Road Learning

We’ve recently had several reports of motor vehicle accidents. Some of these included people getting hurt. All of these included valuable lessons that we can learn from.

Canyon 66 Prescribed Fire Rollover – RLS

As the road became invisible in extremely thick smoke, the FEMO remembers thinking:

“This is what killed those kids at Twisp.”

Driving Photo A -- Canyon 66

You might want to read this RLS

before the next time you drive in smoke.

Driving Photo B -- Canyon 66

From the RLS:

“I called out a medical emergency on the radio, thinking the truck would soon be on fire. I had responded to three vehicle fires in the previous month—all of them had caught fire and consumed in a matter of minutes. I put on my hardhat and tried to get my gloves off my pack which was buried under a pile of other gear. Then I heard someone outside shout ‘Are you ok in there?’ That told me it was safe enough outside, so I kicked out the windshield and a responder helped me climb out. I was utterly confused to find that I was still on the road—a reality that did not match my perception of the event.”

To see this vehicle rollover RLS on driving in smoke:

Redding IHC Buggy Rollover – FLA

“I looked back and saw the B-Mod begin to roll.” – C-21A Crewmember

Driving Photo 1 -- Redding IHC

The mountain highway dropped off steeply to the right as they passed through open Ponderosa pine stands. Ahead of them, a 1996 gold Lexus sedan started to drift across the yellow line. It seemed to him (Redding IHC Squad Leader) that the driver was looking for a pair of dropped sunglasses, maybe even had fallen asleep. The driver of (buggy) C-21A thought she was going to correct. He immediately braked and maneuvered the buggy as far as he could onto the shoulder to miss the car, and it passed from view to his left. “I got over as far as I could, maneuvered like evasive-style—engine academy—got over as far as I thought possible, I thought she was going to scrape us, but not hit us.”

Driving Photo 2 -- Redding Hotshots

From the FLA:

“Their training had been tested by the incident, and they had come through it as a stronger crew. The damage was significant; they had accumulated a broken scapula, fibula, zygomatic arch and ribs. They had several concussions, cuts, bruises and black eyes. A neck sprain and a pneumothorax (puncture of the chest wall) was also included in the list of injuries. The stitch count was in the hundreds. Many had ingested broken glass, and all involved from both trucks were shaken by how close things had been to a much more tragic outcome.”

  • Universally, the crew credited their training with their successful response to the emergency. The medical training they had taken on was critical.

“The training was very valuable; it made us work well together.”

“Stunned and so proud when I opened that door. Helping each other, just like we trained.”

  • A crucial contribution to the crew’s success was their cohesion. They had been working together for a few weeks and had spent a considerable amount of time together on and off duty. Everyone already knew everyone, and it helped limit the confusion and chaos. It also helped with the recovery and healing process.

“It was truly impressive to see how cohesive and together we are.”

“Everybody had a job to do – and they just did it.”

To see the FLA on this driving incident:

Beaver Soup Rx Fire Motor Vehicle Accident – FLA

Driving Photo 3 -- Beaver

A Range Specialist was involved in an accident that destroyed a Forest Service pickup truck while driving to a prescribed fire on a neighboring District. A few key learning opportunities arose from this review:

  • Proper post-accident processes.
  • Determine when an employee should return to work following a severe incident.
  • Communication during and after an incident.
  • The different roles and responsibilities during an incident.

Included in this FLA is a video depicting the conditions the driver faced:

Road Learning Replacement Image

This is a screen shot from the video.

Get the lessons in the FLA:


William Flats Fire Motor Vehicle Accident – LLR

Driving Photo 5 -- Williams Flats

At the end of their shift, driving back to the ICP on a well-maintained dirt road, this Type 2 Hand Crew’s vehicle (a 4×4 pickup)—pulling a trailer and UTV—left the roadway and traveled approximately 125 feet down a steep embankment, impacting a large tree near the bottom of a drainage. The impact injured all four firefighters within the vehicle. One firefighter was airlifted to an advanced care medical facility.

One useful heads-up from this event had to do with how the UTV was attached to the trailer. The four-passenger UTV was secured to the trailer utilizing only the front winch of the UTV. No other tie-down straps were used to secure the UTV to the trailer. The winch cable snapped on impact, causing the UTV to leave the trailer and impact the rear of the pickup.

Driving Photo 6 -- Williams Flats

Driving Photo 7 -- Williams Flats

Use Tie-Down Straps!

Several themes we’ve seen in other driving accidents also emerged in this incident:

  • Driving the same stretch of road day-to-day is a recipe for complacency.
  • Drive slow (speed compounds accidents).
  • Fatigue is dangerous (especially combined with speed and distraction!).

To see the LLR on this driving incident:

Raccoon Fire Initial Response Collision – LLR

“My engine was following too closely to the first truck for the visibility conditions and we slowed down a couple times to allow the dust to clear. We should have slowed down more.”

Engine B Captain

Driving Photo 8 -- Raccoon

On August 26 at approximately 1700 hours while responding to a wildland fire, two Bureau of Land Management Type 3 fire engines were involved in a collision. The second engine in a line of four collided into the lead engine, causing damage to both apparatus and two minor injuries to firefighters. Although a seemingly minor incident, the outcome had the potential to be much more tragic and catastrophic . . .

To see the LLR on this driving incident:


Always remember, as wildland firefighters, getting there and getting back is a dangerous activity. For a good reminder of this reality, see this past issue of Two More Chains:



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