff ride. This method would allow the participants to walk in the shoes of the firefighters involved in the incident and to gain key lessons that could be shared with their home units. The Blue Ribbon Staff Ride (BRSR) was developed in 2017 through the vision of Jim Karels, then State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. He selected an FFS workshop team to develop the BRSR in partnership with the National Staff Ride Workshop, the NWCG Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, and OMNA International, LLC. The goal was to enhance learning in key operational areas including leadership, communications, tactics, and preparedness related to firefighting. The BRSR strengthens these skills to improve the ability to fulfill the FFS mission to protect homes, forestland, and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire.

“The BRSR reached further than expected – it stretched participants and leaders alike beyond the intended experiential learning experience. While honoring the memory of our brothers, Joshua Burch, and Brett Fulton, the BRSR fostered an environment for people to grieve their loss, providing a space for healing and perhaps serve as a catalyst for moving forward.” – Wildland Fire Leadership Blog, Blue Ribbon Staff Ride – Honoring Through Learning

"Based on my experience, I have found the staff ride development process to be an emotional and healing process. Valuable information can now be passed on to our current and future teammates while honoring the ultimate sacrifice of the brothers we lost in 2011.” – George Risko, FFS Fire Training Officer

Incorporating staff rides into RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR) deliveries adds great value for participants. Staff rides can be built for a vast array of situations—a large wildfire, prescribed fire, hurricane response, etc. The workshop offers tools and confidence to develop more staff rides and share our knowledge with others. If you have a vision or an idea for a local staff ride, consider attending the National Staff Ride Workshop or hosting a session of your own. It is the most rewarding hard work you will ever put in, and you will meet some incredible folks to assist you along the way.

Never Forgotten

Brett Fulton and Joshua Burch

Purple Ribbon
“Put your people first -
today, tomorrow, forever.”
– Jim Karels



Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

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