Part 2 - Do our Wildland Fire (WF) Instructors foster "complete" lessons learned in the WF culture?
Authors: Douglas Fir, Joy A. Collura, and contributing others
Views expressed to "the public at large” and "of public concern"
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In this post, we have reached out to several WFs and FFs who worked on the Dude Fire as well as many of the loved ones of those deceased. We encourage anyone interested in sharing their June 1990 Dude Fire stories and the aftermath to reach us. There is newly revealed evidence and personal accounts in this post, and it is likely to be emotional and sensitive to some.
Yarnell Hill Fire Revelations © (2018) Sheff LLC
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The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. Proverbs 22:3
The authors - as well as countless Wildland Firefighters and Firefighters engaged in wildland fires - consider this Yarnell Hill Fire Revelations (YHFR) website post of special import and concern among wildland fire supervisors. One main reason is that we firmly believe that the undisclosed causal factors influencing the June 26, 1990, Dude Fire fatalities were significant in setting the stage for the overall outcome of the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire debacle and Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew fatalities. The parallels of fuels, weather, terrain, fire behavior, and, of course - especially the human factors, errors, and failures are noteworthy. To the best of our knowledge, these were never examined, investigated, or discussed anywhere. And if they were - they were never publicly shared anyplace that we know of. And because of that, we are being taught and learning "incomplete" lessons.
It is a hard truth to accept the fact that wildland fire deaths are inevitable because of human factors, (i.e. People do dumb s**t!) and all we can do is our best to reduce those fatalities.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.Proverbs 1:7
First off, we must address the possible controversial - definitely thought provoking - nature of this post, it is important to first set the stage with a few key principles using the USDA Forest Service Agency's Standards and Guiding Principles and "What We Believe" "official" website. Bear in mind, these are the Agency's Guidelines now and we can only hope that the 1990 equivalent would have been at least somewhat analogous.
I, Douglas Fir (DF), need to digress for a moment. According to two of the YH Fire Investigators (SAIT and ADOSH) the US Forest Service funded the entire SAIT and SAIR. With Federal funding comes Federal control. I have a FOIA Request (2019-FS-WO-04116-F) over a year old now, seeking those Public records. I am seeking:
" 1) All records (defined below*), including the applicable USDA USFS FOIA Index Log, created or obtained, regarding the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT) and related personnel and Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report (SAIR) for proposed, discussed, and / or actual funding by the USDA Forest Service (USFS), and
2) All records (defined below*) regarding the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT) and related personnel and Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report (SAIR) for proposed, discussed, and / or actual funding by the USDA Forest Service (USFS) between, to, and / or from any and all current and / or former USDA USFS Aviation and Fire Management (AFM) personnel, including current and / or former email addresses and between, to, and / or from the former Arizona State Forestry (ASF) and / or current Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) current and / or former personnel and email addresses ..."
I regularly remind them and regularly get this or a similar "backlogged and be patient" excuse:
"This email acknowledges receipt of your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, dated May 09, 2019, which was received in the Washington Office (WO) FOIA Service Center on May 20, 2019. You requested:
"Yarnell Hill Fire records
"Please be advised that the WO FOIA Service Center has a backlog of pending FOIA requests and appeals. We are diligently working to process each request and appeal in the order in which it was received. Your patience is greatly appreciated." (emphasis added)
And now back to addressing the USDA Forest Service Agency's Standards and Guiding Principles and "What We Believe"
Several of the current key ethics and legal issues they list are as follows:
"We maintain high professional and ethical standards." and "We are responsible and accountable for what we do." "We follow laws, regulations, executive direction, and congressional intent." and "We are an efficient and productive organization that excels in achieving its mission."
"The American people can count on the Forest Service to perform." and "The work is interesting, challenging, rewarding, and fun -- more than just a job!"
USDA USFS Guiding Principles and "What We Believe"
Without a doubt, we are sure there are many diligent, ethical, hard working, and well-meaning USDA USFS employees that believe and follow these principles to the best of their abilities. However, the ones that we post about on this website are definitely in some other, less than ethical league.
Consider now the collection and production of credible evidence having probative value, (i.e. "seeks the truth" or "evidence which is sufficiently useful to prove something important"). Because of the scarcity of individual participants and knowledge from a wildfire from 30 years ago, and those unwilling to comfortably and safely come forward to openly share their first-hand accounts, and for those that actually worked on the Dude Fire June 25-26, 1990, we must also rely on Hearsay.
Hearsay is defined as “a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” (emphasis added) FED. R. EVID. 801(c). The paramount reason for excluding these types of statements is due to their lack of trustworthiness. Glen Weissenberger, Hearsay Puzzles: An Essay on Federal Evidence Rule 803(3), 64 TEMP. L. REV. 145, 145 (1991). Furthermore, "Although the above rules and guidelines exist for [court] ... , there are various exceptions to the hearsay rule that have been carved out. While each exception is different and very specific, what is common to each is a situation that encourages trustworthiness at the time the statement was made. (emphasis added) ( https://www.mitchell-attorneys.com/heresay-arizona )
Given all the above, what now comes into play is the: "Arizona Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay - Regardless Whether The Declarant is Available." This is similar to the case of the public records for the USFS Aerial Firefighting Utilization and Effectiveness (AFUE) study Yarnell Hill Fire and the Yarnell Hill Fire "friendly fire" events along the Sesame Street and Shrine Corridor during separate firing operations, both on June 30, 2013. They are posted here on this website.
The following are included by the Arizona Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay - Regardless Whether The Declarant is Available:
"(1) Present Sense Impression. A statement describing or explaining an event or condition, made while or immediately after the declarant perceived it.
"(2) Excited Utterance. A statement relating to a startling event or condition, made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement that it caused.
"(3) Then-Existing Mental, Emotional, or Physical Condition. A statement of the declarant’s then-existing state of mind (such as motive, intent, or plan) or emotional, sensory, or physical condition (such as mental feeling, pain, or bodily health), but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the validity or terms of the declarant’s will."
CaseMine Legal Research ( https://www.casemine.com/search/us?q=rule+803+exceptions )
We utilized these AZ Rule 803 hearsay exceptions for our June 26, 1990, Dude Fire research. We have a former Tonto National Forest (TNF) Payson Ranger District (PRD) employee that worked on the fire, one of the former SAIT Investigators, written records of HS that worked on the fire, and several public records, including archive videos and video clips.
We first utilized these AZ Rule 803 hearsay exceptions, when we considered the case of the June 30, 2013, firing operation along the Sesame Street and Shrine Fuel / Fire Break Corridor area operations seen in a video during July 2013 at the Yarnell, AZ Library, (later seen on YouTube). This video showing evidence of 'two WFs / FFs dressed in Nomex, using drip torches, firing out along a road' was witnessed by as many as twenty (20) individuals. This included us, the two YH Fire Eyewitness Hikers, several experienced WFs and FFs and IMT personnel, IM participants and local citizens. Therefore, we had to rely on hearsay for some of our evidence. First off - the video tape has disappeared and the YouTube video as well - gone without a trace, like so many other evidences related to the YH Fire. Secondly, the "fear factor" of those involved in and /or that have documentary evidence, restricting them from coming forward.
And then there is the FF that was directly involved in one of the YH Fire Sesame Street and Shrine Corridor firing operations that emotionally gave his "first-hand" account of what occurred at a training academy attended by over a hundred WF and FF students during an Intermediate Fire Behavior (S-290) session. This was then recounted to us by one of the Instructors. We presented this evidence in our Washington, D.C. Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE) Conference and then first posted here on this website on December 12, 2019, beginning at Figure 8.
There are quoted excerpts from a Perryville Crew survivor that has been 'reliving' this tragic wildfire and shared his detailed recollections of this fatal wildfire from thirty (30) years ago. He will be referred to as the "Alternate Crew Member" (PACM) during the relevant Perryville Crew segments herein.
His contributions add brand new information and definitely augments what we know already as well. He corroborates what has been known from the beginning and even discounts some of the investigation report.
Hey Larry Terra (Crew Boss on the Dude Fire for Perryville) - I think you were a piece of s**t glory hound, and I think you and AZ State Forester Scott Hunt probably had a yearly running bet on who got the most 'news time.' And I bet other firefighters agree and would make that exact statement too.
What follows is one of several Dude Fire Fatality Investigator photos of the incident in Walk Moore Canyon.
Figure 1. Investigators in Walk Moore Canyon among several deployed fire shelters and WF line gear. Note the freshly cut dozer line to improve the former 2-track logging road as a control line. Source: Mangan, USDA USFS
Dr. Ted Putnam was one of these Investigators. His area of expertise was fatality-site investigation, and it was his responsibility to document each and every item at the site and to carefully examine fire clothing and equipment left in the canyon, looking for burn patterns. "What I look at in very, very fine detail is at the area not necessarily where the people died, but from the moment they had an inkling that they were in trouble," Putnam explained in a recent interview. "Everything that's dropped on that fatality site, I can kind of put it back together and tell you a story about what happened to the people in the last few minutes." (all emphasis added)
"Putnam, who has a doctorate degree in psychology, was also interested in understanding the human factors that could have contributed to the Dude Fire fatalities. ... So I'm also trying to look at the behavioral side of it," Putnam explained. 'People don't deliberately want to get burned over.'"
"Putnam was struck by what he observed. "The sad thing is that their packs laying on the ground didn't even burn ... and my analysis said that all of them would have lived if they would've stayed on the ground and put their nose right next to the ground." His opinion was that the Dude Fire was a survivable fire. People didn't have to die."
While instructing a S-131 Advanced FF, Squad Boss course, with the COVID 19 Phase (Zombie Apocalypse) in full swing, we wanted to make sure the Gila County Community College (GCCC) Eastern AZ College (EAC) Payson Campus wildland fire students met their Career expectations. And, whether we met their expectations as their Cadre Instructor / Co-Instructor.
One student went on to get his pack test and for this Fire Season 2020 tied in with Captain Chad Stluka with Christopher Kohls Fire Department. The other student had local entity expectations to meet, and we are assisting him to learn more about Wildland Fire and ways to protect and mitigate land and private properties. His end goal is to be a Mitigation Specialist. If any of you want to assist in helping him further his education - we welcome you. Any Firewise Ambassadors enthusiasts?
In all these years, Truth Tellers and others with integrity, are all tied together with this invisible thread. So then, go forth and practice your "inherently dangerous" trade to the best of your abilities during this "planned-demic." The source of the planned-demic quote is Jennifer MacGregor of CVV Transcripts.
Figure 2. Whiteboard exhibiting GCCC EAC Advanced Firefighter Type 1, Squad Boss training with extra time spent on "old school" Look Up, Down, and Around (S-133) Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 3. Advance Firefighter Type 1, Squad Boss Lead Instructor and student training on "old school" Look Up, Down, and Around ( S-133) Source: Joy A Collura
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:9
Figure 3a. First Wildland Fire Fatality Site Visit Hike for 2020 Source: Joy A Collura
To enhance the S-131 Advance FF / Squad Boss course, we had planned for a Dude Fire Site Visit because of its proximity to Payson and for the reason that this is the 30th Anniversary of this historic wildland fire fatality. We all met at the Pinon Cafe from 7:39 AM-8:48 AM then headed to the Walmart 8:54-9:04AM. We did the Site Visit until 3:33 PM then headed to Collins Ranch area and saw Hellsgate Chief John Wisner and he told us of the the Ellison Fire along the Control Road. And then we traveled on to the Haught Cabin and former Zane Grey site area, then the AZ Game & Fish (AGF) Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, and finally to Christopher Kohl's FD for the After Action Review (AAR) (5:47-6:12PM). We ended our evening at Ayothaya Thai (6:34-7:30PM). What follows are our photos from our May 23rd, 2020, Dude Fire Site Visit.
Figure 4. Lead Instructor and Student walking along Control Road from Gravel (Borrow) Pit (not pictured) to Dude Fire Site Visit Stand One. It was their designated Safety Zone on June 25-26, 1990. Source: Joy A Collura
Refer to the Dude Fire Staff Ride and Stand links below for much clearer photos, including the gravel pit Safety Zone used on June 25-26, 1990.
Figure 4a. June 25-25, 1990, Gravel Pit Safety Zone. Source: NWCG Staff Ride Toolbox
Figure 5. Lead Instructor and Student walking to Dude Fire Site Visit Stand One along Control Road Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 6. Stand One Sign along Control Road Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 7. Dude Fire Site Visit Stand One - Control Road Overview with Bonita Creek Subdivision along ridgeline, Walk Moore Canyon below, and Mogollon Rim in the background. Power line right-of-way is barely visible off upper left corner of Stand sign. Source: Joy A Collura
The Stands in Staff Rides and / or Site Visits designate a military battle or event location at which the group stops for discussion. The wildland fire service judiciously adopted the Staff Ride concept many years ago.
However, there is a caveat. A wise and virtuous former Investigator has said: "Historically accident investigations have provided crucial feedback for maximizing safety. These investigations have usually produced step-by-step factual reports to document the accident. ... Generally the goal of accident reports is to convey as much of the truth of an event that is discoverable. ... Sometimes investigators deliberately distort or do not report all the causal elements. Such biases lead firefighters to distrust the resulting reports, which can hamper our efforts to stay safe." (emphasis added) We seriously question the "factual reports" issue.
"Although it seems obvious that accident investigations should strive to uncover the actual cause and conditions that led to the accident, this is seldom attempted let alone advocated in the relevant agency investigation guides used by wildland fire and other organizational ... accident investigators." (emphasis added) Accident, accident guides, stories and the truth (2011)
You will truly find this interesting. During the investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office, they created several "draft" copies and distributed them to some - not all - of the 'involved personnel.' Remember that "they" only want those that will follow the Party Line and "go along to get along" to fit their predestined "conclusion." One of the key points of discussion was obviously the Bonita Creek and Walk Moore Canyon firing operation. These 'involved personnel' would then make or suggest specific or general edits and return them to the U.S. Attorneys Office investigator(s).
On or about the third iteration, 'someone' attempted "a fast one" (a shrewd action, especially when unscrupulous or dishonest; an unfair trick, deceitful practice, dishonest dealing, etc.) and listed one of the other HS Crews 'handing off' the firing operation to the Prescott HS. Needless to say, Prescott HS Foreman Sciacca was livid correctly denying that they did any 'firing out' that day. The Prescott HS were performing only holding operations.
There had always been concern, by some, about the intensity and speed of the firing operation - even though it ultimately 'created' the Safety Zone that saved scores of WF, FF, and other Bonita Creek and Walk Moore Canyon 'involved personnel' lives that day. One of the individuals that was intimately involved was later 'rewarded' with a key Washington Office-level fire position, a typical USFS 'tradition' common to other wildland fire fatalities.
For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. Proverbs 4:16
This wise and virtuous former Investigator also said: "Once firefighter and investigator lies about fatality fires get written into official reports, staff rides only turn the lies into dramas. Even if the Truth later seeps out, the staff rides keep regurgitating the same original lies. Net effect is [FFs] keep dying for the same reasons thus NWCG and all its ilk are truly guilty of negligent homicide. We lie to protect our imaginary personal, crew and agency images and real firefighters keep suffering and dying to nourish those collective fragile egos." (emphasis added) "Both Gary Olson [Happy Jack HS Supt.] and I told the real truth at the Battlement Creek Staff Ride [development phase] and none of it ever got incorporated into that Staff Ride. There is very little learning at the Lessons Learned Centers. Calling NWCG a ship of fools is an act of kindness...after all they were once firefighters. Same old shit but still stinky, disgusting and deadly." (emphasis added) "The Battlement Creek Fire Staff Ride comments were made to the current USFS Fire Director Shawna Lagarza." Now former Director.
See Dr. Ted's "Up in Smoke" article for more thought provoking details.
Figure 7a. Overview map of Dude Fire Staff Ride Stands (red numbered circles) and labeled Points of Interest (yellow triangles), also indicating Fuller Creek ), Control Road (left to right in lower quarter), Walk Moore Canyon, Bonita Creek, Road, and Subdivision. Stand 1 Parking is the gravel pit used as their initial Safety Zone on June 25-26, 1990. Source: Dude Fire Staff Ride documents