Two injured Downey firemen airlifted to Utah burn center

Two injured Downey firemen airlifted to Utah burn center

23 August 2017

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USA – Two of the three injured Downey firefighters were airlifted to a Utah hospital after their firetruck ran over a gas can that engulfed their vehicle in flames as they fought a wildfire near Arimo.

Authorities say Matt Henderson of Swanlake is in critical condition and Kent Winward of Downey is in fair condition at the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City.

Downey Fire Department Chief Chris Sorensen said Henderson suffered burns to about 40 percent of his body, and Winward suffered a broken ankle and burns. But both men are expected to survive.

“Everyone will pull through fine — it’s just going to be a long road of recovery ahead,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen said his conversations with Henderson were brief, adding that Winward has been up and moving around, laughing and joking around while he waits for the swelling in his ankle to subside.

The third firefighter, Brandon Call of Downey, was treated and released from the Franklin County Medical Center.

The gas can came loose from the truck at about 11 a.m. Monday while the 12-member all-volunteer Downey fire department battled a wildfire threatening homes along South Marsh Valley Road near Arimo.

The truck struck the can, which was full of gasoline, causing the truck to ignite and quickly become engulfed in flames.

Both Henderson and Call have been Downey volunteer firefighters since 2012, and Winward has been on the crew since 2005, according to Sorensen.

“This comes as a big hit,” Sorensen said. “It’s going to be tough if we get another fire call. If we do get something in this area, I’ll be relying on the neighboring counties to help cover.”

Despite being a small, volunteer fire crew from a small, rural town in Idaho, Sorensen said the “freak accident” that injured 25 percent of his team is part of the job description that all firefighters face.

“When we train, there is no difference,” Sorensen said when asked if volunteer firefighters face fewer dangers. “Fire doesn’t come by zip code or by agency. We face the same dangers.”

Sorensen added that the difference with larger agencies like the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service compared with smaller teams like the volunteer Downey crew is that bigger agencies are around a significantly larger number of fires every year.

But with dry conditions and a long, harsh winter, Southeast Idaho has been no stranger to wildfires this year.

“As a small county fire crew, we’re up against the same dangers, and while we don’t always get a ton of calls, we’ve had quite a few fires this year,” Sorensen said.

Moving forward, Sorensen said he has had discussions about how to avoid this kind of accident in the future. As a temporary fix, Sorensen said he has ordered smaller gas cans with nozzles that are less cumbersome and match better to the receptacle on the gas tanks.

Further, Sorensen said he will construct small containers to protect the gas cans so that they are not exposed to open flames and are less susceptible to falling from the fire truck.

“But what I want to do is convert my pumps to diesel motors so that it can pull off the diesel in the truck,” Sorensen said. “That will eliminate about 80 percent of the problem.”

Sorensen said his crew still needs a little fuel for chainsaws and other tools, so there will always be a gas can on the truck. But with immediate and future changes he hopes he can minimize the dangers out there.

“You have to live and learn,” Sorensen said. “And this was a hard lesson.”

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