Report complete on firefighter deaths

Report complete on firefighter deaths

09 July 2011

published by

USA — State officials have concluded their investigation into the Blue Ribbon Fire tragedy in which two firefighters were killed in Hamilton County last month, according to a report released Friday.

The report states that Josh Burch, 31, and Brett Fulton, 52, both of Columbia County, were killed June 20 while battling the fire due to difficult terrain and limited visibility due to excessive smoke, hindering the firefighters ability to escape the fire.

“Excessive smoke caused by the fire hindered visibility of crewmen operating tractors on the ground and the pilot monitoring the fire conditions from a fixed-wing aircraft,” the report stated.

In addition, confusion from traffic and interference on radio communication channels during the incident was an issue.

The report also stated that fire shelters, which are similar to small tents, were not used by the two firefighters that were killed.

The report by the Florida Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, Georgia Forestry Commission and Office of State Fire Marshal made recommendations in hopes of preventing similar incidents in the future. 
Some of those recommendations include providing refresher training to firefighters on principles of lookouts, communications, escape routes and safety zones; to review radio frequencies and to understand the proper channel and procedures to use and to evaluate fire shelter equipment and how they should be stored on all equipment.

“We’re considering the recommendations of the review team very seriously and we’ll work to provide the members of the Florida Forest Service with the training and equipment they need to ensure they’re adequately prepared to fight wildfires,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Burch and Fulton were plowing containment lines around the Blue Ribbon Fire the afternoon of June 20, when one of the tractors became stuck on a stump in a dried out pond. The other tractor immediately came to the rescue but it too became stuck between numerous stumps. The two abandoned their tractor but were subsequently overcome by smoke and flames.

The report states that “neither tractor was suitable for human sheltering at the time of the burn over.”

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