FOLLOWUP RESPONSIBILITY & ACCOUNTABILITY ON THE CRAMER
FROM THEYSAID 12/16/04
So you and some other folks think Iím opinionated. OK, Iíll own up to
that. As for being long-winded, well, complex issues cannot be explained
in short sound bites. But I think Iíve earned the right to voice my
opinion on this site. Iíve spent most of my career as a smokejumper,
rappeller, or helitack supervisor, how about you? Iíve initial attacked
somewhere over 200 fires by aerial delivery, and have probably about the
same amount of ground crew/engine IAs, plus years of prescribed fire
experience, how about you? Iíve been chased around and humbled on a
number of occasions by Salmon River fires, how about you?
Savage, maybe you need to check your own ďfactual informationĒ again.
Letís discuss the statements you made about my recent posts.
1. In your first bullet, you are correct when you say that the two
rappellers requested a ride out, but that is about all. You, OSHA, and
anyone else who thinks that a helicopter is a safety zone, need to
understand that you are barking up the wrong tree.
Yes, it would have been wonderful if everyone had picked up on the many
now-apparent danger signals, if everyone had communicated known hazards
flawlessly, if the helicopter had just picked up Shane and Jeff before
the fire overran their position. But then, if they had, we wouldnít be
having this discussion, would we?
Unfortunately, in the real world in which I work, right when you need
them the most, helicopters need fuel, or a maintenance check, or a radio
doesnít work, or you get a tail rotor chip light, or a hundred other
things. And what eventually happened at Cramer? When H-166 finally got
up to H-2, it was too smoky for it to land.
Let us stick a fork in this one, shall we? A helicopter is not a safety
zone. And counting on a helicopter to swoop in and rescue you from
hundred foot flames in the nick of time is not a good idea any way you
cut it. If you are depending on a helicopter as your only means of
escape, especially in a place like the Salmon River breaks during
extreme burning conditions, then you are rolling the dice in a big way.
As a rappel spotter, I never deployed rappellers on any fire unless we
had discussed a plan for LCES before they unplugged their flight helmets
and left the helicopter. A safety zone is an area on the ground where
you can take refuge in a worst case scenario, not a hypothetical
helicopter that may never come back. And a dehydrated ceanothus brush
field that has not yet been fired out is not yet a safety zone.
If I understand the Cramer report correctly between the redactions, the
spotter who spotted Shane and Jeff discussed escape routes and safety
zones before deploying them at H-2. My personal hunch is that Jeff and
Shane did have a plan between themselves for LCES, from what Iíve heard
about them they were two good hands, and I would be surprised if they
had not done so.
Perhaps it was the protracted wait for The Helicopter That Would Never
Arrive that distracted them from their LCES strategy. Maybe they
underestimated the ability of the fire coming out of the Cache Bar
drainage to rip through the scabby grass and rock just below them, just
as the air attack did (not air support, Savage). Maybe they failed to
appreciate that the normally non-flammable ceanothus brush would burn
like gasoline under low live fuel moisture conditions.
In any case, they did misinterpret the level of threat from or react too
late to the known hazard of the fire in the Cache Bar drainage. Whether
some of you like it or not, in the last few minutes of Shane and Jeffís
lives, there was no one who could really help them but themselves. The
fact that they failed to react in a way that would allow them to survive
their suddenly hellish situation doesnít make them bad firefighters, or
bad people; it just makes them human, and prone to errors like the rest
2. Let me see if I understand the points you tried to make in your
second bullet. To start with, I think you have the positions of air
support and air attack confused. Air support is the guy sucking back
juices at the airport, air attack is the guy with the half full barf bag
boring holes in the sky over the fire. It may not seem like much of a
difference to you, but it is to them, and to me.
I donít know which Cramer report you are reading, but mine says that the
Cramer air attack and helicopters working the fire were in contact with
Jeff and Shane on several occasions to inform them about changing or
threatening fire conditions, and the air attack was looking to help them
find an escape route when they were overrun.
And all of this bad noise you are making about involuntary manslaughter
and OIG and negligence and OSHA interviews makes me want to gag.
Savage, from the number of errors and odd interpolations on your post,
and your reference to OSHA notes obtained through FOIA, I gather you
arenít a current firefighter but a concerned family member or well
intended friend. If you are, I can respect that you think you are
defending Shane and Jeff, and that you are doing an honorable thing.
But I am not the enemy here, and you, RW, and others need to recognize
that I have never criticized Jeff and Shaneís rappeller or faller skills
or challenged their qualifications. Go back and look at my posts on
Cramer starting with 12/2. That is, if you have a spare month
(self-inflicted jab at the length of some of my posts).
As I tried to explain in my last post, the question that seems to be on
some peopleís minds was this statement from my 12/13 post:
ďSo as long as weíre after accountability, how about firing the
Salmon-Challis forest supervisor (oh, wait, he resigned), the rappel
spotter, the dispatchers, the pilots (canít fire them, theyíre
contractors), the ATGS, the district ranger, (canít blame the FMO, there
wasnít one), the fire staff? Why stop there? How about whoever signed
off Alan Hackett as an ICT3, and for that matter anyone who signed off
on any of his taskbooks? And who was responsible for training Shane and
Jeff, and for signing them off as rappellers and fallers?Ē
If you take that statement out of context, it sounds pretty bad. But go
back and look at the preceding and following paragraphs again. I wasnít
arguing for accountability for these people, I was saying to the They
Said posters who were demanding accountability how useless it was to
expect that firing or making criminals out of any of these people would
make the rest of us safer.
Let me say this again. Those were rhetorical questions. A rhetorical
question is a literary device intended to provoke thought and stimulate
discussion. It is not intended to produce a real answer. To be
absolutely clear about this point, I was not accusing Jeff and Shane, or
anyone else, of anything.
3. As to your third bullet, Iím sorry to say it just betrays your
relative lack of knowledge about human factors, rappelling and wildland
firefighting in general. There are so many wrong interpretations in that
statement I donít even know where to start.
Savage, if you are a friend or loved one of Shane or Jeff, I genuinely
do not want to add more pain to your loss. But I am not going to sit
back and take misguided shots at my character. Whatever Jeff and Shane
were to you, to me, they were brothers, even if we had never met. They
were brother rappellers and wildland firefighters, and I respect and
honor them in the same way that I respect and honor all of the other
wildland firefighters who have died in the line of duty. It saddens me
when I think how many there have been during my career.
I know what my own motives are for taking an interest in what happened
at Cramer, and I think Jeff and Shane would support me if they were
here. It is the reason we perform After Action Reviews: if there is
anything good that can be gained from this tragedy, it is to learn
something that will help keep other firefighters safe on future fires.
And in order to do that, we need to look down every avenue, and to get
beyond talking about WHO was wrong and start talking about WHAT went
wrong, and WHY it went wrong.
Ab, this seems to be a habit for me lately. I didnít mean for this to
become some long diatribe on the state of modern wildland firefighting
but it seems to be turning out that way.
Happy holidays to everyone,
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