How was it Possible to do Everything Right and yet 19 Prescott Fire Department Firefighters Died in One Fell Swoop on June 30, 2013?

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Conference Proceedings
Authors: Fred SchoefflerJoy A. Collura

Abstract: On 30 June 2013, nineteen Prescott FD, Granite Mountain Hot Shots, a quasi-military Wildland Fire Crew, died on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. This tragic Arizona State Forestry (ASF) wildfire was “investigated” by a USDA US Forest Service-funded Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT). Their alleged "factual" report (SAIR) concluded they "found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol." Stated in the positive - they did everything right and yet nineteen men perished. This no blame, no-fault conclusion clearly defies logic and reason. Both USFS and BLM training publications mirror each other: "If firefighters follow the Standard Firefighting Orders and are alerted to the 18 Watch Out Situations, much of the risk of firefighting can be reduced." In 2001 and 2002, former USFS Fire Director Jerry Williams fully supported that joint assertion: “The Ten Standard Firefighting Orders must be firm rules of engagement. … They are the result of hard-learned lessons. Compromis¬ing one or more of them is a common denominator of all tragedy fires. … [where] the Fire Orders were ignored, overlooked, or otherwise compromised.” “Entrapment avoid¬ance must be our primary emphasis and our measure of professional operational success. We must embrace the rules of engagement as a way of doing business - as a professional standard. ... because we owe it to one another. The Fire Orders must become a shared obligation, where the leader’s situational awareness depends on participation by the entire crew and where the crew’s participation is tempered with respect for the leader’s responsibility ..." The SAIT states: "The 10 Standard Firefighting Orders and 18 Watch Out Situations ... [are] the foundation of training in fire suppression operations, ... but they require judgment in application. These principles, ... outline the [SAIT’s] perspective regarding the use and consideration of the 10 and 18 in [the SAIR]." This contradicts the GMHS aftermath.Additionally, other Agency video training sources have made light of this serious subject. “Visualizing The Ten and Eighteen - With Humor” (2004) Kathy Murphy; “WFSTAR: Fire Orders” (2018); and the Wildland Fire LLC - “Honor the Fallen” (2018). In this video, the Standard Fire Orders are denigrated by the USFS Apprenticeship Program Manager: “the truth is that we try to put it into these little boxes in these rules and the 10 and 18 that cannot, they’re not gonna keep us safe, that’s been proven time and time again, we can’t follow our own rule, you know, these rules whatever they are” and states they need to have “luck decision conversation[s],” concluding with “it was good … until it wasn’t.” Did these, and coaching from others, result in the third-year GMHS sole survivor McDonough’s SAIT assertion that Fire Order Ten regarding safely fighting fire, was “hillbilly” and “old”? The documented YH Fire and GMHS tragedy is inaccurate. Indeed, knowing, recognizing, and applying the 10 and 18, and mitigating any Watchout Situations are responsible for saving tens of thousands of WF lives every year! There are no documented cases revealing otherwise.

Keywords: Wildland Fire, Human Factors, Human Errors, Fire Orders, Watch Out Situations

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1001577

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