LODD Anniversary: Career Federal Fire Fighter Dies from Injuries Sustained at Arizona Prescribed Burn

Remember the fallen with lessons learned


View of deployment area looking up drainage. (NIOSH photo)


NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program

On May 14, 2003, a career federal fire fighter (the victim) was severely burned while working at a prescribed burn operation. The prescribed burn operation was conducted utilizing ground crews supported by a helicopter. The victim arrived on the scene at approximately 1100 hours and was assigned to provide reconnaissance and to assist two hand crews.

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Career Federal Fire Fighter Dies from Injuries Sustained at Prescribed Burn

At approximately 1425 hours, the lookout radioed the victim reporting that he could see a large column of smoke on the southeast end of the burn area. The victim headed down the drainage to investigate the flare-up while the crews remained on the ridge.

At approximately 1435 hours, the victim, who was now in the drainage, ordered the crews to “Get out, get back into the black.” At approximately 1445 hours, the victim radioed for help stating that he had been burned and was in need of medical assistance.

The victim was flown to the local hospital where he received treatment before being transported by helicopter to the State Burn Center.

On June 19, 2003, the victim died as a result of his burn injuries.

NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire management agencies and fire departments should:

  • ensure that prescribed burn plans are established and approved prior to ignition
  • ensure that the “Go-No-Go” decision checklist accurately evaluates the factors to be considered and is signed by the Burn Boss
  • ensure that fire fighters properly don and wear their personal protective clothing at all times while working in a hazardous environment
  • ensure that a designated lookout is positioned at a location that allows the observation of fire activity on the prescribed burn
  • ensure that fire fighters utilize all available resources (lookouts, helicopters, or lead planes, etc.) when investigating fire activity located in an area that does not have an established escape route
  • ensure that prior to the operational period all personnel involved in the prescribed burn operation receive and understand their assignment
  • ensure that all prescribed burn operations have a designated Incident Commander (IC)

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