The SOG Fire Rock Strike: Lucky? Or Prepared?

“I could see a crack two fingers wide inside his head down to his cracked skull.” Crew Boss, Crew A

The swamper’s head injury post surgery.

“Dude, you need to realize this is nothing short of a miracle.” What the hospital staff told the firefighter on surviving this rock strike to the head.

“Being lucky is often stated when something attributed to a miracle happens, but preparation is what really creates the outcome.” From the SOG Fire Rock Strike FLA

The Story

This August during initial attack on the SOG Fire, a lightning-caused incident on Oregon’s Malheur National Forest, a swamper crewmember working on a steep slope was struck in the head/helmet by a 159-pound rock that witnesses report was careening downslope at approximately 30 mph.

The culprit 139-pound rock and the swamper’s helmet.

A medical emergency was declared, with a request for transport. The swamper’s Crew had run a patient packout drill earlier this season. This familiarity and experience now paid off when one of their own was in need. The crewmember struck by the rock was also the crew’s EMT. The Crew Boss, whose certification had lapsed but was formerly an EMT, therefore provided the necessary skills to render aid. Crew B, also on scene, had two EMTs who were also able to come to the firefighter’s aid.

The firefighter was transported by ground ambulance to John Day, Oregon and—due to the severity of the injury—was then flown to St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise, Idaho for a higher level of care. The crewmember underwent surgery to repair his fractured skull and was released from the hospital and able to return home within just a few days.

X-ray of the firefighter’s injury.

The firefighter’s helmet functioned as it was designed and most likely reduced the chances of a more serious outcome. This incident’s full helmet account is available in the FLA’s Appendix A: “The National Technology and Development Program Helmet Report.”

“I think the reason we got him taken care of so fast and things turned out so well was because of the training we do every year. The training just kicked in and took over.” Crew Member, Crew A

Lessons in the SOG Fire Rock Strike FLA include insights on:

Hospital Liaisons

  • Development of standards for Hospital Liaison expectations, forms, communication responsibilities and Critical Incident Plan activation may help with patient care across 2 or more units and/or hospitals . . .

EMT Support

  • Local medical direction through either local unit means or regional/national program means can establish recognition for these skills and an avenue for maintaining training and supplies. Dedicated funding for maintaining licensure and supplies, managed by EMTs on the unit, may provide appreciation and trust for these employees . . .

Communication

  • Information sharing is difficult when the means to do so are limited during emergency response. Border fires and other traffic which must be transferred across unit boundaries may benefit from examination of current processes . . .

“The Burns Interagency Zone asked the FLA Team to pursue what learning could come from this incident. The team quickly realized the outcome was a result of many separate pieces. Not unlike an emerging wildfire, a plan was made and an organization built to respond. The outcome of this incident is defined not only by those who came together, but by preparation, and it was the resolve of the employees themselves who made this happen.”

Get all the details.

Please take the time to read this entire report – available here: https://www.wildfirelessons.net/viewdocument/sog-fire-rock-strike-2020

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