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"FREE  ELLREESE"
December, 2006 -- August, 2008

Theysaid posts that may aid in his defense
Implications for wildland firefighting...
From the Home of the Wildland Firefighter

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8/31 And so it goes on.... Ab.

I was wondering,,, if something happened on a fire and the EMT did the best she or he could, and there were other circumstances so the injured person didn't get to the hospital and the person died, how might the EMT be blamed? What would be the grounds? What could even make it something that would be considered breaking the law or criminal actions? Manslaughter? I'm worried about this happening on a fire.

Say I do my best. I get blamed anyway?

I had hoped to help by getting my EMT. To be prepared. Now I'm worried that I might be at risk for getting tied up in legal stuff for up to 7 yr like Ellreese just for doing the best I can when it's hard to get patients to hospital during the "golden hour".

Should I let my EMT lapse? or choose to not use it? Do we all need PLI like the ICs now? Good grief, what's the world coming too???? People want to help. They want to be prepared when off in the woods in a risky environment. They do their best and after a death some "Justice Dpt" or "Law" people decide the EMT is to blame! Even if we're innocent there could be years of anxiety anguish uncertainty disruption head-tripping post-traumatic-stress-nightmares just because somebody thought there was something "criminal" because someone dies and someone or something has to be held accountable like the world is black and white???

Noname EMT

8/21Thanks, Misery Whip. You're amazing.

Here's another excellent piece: What Was He Thinking? (4,854K 63p doc file)
a long human factors article written by Mike Johns (Asst U.S. Attorney) in 2007
following Esperanza. He discusses cognitive biases, attribution errors, thinking
processes involved in judging causation, responsibility and blame, etc.

I'm going to have to take some time and read this again.

Thanks to those who are sharing their own accounts, thank you!
I appreciate the first-hand stories of what firefighters do and don't remember
following a stressful incident. Since it's so painful, people often don't talk
about the bad experience and talking is often the way to healing. As a result others
don't know what's normal or how to deal with flash-backs, dreams and a bunch
of other normal but scary physical responses that may occur, sometimes years
after the event.

Mellie

8/21Repost of a piece on the 30mile tragedy by Misery Whip from 12/31/06. He asked me to bring this forward. His analysis below rebuts the contention that Ellreese was lying:

Don’t look now, but your hindsight bias is showing. You seem to have fallen for Agent Parker’s still very UNPROVEN assertions that Ellreese lied about his actions at Thirtymile, so therefore was guilty of trying to hide his own mistakes that contributed to the fatalities. I think there is a far more plausible and less sinister answer as to why there are conflicts among the Thirtymile firefighters witness statements.

You could start by putting events in their proper context.

Don’t forget that NWR Crew 6 crewpersons had all worked the previous day, had maybe a couple of hours of rest, then traveled the rest of the night and worked all day on a tough fire. The investigation report equated their sleep-deprived condition to a .10 blood alcohol level, or legally drunk. How reliable do you think ANY of the firefighters statements are given that what they were seeing and hearing was filtered through their handicapped mental state?

You (and Agent Parker) ought to know better than to expect everyone’s witness statements to exactly line up following a traumatic event such as this. I actually find it remarkable that there are so many statements within the criminal complaint that corroborate Ellreese’s version of events.

Witness statements acknowledge that Ellreese yelled and gestured at one firefighter to come down, that Ellreese expressed to other firefighters that the road was probably the best place to be, that Ellreese told firefighters to get shelters out and to “cover your buddies,” etc.

The criminal complaint cherrypicked the evidence against Ellreese to attempt to portray that he had a careless indifference to safety. When viewed in totality, the Thirtymile Fire Investigation Report reveals that significant management failures outside of Ellreese’s control also contributed to the overall outcome. The complaint makes it seem as though only Ellreese made errors in judgment. And there is a large difference between being carelessly indifferent to the safety of others and making honest errors in judgment.

The Thirty Mile abatement plan is a laundry list of admitted management failures. For instance, work-rest guidelines were revised because of Thirtymile. Working at the time under the old rules, Ellreese and crew were attempting to make important decisions in a sleep-deprived state that would have severely impaired their abilities to maintain good situational awareness and make good decisions.

Another post Thirtymile management change is the restriction that personnel cannot simultaneously be a crew boss and IC. That sort of “duty shifting” of roles was common before Thirtymile, and was found to be a contributing factor in this case. The fact that he was essentially pressured into accepting simultaneous roles as ICT3/CRWB/trainer cannot be construed as Ellreese’s failure, this was a management failure.

The complaint reveals a blatant hindsight bias in its interpretation of events. The “Lessons from the Thirtymile Fire” training program was created in response to the Thirtymile Abatement Plan’s mandate to share lessons learned from this incident. Entrapment Avoidance training and entrapment reaction drills only came about after Thirtymile. Again, these programs were developed after recognition that this area was lacking before Thirtymile.

Post-Thirtymile Fireline Leadership training and post-Cramer ICT3 simulation evaluations are additional belated acknowledgements that agencies had also previously neglected teaching basic leadership and communication concepts. Ellreese and company did not have the benefit of hindsight and leadership training/evaluation specifically designed to help improve leadership and communications during stressful circumstances like entrapments.

The complaint undercuts its own case throughout with statements meant to bolster the prosecution’s interpretation that Ellreese lied to cover his failings. I saw many indications that Ellreese did attempt to communicate with the people on the rocks and expressed concern that everyone would be better off on the road. Ellreese is a very soft spoken individual and does not have a forceful personality. I very much believe that in his own mind, he feels he did these things.

Remember, this was an extremely sleep-deprived person who was dealing with a troublesome fire and some strong-willed individuals in his charge. The other crewmembers were also sleep deprived and distracted by fear and side-events, so their attention span and memory of what actually transpired is also suspect. And even though the firefighters had been watching the fire advance up canyon toward them, everyone at the upper site was surprised by the suddenness and severity of the event’s onslaught.

Errors in judgment should not be construed as indicators of carelessness or bad character. When you take into account that many of the key players were operating under a severe sleep deficit and experiencing extreme stress, it is not surprising that errors were made and that people have different recollections of specific events.

At the time of the Thirtymile Fire, no training or method existed for helping firefighters determine the size and location of safety zones in various fuel and terrain conditions, and which locations might be especially vulnerable to firewhirls and convective heat and/or gases. The guidelines in the Interagency Response Pocket Guide are for radiant heat only. How can Ellreese be faulted for not being able to predict something that fire behavior experts still are unable to define? The effects and range of convective gases and heat in relation to determining safety zone size and location is still largely guesswork based on experience. And as we saw again this past summer, firewhirls can emerge from nowhere and rapidly cross open ground independently from the main fire.

Although the Interagency Response Pocket Guide contains safety zone size specifications for protection from radiant heat, guidelines for protection from convective gas/heat and firewhirls still do not exist today. The firefighters at Thirtymile undoubtedly experienced an unusual fire phenomena that is still not completely understood.

After the entrapment, Ellreese’s biggest error was underestimating how severely the down canyon crownfire would impact their location, and consequently failing to make deployment preparations. Once the situation became deadly, there was really no opportunity for Ellreese to direct the actions of firefighters and civilians. People simply reacted wherever they were when the heat wave struck and deployed.

I still have an unforgettable memory from my first visit to the Thirtymile fatality site. As I looked around, I realized that had I been in their place, I very likely would have determined that anywhere in the general van/road/rock scree area would be survivable without a shelter. And so I very well might have made the same judgment as Ellreese, that the fire would not heavily impact them and so would also have been caught unprepared.

I wouldn’t make the same choice today if I was caught in a similar situation. Based on what I learned from Thirtymile, I would prep for the worst and get everyone ready for a shelter deployment. But I have the benefit of hindsight.

Misery Whip

aerial photo of Thirtymile fatality site
more photos: www.wildlandfire.com/pics/30mi/30mi.htm

Also good is this Lessons Learned training from MTDC: www.fs.fed.us/fire/safety/MTDC_Lessons/index.htm Ab.

8/21Ab,

Many thanks for all you've done for Ellreese.... I was reading through the
forums, and noticed this question of Mellie's on the Hotlist thread:

|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| |
| "Daniels will have to pay $50 a month in fines for every month he's
| on probation."
| |
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

That is incorrect. Kathy Fitzpatrick informed the news station of this,
and it simply is wrong. The Court did order Ellreese to pay $50, but it's
$50 total, and it's the mandatory court assessment. The Court declined to
order a fine to be paid.

Let me also say that I noticed another comment by Sammie from the same news
report that noted:

|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
| |
| So far he's the only Forest Service employee charged from the Thirty
| Mile fire.
| |
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

Let me assure everyone, Ellreese is the ONLY employee who will EVER be
charged from this fire. The statute of limitations has passed.

In other thoughts, I want to let folks know that I have been more than
impressed with the firefighting community. The work y'all do is dangerous
and thankless, and now, as we see, puts you in harm's way even when you are
not on the fireline. This community has been outspoken in its belief that
safety IS an important issue, and you all wish to learn from mistakes that
have been made in the past. I hope that yesterday's actions will not deter
that. But I have to be frank and let you all know that until Congress
changes things, it is going to be important to seek counsel whenever ANY
accident investigation takes place. The most innocuous comments can now
put you at risk of criminal liability, and while insurance may pay for your
lawyer, (and I emphasize *may* because not all liability policies will pay
for criminal counsel) it will NOT undo the damage of a prosecution nor
keep you from going to jail or prison.

I am horribly disappointed in the sentence even as I understand it could be
much worse. Please know that if there is anything I can do for y'all,
please email me or give me a call.

Tina

Our community thanks you and applauds your efforts, Tina. You did a wonderful job. Ab.

8/21Abs:

I have been following carefully the recent posts about human factors surrounding 30 Mile and the entire Ellreese Daniels ordeal. Mellie's recent post taught me something regarding memory loss and other human factors. Misery Whip's recent post really brought it home for me regarding "being sleep deprived and underestimating fire behavior ".

I got burned over big time on an initial attack timber fire in wilderness back in the '70's in a setting very similar to 30 Mile regarding fuels, weather, and topography. The fire was in heavy old growth timber and in the bottom of a deep canyon. At the time it went to crown, my squad was upcanyon from the crown initiation area and two more squads were even further up the canyon. I was a six year firefighter at the time and still had the attitude of keeping my mouth shut, my tool in the ground, and trusting totally those who supervised me.

We all arrived on the fire at about 2200 after doing project work all day and hiking in about 6 miles. We worked all night and had a very shaky line around about half of the fire by about 0600 next morning.

A Red Flag Warning was posted for the day. The Fire Boss (not from my crew) made no effort to communicate this or its implications to anyone. We found out later he had very little wildland fire experience and really did not understand what Red Flag Warning meant. He was visibly taking his cues over the radio from 'more experienced' folks many miles away.

Our orders were to mop up all morning but by about 1100 I noticed that all that my full stream nozzle was doing was fanning the flames in the large fuels and punky log piles. By noon we were getting a lot of torching with spot fires all over the place.

Now here is my point: I never have remembered very well what happened after that.

I do remember these few things:

-I was very tired and cranky from working in excess of 24 hours straight.
-The fire went to crown shortly after we had spots all over the place.
-The only thing that saved our lives was an icy cold and not very large creek. Fire shelters never crossed our mind.
-I was freezing cold from the neck down and ending up with a heck of a sunburn on my face.
-I was scared to death of the heat and of falling debris/snags both in the creek and when we ran for it after the main fire front went over us.
-When we got to the scree slope at the heel of the fire I remember suddenly feeling completely numb all over with the realization of what had just happened to me.
-We were all very worried about each other until everybody was physically accounted for (all of the radios got soaked).

We all tried to reconstruct what we had been through later that day but I am pretty sure that everybody who was there was affected the same ways that I was and was not thinking very clearly. We all had different versions of what had just happened to us and what led up to it and our versions diverged greatly over the ensuing time.

What I learned from that event:

-Learn everything you possibly can about wildland fire behavior.
-Be very careful who you follow into battle in this business.
-Learn never to get yourself or anybody else into these situations using both of the above.

Keep up the good discussion. We were still a lot of years short of even knowing the term 'human factors' in the '70's. I am happy to finally begin to understand my own human factors regarding that long ago event.

My heart goes out to all of the families of the victims of the 30 Mile Tragedy. It goes out equally right now to Ellreese Daniels for the suffering he also has had to endure.

OFBA
8/21 I have not written into TheySaid for quite a while; but I have been reading and absorbing. Finally I have to say my 2-cents worth… and it is about the Ellreese ordeal.

I have no comprehension how he could have gone through such a thing; either the original tragedy or the subsequent investigation and prosecution (or should I say persecution). So it is hard for me to have a point of reference; but what I can comment on is my disgust in the way the U.S. Government ate one of its own. I don’t know if Ellreese made tactical errors, I wasn’t there. I don’t know if Ellreese told lies, I wasn’t there and I don’t know his mind. But I do recognize others cowardice and narcissism when I see it.

I never read any account of the U.S. Forest Service standing up and defending Ellreese for doing a job they asked him to do; cowardice on the part of the U.S. Forest Service. I read the words of Tom Hopkins stating the government’s official opinion of why Ellreese did what the government accused him of doing. Hopkins is so caught up in who he that he feels omnipotent; extreme narcissism on his part.

The outcome of this ordeal tells me a several things about the job; 1) as an ICT3 I will be very cautious in the future of what I do during operations and what I say during any AAR or investigation, 2) the government willingly will use worms like Hopkins to eat their own, 3) the U.S. Forest Service has no respect for its mid-level leaders and will hang them out to dry whenever it suits them, 4) I will do everything in my power to look after those that I have in my organization, 5) I will still do my job to the best of my ability despite all the efforts of our government agencies to work against us.

Please be safe, protect our fellow brothers and sisters, and remember we serve the citizens of this great country…and they need us now more than ever.

BLMboy

8/21 Re: Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Hopkins... and the Thirty Mile Fire

We wildland firefighters and community, as well as several attorneys who have represented federal wildland firefighters in the past are fired up (pissed off/disgusted)... We all know far too well the underhanded antics of Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Hopkins in trying to achieve a federal appointment as a judge. It IS ON THE RADAR SCREEN. We also know the background... and the prohibited antics and slight of hand tactics that are/were employed... that occurred within the OIG in building a case. The actions of the AUSA, as well as the OIG both violated the written language of PL 107-203, as well as completely overlooked the original intent of keeping firefighters safer that Congressman Doc Hastings and Senator Cantwell had intended.

His actions (AUSA)... the OIG actions... and to a lesser extent, the actions of the Forest Service ALL violated the 5th Amendment rights against self incrimination; The 4th & 5th Amendment Rights covered under "exclusionary rules"; The 14th Amendment (Equal Protection Clause) (Below); and the 6th Amendment Rights that guarantees rights to educated cousel before statements are given that could violate protections afforded in the 1st, 4th, and 5th amendments of the Constitution.

I'm not so stupid to think that the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights don't exist anymore.... Some good civil lawyer should take up the cause on behalf of Ellreese.... and upon the behalf of all firefighters. This case needs to go to the Appeals Courts... and if needed, to the United States Supreme Court.

I have a hope that justice will prevail... and that our Constitution and Bill of Rights
cannot be corrupted.

NoName....

Added Reference:

The 14th amendment is not by its terms applicable to the federal government. Actions by the federal government, however, that classify individuals in a discriminatory manner will, under similar circumstances, violate the due process of the fifth amendment. See U.S. Const. amend. V.
8/21 This is a repost in partial answer to the member of the public who wrote in about lying and Ellreese's sentencing.

HUMAN FACTORS:

People who are under stress following a burnover, death or other accident do not remember accurately. Adrenalin (epinepherine) prevents short term memory from being consolidated (at the hippocampus) into long term memory, that can then be recalled accurately. On average without excess adrenalin (and with adequate sleep) we can hold 4 to 7 bits of information in short term memory at one time (phone numbers began as 7 digits for a reason; LCES is effective as a mnemonic). Remembering long term is another process. If we chunk bits of info together, we can remember more like the a,b,c song; or we can use other memory aids like storytelling to remember, say, the 10 rules of engagement/ disengagement plus the 18 watchouts for a test. Long term memory may degrade with time if not used or reviewed somehow.

What about perception? We perceive reality in sound bites as we "see" it through our own history of experiences, preconceptions, and biases. We fill in the gaps between the "sound bites" with what we think is the most likely and logical interpretation of what goes there, given our past experience. It's a seamless ongoing process that we perceive as continuous, but it's not. We think we know "reality", but we only know slices of it.

As time goes on, we recall events less and less accurately. This means you might not answer exactly consistently over time.

If you do not answer consistently and correctly due to filling in the blanks in your memory with your best guess, you may end up "lying" and you don't even know that's what you're doing. (Maybe Ellreese filled in this way when he said he told the firefighters on the scree to come to the road?)

from Mellie's post on 8/18

8/21 Not sure I want to introduce myself this way, but I live on 12.5 acres next to Tahoe National Forest & found your site while looking for info on a recent fire 3 miles from here. From what I've read, Ellreese wasn't charged for the decisions he made about his firefighters, he was charged because he LIED to investigators about those decisions. If you can't stand behind your decisions, with the truth, you knew you were wrong before you made them. Just an outside observer's take on the situation.

Davepet

I am not convinced he knew he lied. I'm reposting some of Mellie's stress psychologist comments from 8/18 above your post. "Lying" by definition implies a true and a false, black and white, without the human organism involved in the process. Under stress what is seen/heard/spoken and recalled by a human being can have alternative "human factors" explanations as Mellie would say "due to physiological processing". Many members of the public who have not been burned over or shot at or studied/observed human responses under stress see only in black and white. They have no experience of grey, of mental gaps, of deer in the headlights trying to make sense of what they just experienced. Ab.

8/20 Ab & All,

This is a historic day.

This is the day a fellow US Forest Service wildland firefighter was sentenced for his actions as Incident Commander of the Thirtymile Fire.

It pains me to, but I have to ask this question; does anyone else wonder if racism is driving this precedent-setting case? It seems statistically odd that the first US Forest Service Incident Commander ever to be convicted and sentenced for misconduct related to a fire on which other Forest Service firefighters lost their lives is a black man.

Although he pleaded to lesser charges to avoid multiple felony charges, I never believed Ellreese was guilty of anything besides being sleep deprived and unable to predict fire behavior that was far beyond anything he had ever experienced. It turns out he was also guilty of agreeing to manage large, dangerous forest fires for an agency that ultimately failed to mount even a minimum defense for an employee who attempted to perform his assigned responsibilities as an Incident Commander.

I don’t think Ellreese’s decision to plead guilty to lesser charges is in any way an admission that he lied about anything. Had I been in his place, I would have probably accepted a plea offer to get off without big time prison time. Would you?

I came to two sobering conclusions when I first visited the Thirtymile fatality site a few weeks after it happened. The first conclusion was, after many years of fighting fires in the northwest US, I could not imagine what combination of fire behavior and heat could have crossed the several hundred feet of rock slump, river and road to kill those kids on the rocks. I still believe the fire behavior they experienced was a rare and not easily explained event.

The second conclusion was that, had I been there, an experienced ICT3 and DIVS, I would not have anticipated that people at the fatality site would have been in any significant danger from the distant crown fire. Thus, I probably would not have anticipated what eventually happened. I could easily have been in Ellreese's shoes. This is not an admission that is entirely comfortable to admit, and I have worked on many fires in similar fuels that have exhibited extreme fire behavior.

Here is what Forest Service firefighters may look forward to if they experience a tragedy on their watch and come before Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Hopkins. From the Wenatchee World:

http://wenatcheeworld.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080816/NEWS04/911075762/1001

"After dropping manslaughter charges against the crew boss of four firefighters who died in the Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop, a federal prosecutor has assigned a motive to why Ellreese Daniels lied to investigators after the fatal 2001 wildfire. Daniels, 47, of Lake Wenatchee, wanted to save his firefighting career, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Hopkins."

"Mr. Daniels lied to investigators for the purpose of shifting responsibility for the deaths of the four firefighters to others, to include the victims, in an effort to save his career," his court document states. It later adds that deployment of fire shelters triggers an automatic investigation, and, "In a profession where success, courage, and image are important, Mr. Daniels wanted to avoid an unnecessary deployment that could hurt his standing among his peers and reduce his prospects for choice assignments and promotion."

I would like to go on record by replying WHAT A BUNCH OF HOG SWILL! The mere fact that Mr. Hopkins can get away with publicly debasing a US Forest Service Incident Commander in federal court for THE CRIME OF BEING SLEEP DEPRIVED AND UNDERESTIMATING EXTREME FIRE BEHAVIOR without being vehemently rebutted by our supposed "leaders" is a sad comment on the present sorry state of our culture. Unfortunately, the only area in which the Forest Service wildland fire culture seems to be showing improvement is our ability to orchestrate inspiring firefighter memorials.

I would also like to express my admiration for the way the Craven family has responded throughout this ordeal. Big Smooth, your family and the other Thirtymile families have my deepest respect and sympathies.

Misery Whip

8/20 So did Ellreese and all of us who risk our life on the line get JUSTICE???

Do any of us fight fire more safely as a result of this 7 yr process?

Are we supposed to feel relieved for Ellreese not going to jail? All I feel is
anger at what he's gone through for these years and the knowledge it could have
been me not anticipating the extreme fire behavior. Specially since extreme fire
behavior seems to be happening more often.

Do we trust our agency to try to do the right thing for someone like any
one of us doing his job as best possible?
Did we ever?
I remember trusting more...

Wow, all I seem to have when I think about it and the future of firefighting is
sour stomach and acid reflux, and I even have PLI.

Siski Sam

PLI=Professional Liability Insurance, not a medical condition. Ab.

8/20 Just caught the latest at the Yakima herald website.

www.yakima-herald.com/stories/6901

Thank you,

Stephen

Hotlist thread

8/20 Still waiting to hear from an official source, but what I'm hearing is that

Ellreese won't serve any time but will spend 90 days on work release and
3 yr on probation for making false statements to authorities.

Ab.

OK. here's a news report: www.kndo.com

8/20 Ab,

Thought all would like to know that Ellreese is well supported today
locally and beyond. ....

Here is an update on the sentencing hearing for Ellreese Daniels, which was
moved from August 18 to August 20.

On Wednesday, The Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Supervisor Becki Heath, along
with many forest employees and coworkers of Ellreese will be in Spokane
along with Regional Forester Cal Joyner and Regional Public Affairs
Specialist Glen Sachet.

The sentencing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m and is expected to last
most of the day. As soon as the Judge makes his decision on the
sentencing and Cal and Becki complete potential media inquiries, we will
send word back to the Forest via an email. This will be sent to all
employees through Becki's email.

Becki is also planning on a conference call with the Forest Leadership
Team which is scheduled for 3 p.m.
This time could change depending on when the sentencing wraps up.

Essentially, as soon as we have information to share, we will put the plan
in motion to get the word out.

R5VetFF

Thanks. We also usually hear from Tina Hunt, Ellreese's lawyer who has done an excellent job on a complex and precedent setting case, of course with the help of many wildland firefighters across the nation.
THANK YOU TINA HUNT! Ab.

8/20 Please keep Ellreese in mind today.

His only crime is that he didn't have a lawyer in his back pocket when this started and he didn't know he needed one. Unfortunately, we've lost many good Type 3 ICs who decided to move on from fire or from the FS and it's clear we do not have a Just Culture, even though we're now trying to work toward that. Ab.

8/19 Don't forget tomorrow is sentencing for Ellreese. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers...
  • There but for some kind of grace or luck or fate... potentially goes any one of us who's faced the dragon as carefully as we can but not good enough.
  • You know we've all had near misses as fire behavior changes unexpectedly.
  • You know we've all operated under too little sleep.
  • You know we've all done the best we can under the changing circumstances on the ground with the experience and training we have...
  • You know many of us have dealt with the distractions of a Mark 3 pump.

Awful to think any one of us could suffer the years of this hanging over our head and go to jail for doing our job as best we can... after having our people die... which is sentence to a strange kind'a hell all its own.

AL

www.yakima-herald.com/stories/6862

Sentencing Wednesday signals official close of Thirtymile fire tragedy
by Mark Morey
Yakima Herald-Republic

Ellreese Daniels, the incident commander charged for the deaths of four Central Washington firefighters at the Thirtymile fire, is set to be sentenced Wednesday.

More than seven years after the deaths, the sentencing at U.S. District Court in Spokane will be one of the last formal steps associated with the Thirtymile saga.

Killed at Thirtymile were firefighters Tom Craven, Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson and Devin Weaver. Weaver, 21, Johnson, 19, and FitzPatrick, 18, were from Yakima; Craven, 30, lived in Ellensburg.

The four died July 10, 2001, while battling a blaze ignited by an unattended campfire. They were trapped by flames when an inferno swept over them on a dead-end road along the Chewuch River in the Okanogan National Forest.

Another Yakima firefighter, Jason Emhoff, was burned, and a pair of Thorp campers, Bruce and Paula Hagemeyer, were trapped with the crew.

Investigations by the U.S. Forest Service and the Yakima Herald-Republic found that a series of supervisors did not take steps they should have, including selection of a safe escape route.

Some of the victims' relatives will always believe that Daniels should have faced a trial on the original manslaughter charges. Instead, he pleaded guilty to two counts of making false statements to investigators.

Firefighters from across the country have voiced support for Daniels.

While they mourn the tragic loss of their colleagues at Thirtymile, many do not feel that Daniels deserved to face criminal charges. He was the only one prosecuted in the case, the first time the federal government has ever sought such charges in a fireline death.

Daniels could face a maximum standard sentence of six months in federal prison. Prosecutors have indicated they will ask for four months; his defense attorney wants probation.

Daniels' attorney, public defender Tina Hunt of Spokane, argues in her sentencing brief to Judge Fred Van Sickle that probation is more appropriate than prison under the circumstances. Unusual fire behavior and terrain were responsible for the deaths, Hunt said, contending that Daniels never meant to act negligently.

Hunt said the case has already cast a pall over the federal fire service. Firefighters now must wonder whether they will face prosecution for decisions made in the dangerous, rapidly evolving environment of a wildland fire. (more at the link above)

Hotlist thread

8/7 Wednesday August 20, 2008 at 1000 hours is Ellreese's new sentencing date/time.

All,

Please make a note that Judge Van Sickle has changed the time and date of
Ellreese's sentencing from Monday, the 18th, to Wed. 8/20 at 10 a.m. in
Spokane.

Tina

7/24 Info on Ellreese  --  Jimbo
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Subject: Fw: Character Reference - Ellreese Daniels - Letters of Support
Group - Here's a way to help Ellreese with a character reference letter. Individually or as a group. __________________________

I just read that Judge Van Sickle will sentence Ellreese Daniels on August18, 2008.  Before sentencing Ellreese, the families of the Thirtymile victims will speak publically in court to the judge.  It was brought to my attention that character reference/letters in support of Ellreese may be sent to the judge beforehand for him to also consider in determining Ellreese's sentence.  Jail time is a possibility.  Although the good thing is the felony charges were dropped by the plea bargain agreement; by not having a trial it also limits the amount of information Judge Van Sickle has to consider when determining Ellreese's sentence.

If you would like to submit a letter in support of Ellreese for the judge's consideration, you can send it via Ellreese's attorney Tina Hunt at: Tina_ Hunt (at sign) fd. org (take out spaces and add appropriate symbol)

I know Ellreese would be very appreciative of our support for him at this critical time.  Please feel free to send this message to others who have worked with Ellreese or have knowledge of the strange twist in the Thirtymile fire behavior.   Thank you!

Margi Peterson

7/2Dear Abercrombie,

Sorry for the delay in getting get this info out, I was away. It came in from the
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests on June 18, 2008. Ellreese Daniels'
sentencing hearing has been moved from July to August 18th. There's a little
more info below.

Thank you,

Heather M.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We just received word that the sentencing hearing for Ellreese has been
moved to August 18. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:00 and Tom
Hopkins is expecting it to last several hours.

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
215 Melody Lane
Wenatchee, WA 98801

Thanks Heather. Ab.

4/22 Ellreese Daniels' trial dates

The court gave us his order today with the trial date schedules. I thought
most of you would like to know what that schedule is, so I've attached his
order.

Tina

www.wildlandfire.com/docs/2008/law/OrderTrialSchedule[4-22-08].pdf  (39 K pdf file small)

Text:

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON

TRIAL SCHEDULE

THIS MATTER is scheduled for trial beginning May 5, 2008 and
ending July 2, 2008
. Counsel shall meet with the Court in chambers at
8:30 a.m. on the first day of trial. Jury Selection will begin at
10:00 a.m. Trial will be held each day from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. excluding the following days: May 9,
May 16, May 22, May 23, May 26, June 5, June 6, June 20, and June 23 -
27.

IT IS SO ORDERED. The District Court Executive is hereby
directed to enter this order and furnish copies to counsel.
DATED this 22nd day of April, 2008.
s/ Fred Van Sickle
United States District Judge

Thanks Tina. Free Ellreese. Ab.

4/20Misery Whip

Here's what Becki Forest-Supervisor (on the Wenatchee- Okanogan NFs)
said on 4/14 theysaid post from Gorge FMO:

I plan on attending as much of the trial as possible. When I’m not
there, my representative will be. I will wear my uniform proudly in
support of all employees and the Agency. I have identified a few
employees that will serve a variety of roles in an official capacity at
the trial, including keeping you informed of the proceedings. Others
interested in attending can do so on their own time, not in an official
capacity, with the use of leave pre-approved by their supervisor.

She may be there in an official capacity, though.

Mellie

The Free Ellreese page is up to date again...

4/19All,

Does anyone know if the Forest Service is going to advise employees on what they may or may not do related to attending Ellreese's upcoming trial? I would specifically like to know what the Chief's stance would be toward an employee who was willing to take annual leave to attend Ellreese's trial and wanted to wear the uniform as a show of support. I know if I was sitting in Ellreese's place, it would make me feel better to see my brother and sister firefighters wearing the colors behind me.

I haven't felt like wearing the uniform for a long time, but I would make an exception in this case if the Chief says it is OK.

Free Ellreese

Misery Whip
4/14May 5th, 2008 Trial of Ellreese Daniels, IC Type 3 on the Thirty Mile Fire:

Here is a letter from the Forest Supervisor on the Wenatchee- Okanogan NF's
on the upcoming trial for Ellreese Daniels, Thirty Mile ICT3. We need to
keep him in our thoughts as the trial approaches.

GorgeFMO
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okanogan-Wenatchee Employees:

The trial of our employee Ellreese Daniels is scheduled to begin May 5.
He was indicted by a grand jury on four counts of involuntary
manslaughter and seven counts of making false statements based on
actions in his role as crew boss during the Thirtymile tragedy in 2001.
I struggle with the reality of criminal charges against one of our own
employees. I was not here in 2001, but today I feel the anxiety and
fears of the firefighting community. I am also deeply saddened at the
loss families experienced. Yet, in the midst of this swirl of strong
emotion, we must go on.

I intend to support Ellreese by ensuring I do not interfere with a fair
and speedy trial. All we can do for the families, employees and the
American public is cooperate with the defense and prosecution by
providing knowledgeable witnesses to testify honestly and truthfully.
Then, let the justice system work based on the facts of the case. In
the end, the judge and jury will decide the outcome of the trial.

This case will likely generate national media interest. If you want to
speak with the media, then it is critical that you emphasize to them
that you are speaking for yourself, as an individual, on you own time,
not for the Forest Service or in any official capacity. It is your
choice as an individual, representing your personal views to speak to a
reporter. I offer this thought though. Ask yourself, “How will my
comments influence the ability of the court to provide a fair and speedy
trial”? If you are asked to comment as a Forest Service employee, please
refer that request to Glen Sachet (503-808-2790) in the Regional Office.

Some of you will testify as witnesses for the defense or prosecution, or
you will know someone who is testifying. The emotions of the tragedy may
return. Don’t hesitate to talk with your line or staff officer, union
representative, or contact the Employee Assistance Program for help.

I plan on attending as much of the trial as possible. When I’m not
there, my representative will be. I will wear my uniform proudly in
support of all employees and the Agency. I have identified a few
employees that will serve a variety of roles in an official capacity at
the trial, including keeping you informed of the proceedings. Others
interested in attending can do so on their own time, not in an official
capacity, with the use of leave pre-approved by their supervisor.

Maureen Hanson, Bobbie Scopa and I will be holding meetings at HQ and
the Districts next week to discuss the upcoming trial and answer
employee questions.

Finally, this has been and will continue to be a very emotional time.
Please be sensitive and understanding of the feelings of others around
you, and take extra care of yourselves.

Sincerely,

Becki

3/25 Interesting how these things come in behind the scenes... from Dick Mangan via the FS web... OK folks, you can stop forwarding this one to Ab... although it is nice to hear the community is doing all it can in support. Ab.

I met with Ellreesse's Federal Public Defender Tina Hunt here in
Missoula on Thursday: she seems well prepared for the May 5th trial
date, and hopes that the Judge will approve a site visit for the jurors.
We talked about many of the issues that are well known to all of us, as
well as some tactics and qualifications issues.
Tina still expects a 6+ week long trial.
There will be lots of witnesses, especially on the Government side,
telling their stories about what they saw, heard, were told,
experienced. The 10/18 will be an important focus!
Maybe by July 1st, we'll have a clearer picture of the impacts of this
attempted mis-carriage of justice.
Tina was highly complimentary of many of the R-6 Fire Overhead that she
has interviewed.
She encouraged firefighter attendance in support of Ellreese at the
trial, yellow Nomex shirts and all!
Keep the Faith!

Dick Mangan

3/24 I would just like to add some thing about Ellreese Daniels to the Free Ellreese thing that you have going on.

Ellreese was a dear friend to my mother and me. To me he acted like a father. I personally think that Ellreese would have never done anything to put those persons who died in harms way. This is from knowing him for almost nine years. He is an amazing person and i think that he would never have put anybody at  risk. He knew what he was doing and how to do it. The whole thing just seems a little off to me.

Dennise

Thanks for the info, Dennise. We're in support, as you can see. Ab.

3/3 New trial date for Ellreese is now 5/5. This change was made, in part, to
accommodate getting up to the site if possible. The judge wants to visit
the site prior to making a decision whether or not to take the jury up
there. The government (prosecution)  is opposing that request.

Thanks for your help.
Tina
2/29 Hi Ab, we just got this simple notice of Ellreese Daniels' trial being rescheduled. See message from our Forest below. - Heather M

On Fri , MH sent:

We just received notice that the criminal trial for our employee Ellreese
Daniels has been rescheduled. The trial is now scheduled to begin, in
Spokane, on May 5, 2008.

February 29, 2008 Okanogan-Wenatchee NF
1/17/
2008
Sent a note to T regarding status of Ellreese's trial. Here's her reply... Ab.

Ab,

Trial was moved to April 14, 2008. Right now it appears we're on track for
that trial date.

T

2008
8/14/
2007
I've been in touch with Ellreese's Federal Defender Tina Hunt in Spokane, and 
she says that because of the bad fire season that is tying up experts and potential 
witnesses, the trial date has been postponed until January 15, 2008.

Dick Mangan

6/1 Evidently the Wentachee World changed format, causing all the links to them on this page to break. Here are a list of some of them.

2/21/07
Survey reveals fears on fire line: One in four firefighters say they won't serve

2/20/07
Survey -- firefighters less willing to take charge

2/15/07
Friends help fund fire boss\'s defense: Organizers hope many will show their support for accused Thirtymile supervisor

1/31/07
Thirtymile Fire boss sees trial as a chance to clear his name: 'Other people could be held accountable,' Daniels' lawyer says

1/26/07
Thirtymile fire crew boss charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter

1/5/07
Fed case called \'travesty of justice\': Daniels' defense attorney blasts charges against fire crew boss

12/27/06
Thirtymile criminal case: Critics -- Filing charges was a mistake

12/21/07
Thirtymile fire boss faces charges: Forest Service supervisor accused of causing deaths

12/20/06
Crew boss charged with negligence in deadly 2001 Washington state wildfire

4/19 Abs, here is a LETTER (5 page, 194K pdf file) from the Office of General Counsel to 
the Forest Supervisor of the Okanogan- Wenatchee NF's regarding witness interviews 
and testimony for the trial of Ellreese Daniels , IC on the 30 mile fire.

Rod Altig
Gorge FMO
   
3/15 Ab, here is the link to the article in the Wenatchee World on postponed
trial for Ellreese.

www.wenatcheeworld.com/sub/story.php?id=1173896389-382-880

Thanks,
SJ
3/13 Hi - thought you all would like to read the legal motions on why Ellreese Daniels' trial is postponed, due to complexity. The documents are linked in the Wenatchee World article posted today March 13th 2007. Defense Attorney Tina Hunt, it looks like, did a good job here. - Heather

www.wenworld.com/sub/story.php?id=1173813536-736-294&archs=y

Here are a few quotes:

"Additionally, this case calls for the extensive use of expert witnesses not only to consult with the defense regarding the case, but also potentially to present evidence on behalf of Mr. Daniels."

"Counsel has identified at least five potential areas of expertise which will need to be retained and used during the defense of this case."

"This case represents the first time a United States Forest Service employee has been charged in a criminal action arising from actions and decisions made during the scope of his duties fighting wildland fires. It is a case which may have far reaching implications to other firefighters engaged in the line of duty."

(The new trial is set for October 15th, in part to help the active wildland firefighters)
"...many witness who may be called to testify on both sides of this case are engaged in wildland firefighting. These firefighters can be called to travel to locations throughout the Western United States in response to large wildfires, which greatly reduces their availability."

Glad the judge understood the complexity issue. It really is an issue. Ab.

3/12 Ellreese's March 13th Pretrial Hearing in Spokane Cancelled

Hi all - for those of you who were planning to go to Spokane tomorrow, it's canceled, as the court authorized the continuance to the fall. The following is a note from Tina Hunt, Ellreese's defense attorney. Finally some good news from the court, making it a little bit easier on all involved.
Thank you,

Heather
_____________________________

3/12/07 4:38pm
The court has granted our motion to declare this case complex, and has canceled tomorrow's hearing. The pretrial conference is now scheduled for 9/25/07 at 9:00 a.m. (that time is subject to moving it later in the day) and the trial is set for 10/15/07.

Hopefully, this email will reach those who were planning on attending before tomorrow's hearing. If this can be posted on the appropriate website, it would be much appreciated.

Thanks.
Tina

3/6 Check out www.kxly.com for the video on todays court hearing.
It makes me sick they way they are tearing Ellreese apart.

TJ

3/7 It's been replaced with something more recent. How can he get a fair local trial? Ab.

3/1 Hi All -

Here's a note of encouragement to get as many people out to the Spokane Federal Courthouse in a show of support for Ellreese Daniels at his next court appearance for criminal charges. The next appearance is the Pre-Trial Hearing (where Defense Attorney Tina Hunt will ask for a continuance into fall). Tina emailed us this afternoon, regarding several questions. Here's some info:

1) Pre-trial Hearing is set for Tuesday March 13th at 3:00pm;
2) Location in Judge Van Sickle's court on the 9th floor;
3) Thomas Foley U.S. Federal Building at 920 West Riverside; Spokane WA;
4) Appropriate clothing, advice from Tina "I would say that those who come in support of Ellreese should dress in civilian clothes. I don't think it's necessary to come in Nomex or fireboots, and in fact, it could annoy the court."
5) If you are considering whether to make the trek or not, here's what Tina thinks "Again, I always believe it is helpful for the court and the government to know how many people are standing behind Ellreese in his support."

I hope to see at least three times the attendance as last time, I hope to see YOU there!

Thank you,
Heather A. Murphy, Retired USFS Wildlife Biologist, Friend and Colleague

3/1 Charges dropped on Ellreese (not the criminalization of fire charges, the other ones)

www.wenatcheeworld.com/sub/story.php?id=1172690932-643-895

Ab, here is the article that was posted in the Wenatchee World.

SMJ

2/27 The Wenatchee World reporter who is now covering Ellreese's case called this morning, she said she will be reporting on yesterday's hearing in Ephrata. She was not able to attend the hearing herself, so she can not report until she finds something official. The court will release the information in a few days, she has a call in to the prosecutor to confirm the "rumors". That said, there was a USFS retiree in the court room, here's our unsubstantiated info at this point, if he heard right, it is good news for Ellreese...here's our retirees' report "xxx attended the hearing in Ephrata concerning the possession of drug paraphernalia against Ellreese. The charges were dismissed (stuff wasn't his but belonged to driver of car he was riding in). There was an additional charge filed for missing the first hearing date (Ellreese didn't get court notice in time). This charge was also dismissed."

We're glad this is finally getting behind Ell and we can now fully concentrate on the criminal charges against a Forest Service crew boss. - Thanks, Heather
2/15 Dear Ab,

Attached is the February 15, 2007 Wenatchee World article about Ellreese's legal defense fund for the criminal charges at Thirtymile. Please note, there is a local reporter now covering Ellreese's plight. We are hoping to get more articles in the newspaper about the affect these charges have on the wildland firefighting community and the USFS in general.

www.wenworld.com/sub/story.php?id=1171568494-490-475

The story did not have the fund address, here it is if you would like to contribute:
Account No. 1000110690
Thirty-Mile Legal Defense and Employee Assistance Fund
Cashmere Valley Bank
PO Box 249
Leavenworth, WA. 98826

And I dropped more letters and cards off for Ellreese today, he truly appreciates this show of support, it brightens this stressful time. Thank you to all who have taken a moment to let him know you care about the difficult situation he is in. If you would like to send letters, here's the address:
Ellreese Daniels C/O
Wenatchee River Ranger District
600 Sherbourne
Leavenworth, Wa 98826

Thank you,
Heather
Retired USFS, Colleague and Friend

2/15 news article about Ellreese's missed court appearance:

www.wenworld.com/sub/story.php?id=1171571693-646-747

Story from a Wenatchee World reporter who is now covering Ellreese locally, rather than using Yakima Herald for Associated Press.

HAM

PS - I heard there was a mail delivery difficulty for him.

2/11 Sting - great idea about bringing 420/520 into the US District Court in Spokane; it would give new meaning to a "trial by a jury of your peers". If you ain't walked the walk, you can't sit in judgment of them that have!

"Kicks" - more good insight into all the weak points of the Government's alleged case.

From some first-hand knowledge, I know that Ellreese's Federal Public Defender Ms. Tina Hunt is well aware of many if not all of the shortcomings of the case that USDA-OIG Special Agent Parker and the US Attorney have brought. Ms. Hunt has a boatload of well-experienced fire folks lining up to help Ellreese's case, and will be conducting interviews with many of those folks in the coming weeks and months.

In the interim, until the charges against Ellreese are heard in open court in the full light of day, the rest of us wildland firefighters can probably be most effective by writing letters: contact your Congress-people and your local newspapers; write the Secretary of Agriculture (Mike Johanns) and his Inspector General Phyllis Fong about Special Agent Parker; let the US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and Washington State US Senators Cantwell and Murray, know what you think about the US Attorney in Spokane that brought these charges after 5 years. And don't forget to fill out the IAWF Survey before Thursday so that the Federal Agencies know the implications of these charges - they need ammo to talk to Congress.

A few people can make a major difference: the Senate race in Montana was won by Democrat Jon Tester by a slim margin because of the efforts of wildland firefighters seriously upset by the comments of Conrad Burns. Tester's victory gave the Democrats control of the Senate. The rest is history waiting to be written.

We can make a difference for Ellreese and for changing PL 107-203 to protect firefighters from similar bogus charges in the future. The ball is in our court, and we must take action, or live with the consequences.

Mollysboy
2/11 Re: Thirty Mile,

Thank God we're not beating a dead horse! Here's another hole in the OIG's
prosecution. Bear with me on re-printing the statute for clarification purposes.
I've put pertinent material in "bold".

-CITE-
   7 USC Sec. 2270b
-EXPCITE-
   Title 7 - AGRICULTURE
   CHAPTER 55 - DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
-READ-
   Sec. 2270b. Department of Agriculture Inspector General
   Investigation of Forest Service firefighter deaths
-STATUTE-
   In the case of each fatality of an officer or employee of the
   Forest Service that occurs due to wildfire entrapment or burnover,
   The Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall
   conduct an investigation of the fatality. The investigation shall
   not rely on, and shall be completely independent of, any
   investigation of the fatality that is conducted by the Forest
   Service.
-SOURCE-
   (Pub. L. 107-203, Sec. 1, July 24, 2002, 116 Stat. 744.)

So there it is, IF the OIG used (relied on) any material(s) produced through
the Forest Service's investigation in order to conduct "his" own "independent
investigation", contrary to this statute, those materials should be deemed
to have been illegally obtained, ie, inadmissible.

Next step... I'm taking a wild stab at it that Special Agent Parker, et al, used
the work product of the Forest Service investigation in order to, at the very
least, have foundational information in order to proceed with their OIG
investigation. Under the "Fruits of the Poisonous Tree" doctrine, "any" evidence
gained through the use of illegally obtained evidence is deemed to ALSO be
inadmissible. If the OIG wasn't privy to, or didn't obtain, evidence and reports
through the proper manner(s), then any of the OIG case material gotten under
the guise of PL 107-203 mandate should stand to be suppressed through
pre-trial motion(s).

Additionally, Miranda, or more specifically lack thereof, might play an
interesting role in the admissibility of statements. In Vietnam, there was the
case of an NVA sniper who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. He was
more of a nuisance than anything. The GI's decided to NOT hunt him down,
and instead put up with him, because they were worried that he'd get replaced
with someone who could really shoot. Yes, that one was for "you" Mr. Parker.

Hey! If any of you are able to attend Ellreese's court proceedings, "if" the
court makes a decision that the wearing of Nomex would appear prejudicial to
the jury, you might consider wearing a nice suit, along with your White's,
Drew's, or Nick's, etc. as an obvious but "lower key" show of support. I think
that the press would really run with that.

As always, Stay Safe!

"Kicks"

2/11 Ab,

Some thoughts on the eventual Thirty-Mile court case.
  • Pre-trial: Have the Defense attorney get Parker to play the hot seat on a Tactical Decision Game / Sand Table Exercise as the Incident Commander of the fire. Since he is so knowledgeable about fire ground leadership and confident in Ellreese's guilt, what would he have done based on his experience, situational awareness and all of the dilemmas?
  • Make sure all of the well documented distractions, human factors and "What if's" are thrown in by the facilitator/role players.
  • Have the judge and each juror take turns in the hot seat.
  • Have the jury participate in the Staff Ride that was developed for the fire. The whole thing can be reasonably re-created, even with the actual participants. They will see "things are not always what they seem" when reading an investigation report or 5 years later as memories soften.
  • Maybe it's time for the Federal Fire Service to develop something similar to the Military's "Uniform Code of Military Justice" and their Courts Martial procedures.
  • Shouldn't the jury be "of his peers"? Peer by definition: A person(s) who has equal standing with another or others, as in rank, class, or age. I could objectively hear the case and arrive at an unbiased decision. ( I have served twice on juries )
  • There is too much at stake for Ellreese and the rest of the fire service, a new approach is needed

makes you think doesn't it?
a student of fire and leadership,

sting

2/10 Dear Fish & Mollysboy:

Mollysboy is pretty much on point. Part of the problem is that the law is rather vague. In the opening part of the legislation leading to the law, it states:

"To provide for an independent investigation of Forest Service firefighter deaths that are caused by wildfire entrapment or burnover."

However section 1(a) seems to expand the intent by stating:

"In the case of each fatality of an officer or employee of the Forest Service due to wildfire entrapment or burnover..."

Inferences could be drawn that an investigation is required, not just with firefighter deaths, but those of others, perhaps fire ecologists and others. Again, the intent is vague.

Let's face it. The specificity of the law as relating to Forest Service employees demonstrates the intent of the legislation/law being to respond to the needs of the families lost on Thirty Mile. The fact that the legislation/law was written by Washington state congressional folks validates that point. However, given that this issue is even in criminal court should lead those from other land-management agencies to be wary of "motivated" overzealous prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves.

Therein lies one of the problems with this law... it was simply not well thought out and failed to look at the bigger picture.

The application of 107-203 to Thirty Mile "retroactively" is a concern,  as nowhere in the law does it authorize the legislation to be applied retroactively to Thirty Mile or any fire. Despite this lack of authority, the OIG Investigator clearly states his reliance on 107-203 to support his investigation into Thirty Mile.

The OIG Investigator also states that he worked "in concert" with the US Attorney's office and I believe you ask how that nexus developed.

The US Attorney's office is also relying on a less publicized statute (at least in the public commentary on Thirty Mile): this is Title 18, United States Code, Chapter 51 Homicide, Sec. 114 Protection of officers & employees of the United States and amended subsequent to 9/11.

This statute in part says

"Whoever kills or attempts to kill any officer or employee of the United States or of any agency in any branch of the United States Government (including any member of the uniformed services) while such officer or employee is engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties, or any person assisting such an officer or employee in the performance of such duties or on account of that assistance, shall be punished-

(1) in the case of murder, as provided under section 1111;
(2) in the case of manslaughter, as provided under section 1112; or
(3) in the case of attempted murder or manslaughter, as provided in section 1113

Let's not be naive. This law, amended post 9/11, is designed to focus on terrorists in this country or those who support such activities. To apply it in the case of Ellreese Daniels is unconscionable, irresponsible, an abuse of the law and stinks of political ambitions on the part of the US Attorney. At the very least, it is an extreme stretch to apply the intent of the law in the Thirty Mile case.

We have offered that assessment to the President and US Attorney Gonzalez in a letter last month. We also have corresponded with Phyllis Fong, USDA OIG on her department's "retroactive" application of 107-203; Mr. Parker's continual reference to his reliance on the Forest Service investigation ( a violation of the law) and actions which he continued to display while on the Esperanza scene.

Further, we have asked her department to define the parameters/policies/procedures it has developed to conduct such investigations under the law and have asked Congress to explain what its intent was in seeking a report from the USDA OIG's office, i.e. once they get such a report, what will they do with it.

All of this has led to the dialogue during last week's Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee during which Sen. Domenici (R-NM) raised this issue and Mr. Mark Rey, answering for the Administration, offered concerns and recommendations... never mind the same concerns and recommendations the FWFSA took to the Forest Service 2 1/2 years ago and which fell on deaf ears.

So... hopefully this explains a bit on the application of the laws and how the US Attorney & OIG's office seem to be working together on this mess.

Casey Judd
Business Manager
FWFSA

2/9 Hi All,

A bank account is now up and ready for Ellreese Daniels, to help with his defense of criminal charges. His lawyer, Tina Hunt, thought there will be incidental financial needs such as lost time from work, travel, overnight stays, court apparel and bringing his family to Spokane for the trial. Court related costs are paid by the Public Defender's Office. Note - we have broadened this fund, just in case a future need arises to support other employees associated with Thirtymile Fire, who might require assistance and/or a defense. The fund is governed by four people (2 retirees and 2 community members). If there are excess funds, money will be given to the Wildland Firefighter Association in Boise, Idaho. Here's some info from our charter:

"A legal defense and employee assistance fund has been established to provide financial support to Forest Service employees (current and former) who need assistance to respond to administrative and criminal charges."

Checks should be made out to "Thirty-Mile Legal Defense and Employee Assistance Fund"; put the account number (1000110690) on the check and send to:

Account No. 1000110690
Thirty-Mile Legal Defense and Employee Assistance Fund
Cashmere Valley Bank
PO Box 249
Leavenworth, WA. 98826

Special Note: for active USFS employees, please DO NOT distribute this fund-raising information within internal email systems, as it would be an inappropriate use of government equipment. That said, for those of us outside in the private sector, it would be OK for us to send to FS employees from our home/personal computers.

Thank you for considering helping Ellreese; having friends and support is an incredible force.

Take Care All,
Heather
Retired USFS
Private Citizen, Colleague and Friend

2/6 Ab,

Being a federal employees we are not able to strike against the Federal Government, so let's strike against Washington State whenever they have a fire, since Washington State is the one that charged our firefighter.

We can thank the Forest Service and OES for the campers suing the Forest Service. Let's talk about making the case for them by charging our firefighter.

According to the Forest Service we are Forestry Technicians, not professional firefighters, so should a Forestry Technician be making the decisions a firefighter should be making? Therefore, should he be held accountable?

SGM

We can't strike against against anyone or any state. It's not the state's fault. I agree, how strange and demeaning to be called Forestry and Range Technicians... I hear your frustration.

I think

  • if we continue to get the word out via FWFSA to legislators, local and national;
  • if we support Ellreese and all who work and hake honest human decisions within their positions;
  • if we get out the word and encourage firefighters to fill out the IAWF survey, we have more hard facts;
  • if we demand that fire have a Just Culture so we can foster a safer Learning Environment;
  • if we focus on systemic factors that need to be corrected to make firefighting safer,

I think we can effect change for the better. When our agencies leaders don't seem to step up to leadership as fast as we want, it's up to the true professionals on the ground to do it. That's us. We're working at getting the info we need to make the picture more clear to those who can help, skipping the agencies. There is action taking place behind the scenes.

We're strong as a group. Hang in there. This is a work in progress. Ab.

2/5 Ab, Thought this was worth sharing. JW

Ab note: Please keep the behind the scenes support going for Ellreese and all of us. It's good to see that Linda is doing her part to pass on info that keeps people up to date.

As discussed yesterday, Jim attended the arraignment for Ellreese Daniel to support him and all firefighters. Wanted to share Jim's note.

Linda Goodman
Regional Forester, Pacific Northwest Region

----- Original Message -----

From: James Boynton
Sent: 01/31/2007 02:02 PM
Subject: Yesterday's arraignment

Yesterday I was able to attend the arraignment of our employee Ellreese Daniels in federal court in Spokane. Ellreese was present with his attorney, Christina Hunt. The federal judge advised him of the charges against him; 4 counts of involuntary manslaughter and 7 counts of giving false statements to a federal investigator. His attorney entered a plea of not guilty on all counts, on his behalf. A new judge was assigned and a trial date was set for March 26. Ms. Hunt indicated the trial date will likely be delayed until sometime later this year. After speaking with Ms. Hunt, I’m confident in her ability to defend Ellreese against the charges and believe she will serve him well.

There were more than 20 Forest employees, retirees and friends of Ellreese there to provide him support and he was extremely appreciative of their presence.

There was also a considerable amount of media present. I was pleased that I was able to share with the media our support of Ellreese and the far-reaching negative impacts criminalizing of fire fighting decisions has had on our workforce and ability to effectively respond to incidents.

We will continue to keep you updated as things unfold.

Jim

2/2 Information report on Ellreese Daniels’ Arraignment Hearing 1/30/07.

Here's some info and encouragement asking folks to come out and support Ellreese at the upcoming March 13th Pre-trial Hearing in Spokane.

This past Tuesday 1/30/07 a group of us attended the Arraignment Hearing at Spokane Federal Court. Afterwards, we were able to personally talk with Ellreese's attorney, Tina Hunt. She has reviewed and confirmed the following items, and in her words "I think the showing of support is extremely important to Ellreese and to the court."
  1. The pre-trial hearing is set for March 13, 2007 at the Federal Courthouse in Spokane (time TBA);
  2. The judge hearing this case will be the Honorable Fred Van Sickle (FYI - he was previously a Chelan/Douglas County Superior Court Judge);
  3. It is absolutely appropriate for interested people to come into the court room.
  4. The trial is set to start on March 26th, but his lawyer will be asking for a continuance until October 2007;
  5. Tina will probably not know until March if the continuance is granted, then she will let us know of changes;
  6. Finance questions - all of Ellreese’s court related costs are paid by the Public Defender’s Office;
  7. Other finance questions - Ellreese will need financial assistance for incidentals (days off work, travel, overnight stays); court apparel; and if he wants his family brought to Washington for the trial. (For those interested in helping further, we’re setting up a Legal Defense Fund at Cashmere Valley Bank in Leavenworth).
  8. Ellreese truly appreciates any and all support offered; the cards and letters are very important to him; as was the good showing of people at his hearing.

An aside, from my perspective of being at the Arraignment Hearing: There was a decent showing of about 20 of us; it was very significant, I’m glad I took the time to go. But, it was an awful experience, “chilling”, to hear the US Attorney read criminal charges against a USFS employee. I can only imagine how Ellreese is feeling.

On the good side – the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor, Jim Boynton, showed first-rate leadership by attending, and then, in interviews with media. In a note, he said,

“I was pleased that I was able to share with the media our support of Ellreese and the far-reaching negative impacts criminalizing of fire fighting decisions has had on our workforce and ability to effectively respond to incidents.”

Finally, my heart goes out to the family and friends of our lost four (Tom, Jessica, Karen and Devin) on 30-Mile, as it does to the survivors. There is not a day that those closely associated with 30-Mile do not remember their lost four comrades. It is a tough time for all; we need to help each other through this. Thank you to TheySaid for this important and professional forum.

Sincerely,

Heather Murphy
Retired USFS Wildlife Biologist-Resource Advisor, Colleague and Friend, (02/02/07)

Thanks, Heather. Good support and leadership counts for a lot. Ab.

2/2 All,

In Interrogation of Prisoners of war, the Army trains its interrogators in the concept of "Shock Of Capture". Interrogating someone while the Shock of Capture is still fresh cuts down on the development of cover stories and can get to the actual facts before memory clouds the facts. I think that this concept would apply to fatality investigation such as Thirty Mile and Cramer. If I was an investigator for a fatality fire, I would want to be there as quick as possible to take advantage of the shock, And I would also try to segregate all involved to keep them from talking to each other and deciding on what they were going to tell investigators.

I think that this is pretty standard in all investigations. Shock of Capture is also a standard human reaction that can be counted upon. I think that is why police are required to read the Miranda Rights upon each arrest.

As a Wildland firefighter, My cooperation with investigators would depend on the motivation of the investigators. If the motivation is to assign blame, I don't want to talk to you. You can threaten my job, but I still don't want to talk to you. If the product of your investigation can be used by the Department of Justice to accuse a fellow firefighter, I don't want to talk to you. If your investigation is to learn something, and to prevent an event from happening again, I will tell you everything. I will cooperate with all investigations if I have proper legal council.

On the discussion between Misery Whip and VFD Capt..

I tend to agree with Misery Whip. In any investigation, the point of view of the person plays a big roll in the information received. As to whether Ellreese lied to investigators, What one person believes to be truth may not be reality. It does not mean that the person lied intentionally, It just means they are wrong. As we have seen from many fire fatality investigation reports, they are only as good as the investigators. So much depends on the investigators skill and motivation. Lets not even mention the political motivations of the investigators superiors. Personally, It makes me right off some of the inconsistencies of different witnesses in many of these reports. In the case of the ENGB checking in or not, It is the investigators job to try to lay out the facts. If the investigator believes that the ENGB did not check in, then he needs to put that in the report.

I am sad that the Wildland firefighting community is facing this legal monster. I think that dozershot hit it on the head with his last post. We need to back off, re-assess, and re-engage the problem to the benefit of all. When it comes right down to it, the "Fire does not care what we think."

Domaque
2/2 vfd cap’n,

For someone who puts himself out there as a lessons learned advocate, I’d say there are some important lessons you need to learn if you want to be treated as a credible source of information in the future.

I am puzzled why once again you seem to be defending Agent Parker’s position that Ellreese lied and (apparently) everyone else was telling the truth. Have you never experienced the “fog of war” yourself? Experienced accident investigators know it is both predictable and expected that traumatic incidents such as Thirtymile will frequently yield very different versions of the same event by participants who may have been in the same location. And when you layer over that the undisputed fact that many of the participants were extremely sleep deprived at the critical moments in question, the accuracy of any statement must be taken with a degree of skepticism.

There is a quotation I heard years ago that applies here. This is from memory, sorry if I butcher it:

“On the day of the battle, naked lessons are lying about everywhere and can be had
for free. By the next day, they have already begun to put their clothes back on.”

I’m fairly certain this is just an approximation of the real quote. The point is, as time elapses, individual memories of events subtly change. There is nothing sinister or criminal about this, it is just a very normal human tendency to remember and portray events in a way that casts the best light on the storyteller.

Another point to consider; after the fatalities occurred, anyone who was even peripherally involved with Thirtymile had excellent motivation to distance themselves from Ellreese in any way possible.

I encourage you to get off this person-based approach you seem to be stuck on and look more at the organizational issues that preceded this incident. Instead of going back and rewriting history, you should be looking forward to help insure that future accidents are investigated by trained professionals who understand the information processing limitations of human beings, and who are permitted to delve into contributing organizational influences. Too much time and memory and anger has passed under the bridge for THE truth about Thirtymile to ever emerge.

If the ENGB in question was wrongly portrayed, he has my empathy. But checking in at an incident is still a good lesson regardless of whether it happened or not. The important point is whether it makes people talk and think about checking in and getting briefed on every fire, not who did, or did not, fulfill their responsibility in this particular circumstance.

Another quote for you, from George Herbert:

“Follow not truth too near the heels, lest it dash out thy teeth.”

Misery Whip

2/2 JG,

Thanks for sharing the MTDC Thirtymile Website. I remember visiting it prior to the 2002 fire season as required reading.

A link within the presentation takes you to a training aid that was published prior to the Thirtymile Fire called Fire Shelter Deployment: Avoid the Flames. This training aid has been used as a supplement to fire shelter training for quite some time and actually references past and current  suggestions  found in Your Fire Shelter - 2001 Edition and The New Generation Fire Shelter (NFES 2710).

"Suggested areas for deployment include paved, gravel, or dirt roads, burned areas that will not reburn (Figure 3), rockslides (Figure 4), or areas cleared by dozers."

"Figure 4: Large rockslides make excellent sites for deploying fire shelters, but firefighters must deploy their shelters well away from grass, brush, and trees.

If those involved in Thirtymile studied their fire shelter materials as all of us do each year during either our initial or refresher training, they obviously would have come across these statements.... in fact, these deployment areas are places I remember being told as the best places to deploy in for over 24 years.....

In terms of looking at this in a Just Culture view and eventually as a Learning Culture, couldn't the actions on the Thirtymile Fire be interpreted as they were doing what they were trained to do?..... or would that divert attention away from the scapegoat Ellreese Daniels and towards a latent systemic failure that relates to training and complex situational awareness?

Until some scientist or other expert can quantify what the best case safety zone is, or worse yet, what a deployment area actually is under the complex set of variables on wildland fires, I cannot even understand how criminal charges could be filed for someone meeting the determinations of gross negligence..... what happened to the Reasonable Man Test?.....

Gizmo

P.S. - I am pleased that Mr. Boche from Region 2 is starting to talk to his troops (day late and a dollar short or not, hopefully he will continue to talk, listen, and learn).... but.... As he mentions a Just Culture and a Learning Culture interchangeably, they are not the same..... A Just Culture is a stepping stone towards our preferred future condition..... a Learning Culture. I somehow think that Mr. Boche was using a set of "Talking Points" to make much of his statement, without truly studying or understanding what he was talking about..... In fact, one of his statements was damn near word for word as found in some internal 'Talking Points".....

P.S.S. - Ab, you are right regarding Tom Harbour and Mark Rey... we should celebrate when folks do the right things... But I am afraid to give any kudos to folks who have sat on their thumbs for so long while so many others around them have had the vision of where we need to go for safety but bureaucratic processes and agency self protection has always trumped Lessons Learned..... Right now, if they want to add to a Just Culture, they need to admit their mistakes and take the lead for change.... otherwise, we are just enabling them to continue their destructive behaviors towards firefighter safety and efficiency that eventually always falls upon the shoulders of the field level firefighters and their families without them EVER sharing any of the responsibility or accountability.

Point taken. I understand your feelings. Ab.

2/1 It's encouraging to see Mark Boche from the USFS Region 2 join the small but growing number of Fire Managers who are finally stepping forward and offering some comments to the troops in the field.

No disrespect, Mr. Boche, but you'll have to excuse me if I remain somewhat skeptical that all the things you say will become reality the next time one or more USFS firefighters are killed on a wildland fire.

For example, you state that "When our firefighters act within the scope of assigned duties in a reasonably safe and ethical way free of gross negligence, the Forest Service will stand with them." Reading your statement and applying it to Thirtymile, I'm assuming that the official USFS position is that everyone involved, except Ellreese Daniels, met your criteria? The attempted Administrative Actions against many of those involved with Thirtymile says otherwise! Putting that point aside, you make it sound like the USFS really has the power and authority to "stand with them". I question what will really happen when an angry spouse/parent of a deceased firefighter gets their Congressman/Senator to pressure the Chief, Mark Rey or a politically motivated and ambitious US Attorney (who may be looking for Senatorial favor to become a US Judge??) to take action, or in the case of the USFS, to sit on its hands with their mouths shut while another employee is charged with manslaughter.

You also tell the field fire folks that "We will distinguish between acceptable honest errors and unacceptable willful violations". Using the standards that OSHA has for "willful" violations, the USFS has been cited for "willful violations" on numerous fire fatalities since the 1993 Buchanan fatality, yet no one in the upper levels of USFS management (line officers or fire people) have ever faced criminal charges, or even a slow down in their upward mobility!

The final element of your 3 key principles says that we should take action that "MINIMIZES risks of injury or death", but then you follow up saying that all personnel "must be vigilant so that safety is NEVER compromised for any reason." Sounds like conflicting direction to me: in my experience of 30+ years, the only way to insure that safety is never compromised for any reason is to implement the "NO ACTION" alternative by staying on the road and waiting for the rain and/or snow to put the fire out.

I wish that your words, and the words of others that are finally coming out, could convince me to grease up my White's and pack my Red Bag for the coming season. I'm afraid, however, I remain unconvinced, and so will implement my own personal "No Action" alternative for the 2007 fire season or until the critical issue of firefighter liability is resolved satisfactorily.

Mollysboy

1/31 Ellreese's court appearance:

Ab,

At the risk of sounding too dramatic, it was a dark day for firefighters
yesterday in Spokane. I was in the court room when Ellreese was read
the charges against him, and I can tell you, my gut was in a knot!

When you hear the judge say: "The Government of the United States
of America is bringing formal federal charges," it's awful. There's no
doubt the full might of the federal government is going to try and put
Ellreese in prison for at least 3 years, and fine him 250,000 dollars.

If you are a firefighter, and you have ever been on a fire when you
didn’t know everything you needed to know to make good choices,
this could be you!

If you ever declared you said "this" or "that" in an overwhelming moment,
believing you did, only to be told later that others in the heat of the same
moment didn't remember it that way, this could be you, being tried for
lying!

There was not as much support standing, sitting or being present at that
court house as there needed to be, with a few notable exceptions.

Now is not a good time to lurk in the weeds firefighters! Stand up and be
counted!

This could be you!

N166Z

1/31 jd,

PL 107-203 does not care if you are a Forest Service employee, a BLM employee, a USDI employee, or a state or local government employee. If you work with the "humans" that are employed at the Forest Service, you should be aware and concerned.

The law simply says,

"In the case of each fatality of an officer or employee of the Forest Service that occurs due to wildfire entrapment or burnover, the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall conduct an investigation of the fatality. The investigation shall not rely on, and shall be completely independent of, any investigation of the fatality that is conducted by the Forest Service."

USDI folks, state, local, and volunteer agencies aren't immune from the hands of the USDA Office of Inspector General... nor are Forest Service folks... nor is anyone from a group (USDA OIG) that has been legislatively allowed to investigate "potential wrongful deaths" of federal employees without the relevant field, technical, or specialized experience necessary to complete a factual investigation.

Before PL 107-203, the sole responsibility for federal employee wrongful death was administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under Title 18... As a result of PL 107-203, wrongful death of Forest Service employees is NOW INVESTIGATED UNDER Title 7 which specifically DEALS WITH AGRICULTURE.

Don't even bring up the Constitutional issues of how PL 107-203 violates so many basic protections. The USDA OIG and the Constitutional issues of PL 107-203 will be revealed to all at some point in the future.

After everything is said and done on the prosecution of Ellreese, I would venture to guess that that fingers of "blame" will be pointing back towards Special Agent Parker and the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

Hopefully we will concentrate on learning and being a just culture.... SA Parker and the Asst US Attorney simply screwed up.

I bet that is everyone sticks to their guns, that this will eventually be presented before the United States Supreme Court.

/s/ Sign me... feeling somehow like a slab of bacon to accomplish the USDA "Mission".
Sign me also... Lobotomy

1/30 From Firescribe:

Today's Senate hearing on Energy and Natural Resources on
Costs of wildfire suppression [active webcast available]

The purpose of the hearing is to consider the status of Federal
land management agencies’ efforts to contain the costs of their
wildfire suppression activities and to consider recent independent
reviews of and recommendations for those efforts.

Trial date set for deadly wildfire charges

A March 26 trial is scheduled for a former U-S Forest Service
crew boss charged with involuntary manslaughter and lying to
federal investigators in the deaths of four firefighters.

Ellreese Daniels is charged with four counts of involuntary
manslaughter and seven counts of making false statements to
federal investigators. Pleas of not guilty were entered for him
oday in U-S- District Court in Spokane.

Thanks to all who are sending this in. Ab.

1/29 Casey – you put it so eloquently, let me follow up with a little bit more of a crude approach, attempting at inspiration….

This isn’t the time to quit. If you’re retired, I understand quitting, but I wouldn’t call it that. You’ve put your time in and done your duty, now it’s time to enjoy everything else life has to offer you.

But the rest of you, c’mon! Why did you choose to fight fire in the first place? Firefighters are not like the majority of the population. Most of us are rather strange by “normal” standards, aren’t we? We’re the type of people that enjoy skydiving, rock-climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hunting, fishing, whitewater kayaking and traveling to strange places hoping to get lost just to increase the adventure. Firefighters are “fighters”. They’re people who don’t back down from a challenge or danger. They enjoy and thrive on helping those that are sick, injured, less fortunate etc. Firefighters are the type of people that will stop to help a stranded woman give birth without blinking an eye, risk their lives to save a dog trapped in an RV in front of an oncoming forest fire, jump into a class 5 river to tie off their buddy stuck in a strainer, walk through an area hot enough to melt the vibram of their boots to rescue a stranded fawn. Firefighters never ever give up on their calling, their friends, their peers or their families.

If you quit and just walk away, you’re not one of these people I’ve described above. If you quit to make a stand against what we all believe is wrong, then follow through by going all the way; go to Ellreese’s trial, write your senators etc. don’t just quit in silence, make it count for something that will make a change.

There is danger and a huge challenge ahead of us. Maybe we can do something good with it. Do you really believe that you’re the type of leader that will get in the same situation that Ellreese was in? Maybe it is time to take a look at how you’re leading. The “can do” attitude has to be reigned in now, doesn’t it? You know you take risks, we do. There are crewbosses that still allow crews to have a beer or two off hours while on assignment…. but no more. There are times when we engage without the proper resources to watch our back door, now, we can’t do that anymore. The crewmember that is insubordinate will not receive a warning, but will now be sent home on the first flight or bus because they are a liability. In essence without rambling on and on with examples, we now have to change our tactics so to speak. The result will be that we have more large fires, thus incurring larger expense. The initial attack percentages that line officers are supposed to achieve will not increase, but decrease, due to lack of engagement.

It’s simple circle logic.
We know that part of fighting fire is the inevitability that people will die and, sick as it sounds, that is what lures a lot of us to it. However, we can be better, we can be safer. We just have to back off on the mass hysteria and think about how you as a leader can fight fire smart. If you know you’re in over your head, don’t go deeper. Listen to your gut, get the training you need. Don’t accept a signed off taskbook if you know in your heart that you can’t take the worst assignment that position has to offer you. If you feel vulnerable or exposed with your current quals, back off a few and start over.
We need to be there for the younger ones that need us. We need to be mentors, we need to tighten up how we do business and be professionals. So WHEN not if, the next fatality happens, you can sit through an investigation with confidence that you did everything right.

Things will change; they will get better because so many people are fighting for our justice. Don’t you think it would be cowardly to walk away in the heat of a battle?

-Dozershot

1/29 Please see the R-6 Regional Forester, Linda Goodman's note about the 1/22
editorial in the Oregonian and her encouragement to raise our concerns and
fears when talking about this with the media and congressionals.

Rod Altig
Gorge FMO

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I know some of you may have seen this Oregonian Editorial but wanted to
make sure you shared it with your employees. Unfortunately, there isn't a
lot we can do for Ellreese Daniels as he goes through the legal process.
However, we can and have raised our concerns about what this trial does to
our firefighters as a whole and talked about the need to be able to have
employees tell us what happened after an accident without fear of
prosecution. When talking to either newspapers or congressional staffers,
we should be mentioning our fears and concerns when possible. Thanks.

Linda Goodman
Regional Forester
Pacific Northwest Region

1/28 Hi All,

You may have received this information through other means, but I thought it best to make sure the info gets out to those who might help support Ellreese by personally attending this Tuesday's hearing. To get the "where/when" info, I made a phone call on Friday 1/26/07 to the (Federal) Public Defender's Office; Ms. Tina Hunt in Spokane. The Legal Assistant that I spoke with asked that the word gets out.

*Arraignment Hearing for **Ellreese Daniels *
_Date: _ Tuesday January 30th, 2007
_Time:_ 3:00pm (1500 hrs)
_Location:_ Thomas Foley U.S. Federal Building
920 West Riverside
Spokane, WA
_Courtroom:_ Magistrate Imbrogno Court

Those coming are advised to arrive 15 minutes early to go through the Security check point; bring photo ID (WA driver's license). The Arraignment Hearing is expected to last 15 to 30 minutes. You could also support Ellreese by waiting outside the Courthouse. I know a good group of local USFS supporters will be there on Tuesday.

Thank you,
Heather A. Murphy
Retired USFS, Colleague and Friend

Thanks, Heather. Ab.

1/28 Just found a quote that seems especially appropriate, given the charges against
Ellreese and the response of the wildfire community:

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that
matter"..... Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mollysboy

1/26 I can only imagine what Ellreese Daniels must be going through after the
Grand Jury indictment that came out on Wednesday 1/25/07. I know the
news felt like someone kicked me in the gut. For those that might want to
send him cards or letters of support, they may do so at:

Ellreese Daniels C/O
Wenatchee River Ranger District
600 Sherbourne
Leavenworth, Wa 98826

Rod Altig
Gorge FMO
1/26 Here is the note sent out by the R-6 Deputy Regional Forester. It is truly
a very dark day for the whole wildland community. Now more than ever
Ellreese needs our support. In the days ahead please keep him in your
thoughts.

Rod Altig
Gorge FMO

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Subject: 30 Mile Legal Action

We learned this afternoon that our Region 6 employee has been indicted for
his actions during the Thirty-Mile Fire tragedy in July 2001. The grand
jury heard the evidence presented by the US Attorney's Office and has
handed down an indictment. An indictment is not a finding of guilt. The
employee is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday, January 30, 2007. At
the arraignment, he will appear before a magistrate judge, who will present
him with the charges, and at that time, his attorney will enter a plea. We
expect a trial date will be set at that time or soon after.

Again, we know this is difficult news to accept and understand. I want to
re-emphasize that no one has been found guilty. A jury will have to
determine if the individual is innocent or guilty as charged. I know that
this situation continues to impact us, particularly those of us in the
firefighting community. I encourage you to share your thoughts, feelings,
and questions with your local line officers.

Again, we expect that there will be news media coverage of this event,
where people will air their opinions and feelings. Let's not judge those
who may speak harshly of our employee or our agency. I ask you to be
professional, as always, and respectful of others' opinions.

***************************
Liz Agpaoa
Deputy Regional Forester
Pacific Northwest Region

1/22 Here is a Editorial that is in today's Oregonian about the criminal complaints against
Ellreese. There are quotes from Mark Rey, Linda Goodman, and the US Attorney.

Article Link: Oregonian

Thanks to all who sent in this link. Ab.

1/17 Free Ellreese:

For what it's worth, I sent emails to both Utah Senators and all 3 congressmen yesterday, urging them to repeal PL 107-203. I think a concerted effort by the wildland fire community will not only heighten political awareness for this instance, but can provide a wake up call to our representatives that we are force to be reckoned with in the future.

Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains...

Joe Hill

1/17 Reminder:
Ask Congress to modify or repeal PL 107-203. Tell your friends.
Copy and paste Dick's message. Get the word out.

If we each do a little bit every day, it will snowball.

Help Ellreese.

Ab.

1/17 I have heard from a reliable source that investigators of the 30 Mile
incident believe they know who abandoned the campfire that started the
tragic fire, but someone up the food chain in the FS decided not to pursue
the case because "enough lives had been destroyed." Certainly their
actions lacked intent, but were negligent nonetheless. To pursue the poor
SOB assigned to suppress the fire and not the ones that started it is
incongruent and egregious. I no longer work for the FS, but am still
employed by the Fed so please don't attribute this post.

noname

1/16 A few days before Christmas, just after the criminal charges against Ellreese Daniels were announced by the US Attorney in Spokane, I sent an Email out to several friends. The basic thrust of my message was: I didn't like what happened; was afraid of the implications that it and PL 107-203 could have for firefighters across the US and possibly overseas; and I asked my friends if we should fight this battle; should we get organizations involved; and what course of action should we take.

Although I asked folks to think about the whole issue over Christmas and then get back to me, the responses came back quickly, and from many more folks than I had originally contacted (gee, what a surprise: Emails have "legs" and get around to places you'd never expect!).

In the 3 weeks since I posted that first Email, our informal group has seen the following things happen:
  • FWFSA and IAWF issued a joint news release stating our belief that the actions of the US Attorney did not serve the public need;
  • USFS retiree groups have become involved, trying to get PL 107-203 changed in Congress;
  • Casey Judd and I have had numerous media interviews about the ramifications of these charges for future firefighter safety; www.firehouse.com just ran an article, and Fire Chief magazine has one scheduled to come out soon.
  • Individuals in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Montana (and elsewhere?) have written their Senators and Congressmen about this issue;
  • Several of us have talked and emailed Ellreese's US Public Defender Tina Hunt and offered help;
  • at least 40 folks are now linked together to share info about the upcoming charges, and attempts to modify or repeal PL 107-203.
So, what next?

It's my belief that we need to keep our energy level on the increase over the next 30-60 days, and so propose that those of us already involved, and anyone else who wants to o join in, consider taking the following actions:

  • First, write your local congressional Rep and US Senator; they listen to local constituents more than outsiders; FAX the letter, because hard copy mail takes weeks since it has to get ultra-violet scanned in DC;
  • if you've got good fire skills and are NOT affiliated with an Agency, contact the Public Defender with a copy of your resume. Tina_Hunt at FD.org (not putting the @ sign keeps spammers from picking this out);
  • if you're a member of NFPA, SAF, IAFF or similar groups, let them know your concerns and solicit their involvement; FWFSA and IAWF are already involved and active.
  • If you're an Agency person or an AD, and plan to remove your name from the "available" list at Dispatch for 2007, let your Agency folks know about it. The media Spokesperson for the USFS at NIFC keeps telling the media that losing qualified firefighters isn't a problem.
  • if you're a State, County, Rural firefighter, let your department officials know of your concern about the criminal charges, and the potential for these types of things to trickle down away from the USFS and into your world;
  • write letters to your local newspapers, telling them of your concerns;
  • share information about what's happening with Ellreese and PL 1-7-203 with your fellow firefighters;
  • if your US Rep or Senator is on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, request them to hold a formal hearing about the impacts of PL 107-203 on wildland fire activities;
  • in all of your conversations and writings, please remain professional and courteous to all involved.

Here are some suggested "Talking Points" that may help you focus your comments when talking to others (courtesy of Bill Gabbert):

TALKING POINTS:

  • We are not asking for anyone to interfere with the legal proceedings that are currently going forward against Mr. Ellreese Daniels. We want to prevent it from happening to anyone else.
  • Repeal the Cantwell/Hastings Bill, PL 107-203. Senator Maria Cantwell and Rep. Doc Hastings, who sponsored this bill, only wanted to ensure that the deaths of firefighters would be investigated so that lessons could be learned in order to reduce future such accidents. They both now say that manslaughter charges were never anticipated and is an unexpected consequence.
  • Reasons to repeal PL 107-203:
    • The land management agencies are already obsessed with safety and conduct their own fatality investigations, along with OSHA, and now the Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General
    • Wildland fire suppression is as much an art as a science. It takes over a decade to become moderately skilled. Honest mistakes or the inability to predict with 100% accuracy exactly what a fast-moving fire will do should not result in a person being threatened with jail.
    • Some firefighters, now having to deal with the threat of going to jail for making a mistake during a split-second life and death situation, have recently decided that their chosen profession now exposes them and their families to unacceptable risks and they will no longer serve in overhead positions on fires. Others may decide to change to a profession that has less risk for them and their families.
    • Now that firefighters know that talking to investigators after a serious incident on the fireline can result in going to jail, destroying their careers, and ruining their families lives, many will refuse to say anything. Lessons will not be learned. Fires could get larger. More homes and private property could be lost.
    • This law, PL 107-203, requires that the Dept. of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an independent investigation when an employee of the US Forest Service dies on a fire. The OIG generally investigates white collar crime, and has no experience or qualifications to investigate wildland fires. A good wildland fire investigator needs at least 10 years of specialized wildland fire experience, plus specific cause and origin training, as well as investigator training. The law enforcement personnel in the OIG do not have all of these qualifications.
    • If wildland firefighters can now go to jail for their honest mistakes made on a raging wildfire, can structure firefighters be far behind? If a firefighter is killed on a structure fire, will the Captain or Chief go to jail?

If you're interested in staying "in the loop" about Ellreese's case and activities regarding PL 107-203, drop me an email at: kona at bigsky.net and I'll get you on the list. NOTE: if you're an Agency person, the Email Gestapo may be watching! I'd recommend getting and sending messages to/from your personal mail account at home, on off-duty hours.

In the years that I've been involved in wildland fire (way over 30), I've never seen a single issue that has so much potential to have a negative influence on our business and firefighter safety. That said, I also never seen such a ground-swell of support from our wildfire community to right this wrong.

Please, get involved, stay involved, change/repeal PL 107-203 and help Ellreese beat these charges.

Dick Mangan

1/13 Misery Whip;

You must be brilliant; after all, the true measure a person's of intelligence, is how much they agree with ME... (OK, you can laugh now...)

Seriously, your last post was well stroked. You said, "If he wasn't competent, you should be looking for justice from the ORGANIZATION that hired and certified and qualified him...".

Exactly. After all, it seems as if incompetence is similar to insanity, in that if one is truly insane, he can't be aware of his own condition. If one is incompetent, after being trained, tested, and certified as USDA "Choice", who is he to disagree? Therefore, a need for a System fix, not a Person fix.

My support of Ellreese has very little to do with the individual, and everything to do with the principle, the health and future of the USFS, and the Fire Community in general. I don't know Ellreese, nor was I there that day; I'm in no way qualified to judge his actions or abilities.

And Sir, as far as I know, we've never met. But judging from your posts over the 3 years I've been ghosting around this forum, I'd be proud and confident to find my crew assigned to your division.

Lori;

Being a Test the Waters type, my suggestion at this point is, if you aren't burning up the phone lines to Casey, maybe check with some reputable, mid- size copter contractors, and learn the contracting biz thru the back door? Sorry I don't have info; its been a long time since I was a Rotorhead...

Michelle in MT;

Not ignoring you; I just don't know. ( Any of you Logistics- types out there?) Maybe cruise down to Missoula, and check the contractor lists, pick some brains.

Pyro
1/12 The on-going debate that surrounds the Ellreese Daniels issue gives me great hope for the future of the wildland fire community. It is being openly discussed at all levels inside and outside of all of our respective Agencies. I spent Thursday 1/11/07 with the R-6 Fire Management group and lawyers from OGC assisting them in their attempt at drafting a " White Paper " on this issue. Although I am under a "Gag Order" in discussing the content of the meeting, I have hope that at least it shows that at different levels of the organization, there is true concern about the effect this issue has had on everyone.

Now that I see that the Chief is resigning, it makes a little more sense when I was told that the Chief's office would not be sending anything out. Hopefully our new Chief will see this as a crucial topic that requires her immediate focus.

It is truly heartening to see the postings here on TheySaid.... Abs thanks so much for all you have done... Casey Judd, right-on for encouraging us to stay in the game and stay tuned, there are things that are happening... Dick Mangan...I have always been inspired by your knowledge and convictions, it was good to re-read your article... now I remember where the slippery slope term came from.. sorry for plagiarizing.... there are so many others that are posting things that keep the dialogue going... Jumpin Jill Flash.. Miserywhip.. FireBill...Old Green and Gray... Thomas Taylor... and all the others that bring their diverse opinions and feelings into the important issues that are in front of us.

Ellreese, hang in there and know that you have alot of people that are there supporting you and are raising the issues of criminal complaints against those that are doing the Gov'ts work. I, for one, am planning on continuing to stay actively engaged in fire suppression work... whether its being a ICT3, DIVS, OSC2, or as a SOF2. It is truly a very noble and honorable profession that we have. I have hope that we will see changes within the Agency, that they will be there beside us if ever the need arises. Let's all continue to stay engaged on the issues before us and continue the dialogue, and respect each other's perspectives.

Rod Altig
FMO Columbia River Gorge

You're welcome. It takes all of us. The Abs.

1/12 Abs & All,

Bosworth is history, Abigail Kimbell from R1 is our new Chief of the US Forest Service. Welcome and best wishes to our new Chief! I heard her speak last summer at the 3rd Managing the Unexpected conference in Missoula, I must say I was impressed with her grasp of HROs and general acumen.

Unfortunately, Bosworth left her a mess to clean up. I hope she can help us out of this latest jam.

Hugh,

Thanks for eloquently expressing what many of us are thinking. When it comes down to it, many of the people who have expressed support for Ellreese are fighting for a principle, and for our agency’s ability to safely manage fires in the future. It is disappointing to hear about his recent legal entanglement, but we shouldn’t abandon our support for that reason, because the Thirtymile case is about all of our futures.

What has so many firefighters spooked right now is that we all see what happened to Ellreese as something that could happen to us. Some on this site have expressed that we shouldn’t be without accountability. Accountability for whom? Those at the sharp end of the spear? Or for those who create ridiculous fire management policies and budgets that do not reflect reality, and consequently force rank-and-file fire managers and firefighters to attempt to do too much with too little?

That is the real lesson I see to be gained from Thirtymile. Our “can do” work ethic has allowed us to endure the death of a thousand cuts for years, but we have done so much with so little for so long that our (ahem) leaders failed to notice the wheels (and wings) falling off.

Some have suggested that Ellreese deserves whatever he gets because he was incompetent. Whether Ellreese was competent or not is irrelevant to this case! Ellreese’s competence, or alleged lack of competence, is an organizational issue!

Ellreese was working under the auspices of an organization that asked him to perform a VERY complex set of tasks under extremely trying conditions, and to predict an event that still puzzles fire behavior experts today. Everything I have read and know about Thirtymile indicates he attempted to execute his assigned mission to the best of his ability. I see nothing criminal in that.

As with the Cramer Fire, the key point many people seem to be missing here is INTENT. If I thought for one moment that Ellreese intentionally hurt our comrades at Thirtymile, I’d be at the head of the line of those calling for punishment. But I can not back further punishment for an employee who was charged with a responsibility that he attempted to fulfill and failed. Would you trade lives with him right now?

Whether Ellreese was competent or not is a red herring. If he wasn’t competent, you should be looking for justice from the ORGANIZATION that hired and promoted and certified him as being qualified to lead wildland firefighters under extremely dangerous conditions.

Last September I was on a low-priority fire where for two weeks we were unable to fill many of our resource orders for critical resources like Type 1 and Type 2 crews. We were in a PL5 nationwide and told “fight fire with what you have and don’t expect any more resources.”

Consequently, myself and the other two DIVS swapped and gave up much needed air and ground resources on our own divisions so that whatever DIVS was getting his ass kicked could hang on to his portion of the fire for another day. We did that for two weeks, and every day we barely hung on by our fingernails, only to do it again the next day. There was no anchor and flank; we were essentially frontally assaulting whatever part of the fire was running, and leaving entire large divisions on the flank and heel unstaffed because of a lack of fire personnel. Our fire, which should have been easily contained in a week if we had access to adequate overhead and resources, was still uncontained and uncontrolled when we turned it back over to the District Type 3 organization.

Needless to say, this is not a particularly comforting way to fight a large timber fire with the potential to burn through two communities! We practiced LCES religiously while we exercised a “perimeter point control” strategy, but what else can you do when the Team expects you to deliberately compromise some of the 18 day after day?

Further, our IC was told explicitly to quit stating in the 209 that “a lack of resources contributes to our inability to achieve control objectives.’’ Not approved language in DC, apparently. Really makes you feel supported from on high, I can tell you.

Is this what we can expect as wildland firefighters in the future? That despite increasing (unrealistic) expectations and shrinking expertise within the workforce, we are going to be continue to be judged by some ever higher standard the accusers can’t even really define?

Chief Kimbell, it is my most earnest hope that you will find the means and energy to turn the US Forest Service wildland fire management organization around, help us become a High Reliability Organization. And tell Congress to dump PL 107-203.

If you need my help, Ab can tell you where to find me.

Free Ellreese.

Misery Whip
1/12 Very good points jimhart.
We actually agree on all of our points.
The issues surrounding Ellreese are as much related to the system as it is
to personal competence and accountability.

How did we get to this point?
I believe that we can study the swiss cheese and ultimately know the
reasons.
This does not mean that we can necessarily engineer a solution.
I believe this is because of the political nature of our profession.
Just as you pointed out the political context of the Custer Experience,
we too find ourselves buried within the political context of public service
in the 21st century..

We are no longer merely firefighters doing our jobs according to the
training that we have been given.
Now we are representatives of a politicized entity called the Federal
Government.
In case you haven't noticed- folks don't care much for institutions these
days.
The Federal Government doesn't rate very high on the popular hit parade.

There are armies of well organized and coordinated individuals whose main
purpose in life is to discredit the Federal Government and those who work for it.
Because of the (rightful) limitations placed upon us by law- we civil
servants grit our teeth and go about the people's business, scapegoats
for spineless politicians.

Part of the reason that we find ourselves in this place is the fact that
our profession was gutted during the 1980's.
No one seems to remember back that far. It was a time when fire positions
were the first to be cut and the last to be filled. Those who weren't willing
to sacrifice the best years of their lives for a career that looked to be a
hopeless quest left the profession- and took their experience with them.
Then came the great climatic shift, South Canyon, the budget surplus,
all risk incident management and the National Fire Plan.
Wildland fire professionals became valuable once again to society. (Imagine
that). Instead of the workforce of the 1970's/80 who were very competent
and motivated individuals, standing in line, for their chance at a career
appointment we transitioned to a mad scramble to hire any warm body who we
could convince to sign up.
As the fatalities mounted, we began to notice that the demographics of our
profession had finally collided with the political expediency of the
1980's.
No career opportunity = no experienced firefighters. No experienced
firefighters = no one to prevent the swiss cheese holes from lining up.

Should the Ellreese's of the profession bear the burden? The Line Officers
who never filled the vacant positions? The politicians who want to
privatize wildland fire management? Or should we just ignore the complex
root causes and continue to respond to the symptoms? Maybe sponsor
another seminar and develop another catchy doctrine or checklist? With
the money to be found in litigation, it certainly looks like we will be
attending a lot more funerals in the
future.

Still crazy after all these years.
1/11 Thoughts from an Old Green and Gray guy

I have been lurking here for a while reading all the hoopla of the Daniels issue and other things. When 30 Mile happened I had some serious questions about what really happened there and was deeply disappointed in the BS investigation. There were absolutely NO real answers about what happened or worse yet, how to prevent it from happening in the future -- just excuses and multiple finger pointing at everyone. Sorry no additional checklists, safety acronyms or prosecutions of employees are going to make things better or safer for the firefighter on the ground.

Conversely, I firmly believe that these actions are making life as a firefighter infinitely more dangerous because they are wrapped up in CYA instead of doing the job at hand safely. I am further disappointed in the performance of the Forest Service Leadership (lack of) specifically the Chief and Director of F&AM, more check lists, Doctrine, more smoke screen, where are their heads at? One poster here suggested throwing out the 10/18 perhaps they are right throw out all this acronym garbage and go back to the ORIGINAL 10 and 13 (yes 10 & 13) that said it all and these are not really grouped for management but for firefighter safety think about it! Commander’s intent is a good concept and it doesn’t need a big document to explain it simply put it is defined in Objectives, Strategy and Tactics tempered with serious application of the 10 and 13.

On leadership, well it is non-existent with most of the Forest Service, yet there is all kinds of “Management” they are woefully unschooled and unskilled in leadership. This trend has been evolving since the mid 80s. There are a very few islands of true leadership that remain and they are under assault by mediocrity which is becoming the accepted standard.

Several posters have commented on giving up or not obtaining Quals. Humm, if I was still on the job I would seriously consider the same thing; it isn’t worth what is happening to people that do make mistakes. I made more than my share and was extremely fortunate to not seriously hurt anyone.

Several years ago there was a post here on “Where have the ICs gone?” ab could you find it and repost it, as its very appropriate at this time. “Blackwell on Where have the ICs gone?(link on the Archives page, Docs Worth Reading section.)

I was an IC, and would not do it today. Yes there will be a huge IC void, and as previously pointed out, it will be filled, with more mediocrity. There are people out there that are “Qualified” but certainly not skilled, a product of the new version training and quals system that is a check the box and you are one. I heard it said the previous quals system was the “good ole boy” system and to a certain extent that’s correct. However, when a person was “qualified” under that system they had demonstrated through action on more than one or two occasions that they truly were, and not everyone made it through that process. Just think, not all high school or college football players that want to, make it to the NFL no matter how good they are locally.

This issue is greater than “Quality training” it is also "quality performance". I have personally witnessed employees that have been denied qualification when they were signed off for qualifications on a simple incident. They filed grievances and won, only to move on to the next level and become even more incompetent. The same applies to those that are known to promote by grievance... yet more mediocrity. When was the last time you know when someone’s quals were rescinded because they were incompetent and it stuck? So those considering giving up quals think about who will fill that void.

When I started, it was tin hard hats brown work shirts, levis and shelters were a new thing we didn’t trust. When I retired a few years ago off one of the busiest fire forests I had been a type I IC.

Maybe after 40 years of this your thoughts may sound the same. I wondered why all the old guys were cynical when I was wet behind the ears new.

Sorry for the length of this and I am sure that there are those who will disagree.

Old Green and Gray guy

Welcome Old Green and Grey. Ab.

1/11 Ab,

I wrote this letter over 4 years ago. As you can tell, I was frustrated and concerned about my inability to control my exposure when I had little control over the workforce assigned to me, especially on fire assignments. Even though most people know who wrote it, I asked to have my name removed from it as I have moved on to other things and prefer not to have it following me around. My understanding is that it may be more applicable today than then. Each person must make his/her own decisions, but keep this in mind…..Wildland Firefighting is a noble and important career. The country needs you! My time has past, but yours may not have. Fight the good fight and try to make things better for you and your people.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Retirement letter ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am sending this letter to announce my retirement on September 30, 2002.

I made this decision with a great deal of reluctance. I feel like I am deserting. When I agreed to become a Type 1 IC I actually intended to work 2-3 years longer. Otherwise, I would not have taken the position. Since then, things have changed.

The event that changed my mind so abruptly is the 30-mile Hazard Abatement Plan. As you know, fire teams have been struggling to keep abreast of the issues and follow the large volume of direction all summer. The people on my team did an outstanding job.

The fact remains that the Forest Service, through layers of directives, action items, letters and other documents, has shifted the majority of the responsibility to FMO’s and IC’s. I believe this puts us in a vulnerable liability position if an accident does occur. It is impossible to guarantee 100% compliance with all the rules and still do the job, either at home or on a large fire.

The 30-mile investigation resulted in several adverse actions, including proposed removals. The Forest Service will not allow us to review the related findings, so it is impossible for us to understand what actions or omissions led to the disciplinary actions and make our own judgments. It is now unclear what support the agency is willing to provide in such instances. We are left guessing at the future. More importantly, I see a trend towards more aggressive involvement by family members of victims. When we live in such a litigious society, this is also concern.

My family, my lawyer and I all came to the same conclusion. I have the ability to remove myself from this risk, I should do so now. I am already eligible to retire so it no longer makes sense to allow myself to continue in what I consider to be a position of unacceptable, yet inescapable risk.

I hope my service this year has helped in one small way of allowing others another year of experience at DPIC so they are even more prepared to step up. I am proud to have been part of the R-XX Fire Organization, I think we are the best in the Nation. I am honored to have been one of your IC’s and wish the best to the entire Wildland Fire Service.

The team membership of my IMT was well established when I was given the assignment last Spring. I can say I inherited the best group of highly skilled and friendly people I have ever seen on one team. They have done an outstanding job in a difficult year. Please continue to give them your full support.

Sincerely,

<snip>

Thanks for letting us share this. Ab.

1/11 Like my friend, the now-retired IC1 who forecasted the bad things to come from the Thirtymile fatalities and the aftermath, I too put down my thoughts for an editorial in "Wildfire" magazine in January 2005, and am truly discouraged and disappointed that my forecast has come true.

For those who missed it:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From the President’s Desk
Dick Mangan
IAWF President, 2004-2005

Wildfire Magazine
January-February, 2005

Wildland Firefighting on a Slippery Slope

In May, 1987 along China’s Great Black Dragon River that separates China and Siberia and is known in the West as the Amur River, brush cutter Wang started a wildfire as he was refueling his mechanical brush cutter without waiting for a cool-down period. The fire spread out of control, and burned together with other fires in the area that had been seen by satellites, but not reported to forestry officials. It eventually burned more than 3 million acres, and killed 220 people. The Chinese Red Army was brought in to suppress it, but the General in command was unable to control the fire, and consequentially was relieved of command and sentenced to time in jail for his failure.

The investigation of the 1994 South Canyon Fire in the US State of Colorado that killed 14 firefighters found that local fire managers had failed to follow their own rules and policies, but no one was held accountable, and some even received cash awards for their actions during that fire season.

Australia’s “Linton Fire” in December 1998 resulted in the death of 5 volunteer firefighters from Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA). A “Coronial Inquest” was held to review all the events and facts (the equivalent of a US Grand Jury Investigation), involving over 100 witnesses, more than 17 lawyers, and thousands of pages of testimony. It was the longest running and largest “Coronial” in Australia’s history at that time, but no one was charged with mis-conduct or went to jail.

And then, in July 2003 during the Cramer Fire above Idaho’s Salmon River, 2 U.S. Forest Service helicopter rappellers were burned over and died on a “Type III” (Extended Initial Attack) fire on their home forest. Three (3) separate investigations were conducted: one, by the USFS; another by the US Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (parent organization of the USFS); and a third by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is required by law to look at any fatality of Federal employees.

As a result of these investigations, the USFS decided to take “administrative actions” against some of their employees, ranging from letters of reprimand to termination of employment. Although it has been more than 18 months since the fatalities, most of those “administrative actions” have not been resolved within the USFS.

OSHA found the USFS liable for 5 Violations ( 3 “Serious”, 1 “Willful” and 1 “Repeat”).

But in my opinion, the most significant actions resulting from the Cramer Fire fatalities are those taken by the U.S. Attorney in Boise, Idaho: they explored, based on the findings of the 3 investigations as well as information that they had gathered, bringing CRIMINAL charges against the Incident Commander based on his actions, and the resulting deaths of the 2 helicopter rappellers. A news release in early December 2004 announced that a pre-trial agreement had been reached: The IC lost his job with the US Forest Service and would be on Federal Probation for 18 months.

Fighting wildland fires is a curious mix of science and art in a rapidly changing environment, with an often-unknown combination of factors determining what occurs. Since my 1st wildfire suppression action in the mid-1960’s, I’ve never been 100% sure that all my actions and reactions were absolutely correct and “by-the-book”. And the “book” keeps getting thicker and more complex every year! It’s relatively easy for an outsider, with weeks and months of time, to review the decisions I had to make in seconds or minutes, compare them against the hundreds of pages of direction found in the Fireline Handbook, the “Red Book”, the Incident Response Pocket Guide, and various Training Manuals that cover the past 40 years, and find errors in my judgment or decision-making. Does that make my conduct criminal?

Throughout my entire career, I’ve been blessed to never have a firefighter seriously hurt or killed while working under my direction. But, I’d be a fool to think that this was all the result of nothing but skill, ability and experience: pure, dumb blind luck has kept me, and the firefighters who have worked with me, out of harm’s way more than once - and out of the US Attorney’s gunsight. For that, I’m eternally grateful!

So, where do the Extended Attack IC’s for the 21st Century stand after the actions of the US Attorney in Boise? Are they going to risk their careers, homes and jail time to take charge of fires that are threatening to burn out of control into valuable natural resources and or into residential areas? How about Initial Attack IC’s? What about Prescribed Burn bosses who knowingly and willingly light fires in the woods?

I’ve got this new-found fear that wildland fire has entered onto a “slippery slope” that we won’t find it easy to get off of in the coming years, and that the fallout from the Cramer Fire will ripple throughout the wildland fire community world-wide, resulting in fewer and fewer folks willing to take the personal risks required to be an IC on a wildfire or prescribed burn. If that happens, the land and the public that we serve will suffer the consequences.

Maybe a US Attorney will step up and become an IC during a busy fire season.

1/11 Thom,

No report or other words on paper can really describe what was happening that day. I have read the reports and listened to some of the firefighters involved and still have many questions.

In the investigation report I have read that with the support of air attack, Ellreese chose a safety zone “where they could safely watch the fire pass them by”. One of the photos taken at the entrapment site shows the crew outside the vehicle, some with packs on, another with hands in pockets smoking a cigarette watching the fire across the valley, and another taking a picture of herself with the second column in the background. A lack of leadership? or a crew acting like they are in a safe place to relax? You referred to the site in your recent post as “the deployment site”. Is this choice of words based on the final outcome or what you believed it was at the time of entrapment? You also left the road with a squad boss in-training and went above the road to look for possible deployment sites. That trainee made a determination that there was too much vegetation among the rocks for a suitable deployment site and went back to the road, while you stayed.

You say that the squads were taken in front of a running crown fire; was that your observation at the time, or were the squads taken along a flank?

I’m not challenging you, I’m just trying to find out what the perceptions were at that moment in time rather than the perfect view of hindsight.

One of our orders is to "base all actions on current and expected fire behavior". I’ve heard from some very experienced FBANs and firefighters that the killing blast that came across the valley could not have been predicted or expected. Certainly you or the others did not predict or expect it.

When leaders fail, others need to step up.

RG
1/10 Thom -

I'm going out on a limb here and being politically incorrect, I'm
sure.. I guess I have a few questions. Why did the crew go down the road
with Ellreese? Did anyone look at a map and see that it was a dead end
road? You state that Ellreese was incompetent and should have been fired
long before...so why would someone follow an individual that they feel
this way about? Also, I'm curious, Ellreese tried to pass off the IC
position to a couple people that are notably better experienced/qualified
individuals and they turned him down, how much support at that time do you
think he felt?

My biggest question is this...and I will agree with you in that there are
alot of incompetent firefighters out there that are promoted, even those
who can't read or write. But seeing as how this is the culture that the
Forest Service has created, shouldn't the Forest Service be on trial? How
about the supervisors that have given Ellreese passing performance
evaluations, how about those who signed off his task book for Crewboss, IC3
and Div? Ellreese makes it through the system, he's known to have some
faults yet he's continually given positive reinforcement in the way of a
permanent position and qualifications. So when he fails, it's his fault? I
don't follow.

Once again, as it's been said before, this whole mess shouldn't be about
trying to hang an individual that is a product of a faulty system, it
should be the search for the latent failures that led to this terrible
tragedy. If we turn our backs on this situation then a precedent will be
set, a "slippery slope" as Rod Altig put it. This is dangerous, Thom, as
dangerous as pulling your crew off the fireline and not telling the
adjacent forces that you are disengaging.

-Dozershot

1/10 Mr. Taylor,

My initial thought on your post was that I wouldn't be allowed to respond
due to the tone that my message would take. Another thought was that, after
watching you get picked apart at the Wildland Fire Safety Summit in
Missoula after 30 Mile by a couple of shot crew overhead, maybe I should
bite my tongue and take a walk. However, after a short search through
agency address lists, I see that you are still employed by the "great green
welfare machine", as am I. If our agency is so bad, you have other options
for employment where you could still participate in fire suppression and
not have to deal with all of the crappy supervisors, lazy employees, and
minimally qualified leaders that can't make solid decisions.

Your statement about the crew boss being responsible for the safety of all
of his employees is very true and I won't argue with you about that.
But, where does their responsibility lie with crewmembers that
intentionally disrupt and ignore issued directives? If I remember from
Missoula, you were up in that rockslide for the initial push and roll, then
moved down to the road afterwards (please correct me if I have my facts
wrong. I am just going on what you stated you did at the time at the scene)
Maybe you could enlighten the rest of us welfare employees working for the
big green machine on who made the decision to ride things out there and
why, when the aftermath photos clearly show that the road or even the
sandbar near where the vehicles were parked would have been a hands down
choice to deploy and survive, as most of the rest of the crew did. I think
at one time I even saw pictures of the crew rigs and they survived with
minimal damage.

I have never seen a true unredacted statement that covers the decision
process used by the rockslide squad and would be interested in reading one.

I can't think of any I.C. that I know that is perfect and makes the right
decisions one hundred percent of the time, and that includes myself. My
personal thought on this indictment is that it is going to open the door
for additional suits against more of us if and when we make an error or
someone working for us makes an error.

FMO Joe

1/10 Letters of Support:

I have been totally overwhelmed with the responses I have received to my
letter "30 mile a Agency Slippery Slope". Based on the emails and phone
calls I have gotten, it appears that there are a lot of people that feel
very strongly about what has happened to Ellreese Daniels. I would like to
thank all of you that have responded, and if I haven't sent you a reply,
its due to the magnitude of emails I have received, and not that I am
ignoring you.

The letter that I sent to Dale Bosworth, Chief of the USFS,
Tom Harbour National Director of Fire for the USFS, Linda Goodman R-6
Regional Forester, Ken Snell R-6 Director of Fire Mgmt., all R-6 Forest
Supervisors, and all the Fire Staff's in R-6 has been fairly well received.
I have gotten responses from Dale Bosworth, Tom Harbour, Linda Goodman,
and Ken Snell, along with numerous others. They have all assured me that
they are working on several things to correct this injustice, but due to a
open criminal proceeding, they have not felt that it was appropriate to
comment publicly.

I have been asked (summoned) to the Regional Office to
assist the Regional Fire Director and Regional Forester in drafting a
"White Paper" on this issue on Thursday 1/11/07. We shall see what it has
to say, as we are all waiting for some Regional and National leadership on
this issue. I have also been told that all of the Regional Foresters and
the National Fire group are meeting soon to discuss this issue.

I have seen numerous changes in the fire community since I first started
as a GS-2 grunt, on a district fire crew in 1974, some positive, some not
so positive. Being a member of the wildland fire fighting organization has
been a wonderful career, the places I have seen, the close friendships I
have made on every fire, and those relationships keep getting stronger and
stronger.

There have been numerous people that have sent replies to my letter
asking what they can do to help resolve this issue that's before us. I
think one of the most important things we can do, is to engage in serious
discussions within our local Forest, Regional and National arenas, talking
with our Line Officers/ Agency Administrators, Cooperators , and others to
come up with a solution. There are also avenues to try and repeal the
Cantwell legislation. The fire community has always had a " Can Do "
attitude, and I feel very strongly that we can weather this storm and
effect some change within our organizations. We need to be there to support
Ellreese Daniels through this difficult time that's in front of him.

Another thing we need to continue to do is mentor and provide quality
training experiences for those that are coming up behind us, so that they
have the knowledge and confidence to face all the challenges that lay
before us in the future. So let's look forward to the day that our Agencies
will stand along side of us through thick or thin, 'cause if they fail to do
so, I fear that there won't be anyone to answer the call.

Rod Altig

1/10 Despite Hugh's (and others) kind words to the contrary, I am almost excited to report that I got my first "you're clueless" phone call today from an anonymous caller.

A gentleman called to speak to me about my "Letter to the Editor" of the Yakima Herald and inquired about my fire background. I indicated I had 24 years in the fire service, retiring as an A/C of Ops with a number of incursions into wildland firefighting. He responded by saying " I have 26 years of wildland firefighting experience and you're clueless" then hung up.

Gotta love the anonymous folks, which is why I applaud so many, including Thomas Taylor, Hugh, Dick, Mellie, Ken K. and others who have recently posted here with no reservations about using their true identities. It is an often difficult thing to do and opens oneself up to attack...but that's the nature of the business and I believe we all collectively do it because of our passion and affection for our Nation's wildland firefighters.

First & Foremost, I firmly believe that as an organization, the FWFSA wants to encourage all those with command qualifications to resist the temptation to remove them, not take assignments etc. I say that with the utmost confidence in our ability to get the liability issue addressed in Congress so as to provide more clarity as to Congress' intent and ensure they are aware of a number of concerns being raised about the prosecution of anybody under such circumstances.

While I'm sure there are a number of folks who are supporting Ellreese as "Ellreese the individual" still others support him, as they would anyone else in the situation as the symbol of the continuing implosion of the Forest Service Fire Program managed primarily by "non-fire" folks and a symbol of the double-standard applied by the OIG's office and that of the US Attorney as it relates to prosecutions under federal law. Shoshanna brought up an excellent point about the Border Patrol case.

While I'm sure all of us have either appeared to be incompetent at some time in our fire careers or actually have been so, the loss of life notwithstanding, incompetence is a far cry from criminal negligence. Let's face it, complex fires can make even the most seasoned, experienced officers look incompetent once hind-sight is applied...especially 5 1/2 years of hind-sight.

While discipline is a normal course of action, criminalizing poor judgment, even incompetence in an effort to provide "answers" to some, or to position oneself for a higher position, or to allow such prosecution of one person so as to deflect the dysfunction of the Agency leadership is simply wrong and will do more harm than good.

As a community, we can only hope that those representing Mr. Daniels will seek the expertise available from so many of you and that should a trial commence, jurors will be able to apply common sense and not get caught up in the emotion of it all, which, after all, initiated the legislation that has resulted in the prosecution.

Criminal prosecution is simply the wrong answer in my opinion which, again, from what I was told today, may be clueless...

To close, I offer a little tidbit to consider:

"To accomplish great things,
we must not only act, but also dream;
not only plan, but also believe"
Anatole France

Casey Judd

1/10 To jimhart-

Of course we must endeavor to improve the system which asks its employees
to bring order to chaos.

We must always look at the context in addition to human error. But we
cannot turn our backs- nor ignore- the fact that some actions
by incompetent people throughout history border on the criminal. Their
actions went well beyond simply failing to understand the feedback of the
situation. When all the variables were taken into account, many
individuals throughout history have proven that they were motivated by
elements of their own personal situation that had nothing to do with the safety
and well being of their subordinates. To General Custer it was arrogance and
his personal need to position himself for the Presidency which led to the slaughter
of his command at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Yes- we can talk about his
tactical blunders and the nuts and bolts of what happened on that day back
in 1876, but the essence of this tragedy was personal arrogance. The
Department of the Army gave Custer a great deal of "tactical discretion",
but without mastery of self, this discretion failed to serve Custer well.
You noted that "we need to focus on examining the system, the bureaucracy,
enabling policies, and the physical environment in order to find the root
causes of the problem. FIND the problem and solve it, not prosecute
individuals or add to Watch Out lists".

I can tell you what the problem is in these fatality fires. The problem is
that firefighters are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time by a head
fire that kills them.

The factors which define wrong place usually involve being above and or in
front of a rapidly advancing flame front. The factors which define wrong
time usually involve being in an area without a sound escape route/safety
zone at a time when the humidity and fuel moisture's are at their lowest
and the temperature and wind are at their highest.

I'm not trying to be a smart a$$ here (I was born one) but it seems to me
that if we use our heads, we might be able to place ourselves in the right
place at the right time and reinforce our chances of a safe outcome if we
add sound escape routes and safety zones to this equation. If you don't
want to die in a fire shelter -maintain a sound anchor, flank, establish
LCES and know your limitations. I agree- firefighters shouldn't be
worrying about liability- so quit worrying and do your job according to the
scope of your abilities and qualifications.

Still Crazy After All These Years

1/10 Ab,

I am fully aware of the issues, possibly more than you are, consequences and facts behinds this case, both legal and for what it will mean to wildland firefighters and government operations. I have been asked by local wildland firefighters to offer my firm's services, pro bono, to help Mr. Daniels and I am now consulting my associates on a decision to do so. After reading all I could about this case I believe this case is winable to the benefit of Mr. Daniels and ALL Wildland Firefighters. As for the investigator who interviewed Mr. Daniels, I probably have more on my Red Card than he does and have probably been involved in a lot more wildland incidents than he has (seriously, but as you say here "Tongue in Cheek).

My ending comment to my last post was just an off the cuff response to Mr. Daniels latest predicament. Having represented defendants under similar circumstances before, I know that this last incident won't help Mr. Daniels in the eyes of a jury. I do agree with Mr. Carson's (Hi Hugh) comments, well most of them anyway. I wish the best for Mr. Daniels and ALL Wildland Firefighters.

Shoshanna

1/10 Thom -

I'm going out on a limb here and being politically incorrect, I'm
sure.. I guess I have a few questions. Why did the crew go down the road
with Ellreese? Did anyone look at a map and see that it was a dead end
road? You state that Ellreese was incompetent and should have been fired
long before...so why would someone follow an individual that they feel
this way about? Also, I'm curious, Ellreese tried to pass off the IC
position to a couple people that are notably better experienced/qualified
individuals and they turned him down, how much support at that time do you
think he felt?

My biggest question is this...and I will agree with you in that there are
alot of incompetent firefighters out there that are promoted, even those
who can't read or write. But seeing as how this is the culture that the
Forest Service has created, shouldn't the Forest Service be on trial? How
about the supervisors that have given Ellreese passing performance
evaluations, how about those who signed off his task book for Crewboss, IC3
and Div? Ellreese makes it through the system, he's known to have some
faults yet he's continually given positive reinforcement in the way of a
permanent position and qualifications. So when he fails, it's his fault? I
don't follow.

Once again, as it's been said before, this whole mess shouldn't be about
trying to hang an individual that is a product of a faulty system, it
should be the search for the latent failures that led to this terrible
tragedy. If we turn our backs on this situation then a precedent will be
set, a "slippery slope" as Rod Altig put it. This is dangerous, Thom, as
dangerous as pulling your crew off the fireline and not telling the
adjacent forces that you are disengaging.

-Dozershot

1/10 A question about grants to Esperanza homeowners, and a thought about 30-mile…

Can anyone pass along information regarding grants to homeowners to rebuild homes burned down in the “bowl” during the Esperanza fire? I have heard that some are eligible for grants in excess of $100,000? I called FEMA and they said that since the Esperanza was not classified as a major disaster by the President, FEMA grants are not the source. I need to sort this out.

Part of any effort to solve the WUI/WEZ issue will need to address government subsidies of building homes in high fire risk areas. Clarification on such a thing occurring with the Esperanza fire from anyone here would be greatly appreciated.

~~~~~~~~~~

The unfortunate events that have transpired over the past month regarding Ellreese Daniels really highlight the fundamental problem with the belief many of us have in America about the individual and the role of society; individuals need to be held accountable for mistakes (not I didn’t say “their” mistakes).

The knee jerk reaction one frequently hears when something wrong happens is to find those responsible and hang them, either figuratively or literally. It’s all about the individual, not the environment in which the deed occurred. Obviously individual responsibility is important, but in our collective haste to find the guy who pulled the trigger, we miss the opportunity to fix the problem that led to the event in the first place. Consequently, enlisted personal and junior officers in Iraq will continue to face court marital for misdeeds, yet the misdeeds will continue. People like Ellreese (and perhaps the crew of Engine 57?) will continue to be blamed for making wrong decisions, yet wildfirefighter fatalities in the Wildland Entrapment Zone will continue (and I fear will increase as we go forward). And wildlands will continue to be held responsible for homes burning down in Malibu, yet homes continue to be built in a manner inconsistent with the fire-prone environment in which they exist.

As Lobotomy and others have expressed here so well before, it is time to drop this focus on pointing fingers and accept that human error (or battle stress, or homeowner irresponsibility) is just part of the game and is virtually impossible to eliminate. Instead, we need to focus on examining the system, the bureaucracy, enabling policies, and the physical environment in order to find the root causes of the problem. FIND the problem and solve it, not prosecute individuals or add to Watch Out lists.

The solider or wildland firefighter are at the END of the line of responsibility, not the source of the problem that originally initiated upstream. They are not sole agents acting in isolation of the environment in which they operate.

Should people who willfully commit acts that lead to harm be held accountable? Absolutely. But this business of firefighters worrying about liability in the performance of their duties and our tendency to blame the victim only guarantees future tragedies because the root cause is never addressed. Everyone is too scared to speak the truth.

jimhart

1/10 Ab-

It is interesting to watch the reaction of the wildland fire community to the plight of Ellreese Daniels.
There are howls of protest as to why we aren't having hunger strikes and protests to force Daniels' freedom.
I'm not sure whether we are freeing him from the revenge of the families of the 30 Mile Tragedy, or from his drug and alcohol charges.

Folks are definitely getting a little goosy about the consequences of making mistakes in the line of duty.

Perhaps we SHOULD be a little more concerned about the consequences of our actions. If we can justify our actions, and mitigate the risks to the best of our ability, then we shouldn't have any concerns. If we tolerate suppression actions that cannot be justified, then we deserve to be scrutinized as a profession. Should Ellreese specifically be the poster child for accountability within the wildland fire profession? I don't think so. All of us should be held accountable for our decisions and actions. No one should be above scrutiny- especially individuals who are looked upon to be the "experts". We will never justify killing people, because "our job is inherently dangerous"- so we shouldn't even attempt to go down that road. Public funerals for firefighters are inspirational experiences, but there are less costly ways to seek inspiration toward public service.

While we all make mistakes, we should never approach any suppression action with an laze fare attitude, or knowingly accept an assignment that is beyond our abilities and experience. Nor should any supervisor knowingly assign a subordinate to a task that is beyond that person's abilities. To never set someone up to fail should be the primary objective of any supervisor.

There are those who fear that no one will ever step up to the plate to be an IC again -if we are forced to be held accountable. I say- there will always be those individuals who care enough about the mission to risk a great deal for the sake of the public good. To these individuals, the profession of wildland fire management and public service will always mean more than the money, ego, a fancy t-shirt or a false sense of bravado. To these unique individuals, the profession of wildland fire management will always represent an opportunity to contribute to society in some small way. To those individuals who look upon the wildland fire profession as merely a "profitable diversion", I say "be afraid- be very very afraid". To those individuals I say perhaps the time has come for you to sell liability insurance instead.

Still Crazy After All These Years
1/10 Dear wildland fire community.

I have sat patiently by the computer many times reading the rants about the "Thirty Mile Fire" and how Ellreese Daniels is a victim, and the Forest Service is turning into a spineless agency that does not support its employees through hard and difficult times. I will admit that the Forest Service has turned into the " Budget Service," and is dangerously shying away from "Protecting the land and Serving the People." But we need to look at the facts. The I.C. is responsible for the safety of the firefighters. With that said, if the I.C. is back at the rig or in camp, and a sawyer makes a fatal error, is the I.C. responsible? Or if a engine responding to the fire is driving erratically to the fire and causes an accident, is the I.C. responsible ? No way!

Now on the other hand, if the I.C. takes two squads up a dead end road out in front of a running crown fire to "pick up some spots," then become entrapped and provides no leadership at the deployment site, are they responsible? Hell yes! They are responsible. I agree whole heartedly that the charges against Ellreese are ridiculous and have come too late. But the Forest Service needs to hold its Employees responsible for their actions when mistakes are made. The Agency is starting to turn into a Welfare program for people that are poor at their jobs, have sub-standard leadership qualities, and make poor decisions. In the real world, people like Ellreese would have been fired long before something like the Thirty-mile Fire ever happened. His incompetence is now on trial and its too late. So lets stick to the basics and remember that " S*%t grows back and Homes can be rebuilt"!

Thank-you
Thomas R. Taylor.
(Thirty mile Survivor)

1/10 I am concerned as a middle manager in the organization in my daily duties
and as an ICT2 (t) and OSC2 on fires about those of us stuck in the middle
of this situation. Here we are talking about this poor guy being
prosecuted and possibly going to jail, we are obviously talking about
people dying, and we as the middle managers are trying to encourage our
folks to stay positive and focused on preparing for our next round of fire
season here!!

On top of this, we ourselves are getting prepared to charge into the next
fire season. How are we supposed to instill confidence in our folks when
we (myself) are feeling vulnerable and naked in the face of potential
liabilities down the road. I am trying to tell people, I am personally
behind you and professionally supportive of you in your redcard capacities
and I will work with you and watch your back - yet i may not share that
confidence above my level. I am also concerned about personal choices and
my own liability of being sued or prosecuted as i am the sole support of 2
kids.

It makes it hard to keep working towards the fully qualified ICT2 position
when you have these thoughts in the back of your mind - but I also ask
myself - who is going to do the job if we all are scared away?

LC

1/10 Many of you are already aware that Ellreese Daniels was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over by a trooper. An open container was present as were pot and a couple of pipes in the glove compartment. My first reaction when hearing about it was "How can he make such a stupid mistake?" Well, I still have that question, especially if the drug stuff is his but none of us knows that at this time.

Although this will probably make the case related to Thirty Mile more awkward, it is not related and we must maintain our focus on those charges and not be diverted. The issue is whether Ellreese as a crew boss did anything criminal. That is the issue for all of us in the fire suppression community.

Let's all stay on track with the issue of greatest concern to all of us.

George Pozzuto
1/10 Dick Mangan and others:

I have been lurking in the background for over a week since you first put out your courageous appeal to help Ellreese – totally uncharacteristic of me but part of the “new Hugh”, the ex-firefighter gadfly and “renegade” who used to avidly seek out each and every cause that appeared to be unjust and who would rapid-fire out immediate responses to each and all at the drop of a hat – responses that were always passionate but more than occasionally ill-thought-out and ill-advised. I am slowly edging toward true retirement on our 40 acres and a little log cabin adjacent to the West Elk Wilderness on the west slope of Colorado.

That said, I just read the Yakima Herald article about Ellreese and his driver being busted for marijuana while returning from his arraignment. Hmmmmmm . . . . or as Mellie so aptly put it, “Eeeeewwwww, not good.” I imagine the phone lines are buzzing tonight among all the “Free Ellreese” contingent (which I hope numbers in the thousands).

My thoughts:

Very very very dumb of him. End of that observation. What happened, happened. What is, is.

However, the complexity that this latest twist has added is going to separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, regarding each of our individual reactions, and our collective response as a community, to the basic inequity of his prosecution for 30-Mile. As the immortal Hunter S Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” (Referencing the Nixon era, I believe).

I would suggest that, before any one of us rushes to judgment and away from supporting him, we all remember one of the basic “mantras” of the AAR process: “It’s not about the who, it’s about the what.”

And the basic “what” of this is that the agency, the US Attorney, and assorted politicians perpetrated a grave inequity and injustice not only upon Ellreese but also upon us as a community. As well as upon the American Public.

However, this is now going to be a really really (really!!) tough one.

I can just hear the cackling now: “Oh boy, those firefighters on “They Said” got what they deserved for sticking their necks out for Ellreese, him being a deranged druggie and all. Probably was stoned that day up on the Okanogan.”

Or maybe a reaction that some of us may have had, to wit, “Uh oh, wrong move on my part, shouldn’t have stuck my neck out on this one. I better bail.”

This is exactly the response “they” are hoping for and it will play right into “their” hands, a hand which distressingly looks like a full house. However, we’re going to shove all the chips in and go for the inside straight flush. We have no choice.

Our individual and collective response to this is, without a doubt, going to determine what we are made of. No ifs, ands or buts. The line in the sand has been drawn, and this one’s going to show what we’re truly made of. I’ll use another oft-used, somewhat hackneyed but now most appropriate mantra: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Remember, stay on message: “It’s about the what, not the who.”

Dick and the rest of you out there, count me in for the long haul in the effort to correct the injustice that is being perpetrated upon the fire community and our citizenry. We’ve got a great spokesperson in Casey Judd (his letter to the editor of the Yakima newspaper was about the most eloquent and right-on thing I’ve read in a very long time). We’re all in this together.

Pax.

Hugh Carson
970-778-7078

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."
1/10 Ab,

I've been married to a Firefighter for 12 years, Federal Wildland and now Career. My husband has been reading this site for several years and a few weeks ago he brought the 30 Mile charges to my attention so I have since been looking over past posts regarding the issues and the consequences. I have been an practicing attorney for 10 years during which time I was legal council for the DOE so I do have some experience dealing with government agencies. I am curious as to why the U.S. Attorney waited 5 years to bring charges, but then I'm dumbfounded as to why an U.S. Attorney would grant immunity to a known drug dealer and file charges against the two U.S. Border Patrol Agents who busted the lowlife.

I would hope that before people drop their Q's and run off to flip burgers at Burger King, spend days writing their Congresscritters or hold mass protests at the courthouse, they would let the judicial process work and see what the outcome is. Our legal system isn't perfect but it is the best in the world. Just remember that the U.S. Attorney has the burden of proving, without a doubt, before twelve of his peers, that Mr. Daniels was negligent that day. Until the verdict comes in I think Mr. Daniels needs to stay clear of Washington State Troopers beside the roadway, Marijuana, Drug Paraphernalia, and 24oz'ers...its doesn't say much for sound judgment.

Shoshanna
Attorney
Montan

Ok, this Ab is going to weigh in on this:

Shoshanna, Please read Hugh's post above. Hugh hits on the real issues. There are multiple levels of injustice here with critical implications:

  • at the individual level, the injustice to Ellreese on the fire and lying charges
  • at the higher system level, the injustice that involves our wildland firefighting community and the incident command system. How these charges impact this level has critical implications for public safety across the nation and for national security, since we come under DHS directives.

If we do not look at the whole picture, and act from the fire professional knowledge place - as an alternative to simply letting the process "take its course" - we will be in danger of the equivalent of riding into Baghdad and thinking that we've won the war. Fire professionals must speak up to educate and impact the outcome. I know that most non-fire people do not understand the true issues or the implications for our country.

I think because of your law perspective, you may not understand that simply the "bringing of charges" (charges) poses a critical threat to the wildland fire community's Lesson's Learned process and poses a threat to every Incident Commander who cannot follow every rule and checklist we're currently obligated to follow and check off.

Similarly because you see the legal process as a just process or one that is usually valid, you may not recognize that people who are innocent and are unjustly accused pay a price financially and psychologically. They can risk loosing everything dear to them simply in trying to raise the money necessary to fight for their innocence or else they're forced into plea bargain. In Ellreese's case, for one thing, his constitutional rights were violated in where/how the information regarding the fire was gathered in order to bring those charges. Who is accountable for that? Do they or their agency go on trial?

Take a deep look at the 30mile Report. Take a deep look at the "rules" that the legal system expects accountability on. Take a look at the charges. And you say trust the system? How can we when anyone in a supervisory position next season could find themself in Ellreese's position following a tragedy?

Shoshanna, My apologies for landing in your "square". I have too many people telling me behind the scenes that they're planning to retire early or not statusing themselves in ROSS this year, or will decline serving on an Incident Management Team. We won't know until we see how many IMTs form up this year what the outfall is of this action against Ellreese and the failure of Fire leadership and ...

Here's another excellent article that was posted recently that lays out the issues and implications of charges being brought. www.missoulian.com

Ellreese, shame on you for whatever reason you were in the car doing whatever you were doing several days ago after your court appearance on the 30mile charges.

Ab.

1/10 jb,

I was also told that an ICT3-trainee is not covered and is not eligible for the 50% reimbursement. I don't know how factual this information is, but it came from an S.O. person responsible for finding out the facts in R2 (PSICC) - and that hasn't always resulted in accurate information.

And this brings up another factor in how this entire situation will discourage people from moving up in the system. Makes you think twice and strongly consider turning the other direction.

I would love to wake up tomorrow and find that the last Yakima Herald article was a huge mistake and misprint.

S
1/9 Just because someone is a Type 1-3 Incident Commander (IC) does not qualify
them for 50% reimbursement of Professional Liability Insurance premiums. Even
some supervisors and managers do not qualify. (See below).

Gizmo

>FSM 6184 - INSURANCE.

6184.1 - Professional Liability Insurance.  For direction on the
partial reimbursement to eligible employees (certain supervisors,
managers, and law enforcement employees)  for the cost of
professional liability insurance, see
FSH 6109.12, chapter 70.


>FSH 6109.12, CHAPTER 70 - INSURANCE

HERE for the rest
1/9 jd,

The decision is jointly made.... kinda...

The official decision is made by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of General Counsel (OGC).

The OGC usually makes a finding of whether the "person" was acting within the scope of their duties..... with some big exceptions..... 1) During the commission of a crime, and 2) During an action that could be considered to be "grossly negligent".

Input to the OGC decision is given by "experts" in the Forest Service.... thus the "jointly made" statement.... We know where the "experts" and "leaders" in the Forest Service have concentrated their efforts in the past..... and it hasn't been protecting the actions of employees........ Since 1994, the efforts have concentrated on CYA rather than learning, moving on, and healing... and in very rare cases.... holding people accountable for their failures.

Lobotomy
1/9

I didn't get a chance to do this yesterday, I would like to wish Jason McKay's sister a Happy Birthday......

Happy Birthday Crystal J.!!!!

BatGrl 12

1/9 Dozershot:
Some info on negligence: criminal or civil from wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.
Click on some of the links to explore more deeply... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_negligence

jb:
Thanks, I remember that now, SUPERVISORY.

jd:
I don't know who decides, besides the FS legal beagles; maybe someone else will. I researched all around this back in the Cramer liability days. Here's what I found. I barely remember researching and writing that piece. It's no secret, I really don't like people having to solve problems through litigation. (I do like people working together on MOUs to streamline agreements prior to crisis, however.)

Now, Casey loves all the legal stuff. Thank goodness! Maybe he knows more details.

Mellie

1/9 jd,

What I remember the two different presenters (one a rep and one a lawyer) from Wright and Co saying is roughly this:
When the going gets tough for the feds, their lawyers take the path of least resistance, to cover the Agency's rear end first. Agency lawyers are not acting on your behalf first.

Basically the lawyers for the Agency are in a conflict of interest position, the conflict being

  • do they support the employee or
  • do they protect themselves first?

Lawyers always protect their employer first. That's a no-brainer.

This priority is more true now than in the past when the world as we know it wasn't decided by lawyers, court cases, and out-of-court settlements, including the equivalent of plea bargains that make you a felon. We currently live in a "litigation happy" reality. We also assume that everything is prettymuch black and white, and that we human beings make totally logical decisions and accountability for following the black and white rules (and profits) is key. Companies and agencies used to foster the "we are a family" ideal. No more. Now it's about profit, market share and protecting the company/agency's own self-interest. [Has anyone heard the rumor out of R4 that Forest Rangers (line officers) are going to be required to catch 98% of new starts on IA. Accountability, costs... Hopefully just a rumor... What do most of them know about IA? If true, is this going to be another black-and-white thing?]

In my opinion, in this meaner profit/cost-driven reality, we no longer have a balance of power in this country among the Legislative, Judicial, and Administrative branches of government. "The Judicial Branch Rules" and the outcomes are not "fair" or "just". All branches have been given a black eye in part because the judicial runs rampant, forcing settlements out of court, that often result in the little guy without financial resources and/or social capital getting the short end of the stick, never mind justice being served. (phew deep breath after that run on sentence)

I watched the criminalization of the medical profession some years ago. Litigation follows the money. Results:

  • Medical costs have skyrocketed.
  • The first and foremost thought is CYA.
  • Fewer doctors are trained and enter the profession. (Many go into the legal "profession" instead.)
  • We have a critical nursing shortage world-wide.
  • Doctors, nurses -- the whole medical profession has lost a large measure of credibility with the people they serve.

The situation in fire is simply a repeat, currently being laid upon our firefighters. Unless checked, I expect the same pattern to prevail with even more skyrocketing fire costs, shortages of fire managers, loss of our Incident Management Teams and negative public attitudes toward the agencies.

jd, To get back to your question about what liability insurance covers, exactly, for wildland firefighters...

No, professional liability insurers do not cover "gross negligence" or "criminal wrongdoing", but what firefighter/manager who has had a crew burned over has been grossly negligent, let alone criminal? I believe that to begin with they assume that firefighters are not grossly negligent. If they assume it, the agency lawyers are more likely to assume the same, probably because they'll be made aware by someone speaking their same language.

Liability insurance company lawyers make the greatest difference, in my opinion, right at the beginning following an accident/fatality/act of God. Having them available means you have a "secret weapon", a supporter to call on, someone who will tell you "don't talk" until I can advise you of the "parameters of the legal field". You are paying this person/company who is expert in this kind of law to "watch your six" and give you pointers, because you will be unlikely to care for yourself simply on the emotional level in the midst of this crisis. You are paying for their knowledge of the legal pitfalls that you need to be aware of and to navigate to try to simply survive inside your own head in the future. Your life will never be the same, but without a legal supporter, it likely will be a whole lot worse. Normally, we think of ourselves as good people, competent, doing our job, and for those of us in fire we think of ourselves as "public servants". To date most of us are not used to thinking of ourselves walking among others who do not share our values. Finding yourself stabbed in the back by your agency and "the system" comes as the rudest of shocks...

Point: Legal pitfalls are often determined by outcomes of congressional bills and prior legal skirmishes in a court of law or out. Law and interpretation of it is based on past legal history - legal precedent, not necessarily on fairness.

Normally when a firefighter needs this kind of legal support, they're in the same vulnerable psychological shape as the families of the fallen. I wish it wasn't so, but they need a legal WFF, an organizer, a personal advocate who is thinking more clearly, especially one with the right kind of legal expertise. They have lost a fire family member and are stunned, bereft, possibly injured physically themselves and their normal extended fire family support group is often equally dysfunctional. They can't think straight. Typically they can't remember large chunks of what happened. Often they can't make the simplest of arrangements for food, lodging, transportation, normal daily activities. Some feel the need to withdraw; some, the need to tell the story over and over (bad move). At some point early on, all humans think "thank god it's not me". Then they feel guilty, second guess themselves and can play it repeatedly over again in their minds. (Lt Col Dave Grossman, PhD, ex-Ranger, describes this eloquently in On Combat; he's a fantastic speaker as well. Taught psych at West Point. Good guy, down to earth for all his expert knowledge of human factors under stress.)

Oh my, I can tell if I don't end this I will go on for hours, maybe days... I am sorry for what our Agency has come to regarding support of firefighters and other employees. But to put their actins in context, let me ask: Were they pushed there by lawyers representing people in grief? grievance-filing employees? environmentalists? by laws created by our Congress in a highly charged bipartisan climate in DC? hopped on by DoJ legal beagles who want an appointment as judge? Where does it begin? Where end? No answers; it's a process.

oopsie, the timer on my keyboard just announced a 1 min limit to wrap it up

In spite of all this, I am optimistic. We can affect the future. Thanks to everyone writing here, writing your reps, and to those working and researching behind the scenes.

Mellie, over and out...

You getting paid by those professional liability companies? (tongue in cheek) Ab.

1/9 Re: For those of us who have been afraid to speak "on the record" as professionals for so many years.....

Friends.... it is time to hammer down for firefighter and community safety.....

There are three things you should do if you are a current Federal Employee or FORMER federal employee and want to protest and speak about the severe safety failures of the Thirtymile Prosecution and the entire collapse of upper leadership within the wildland fire program:

1) Contact your local elected officials with your concerns,
2) Write down everything... your thoughts, your goals etc... share them on a "blog" if you have access to one or a safety "forum" such as this one, and anonymously with your contacts "as friends"
3) Contact the United States Office of Special Counsel Website with the facts....

OSC's Disclosure Unit (DU) serves as a safe conduit for the receipt and evaluation of whistleblower disclosures from federal employees, former employees and applicants for federal employment. 5 U.S.C. 1213. In this capacity, DU receives and evaluates whistleblowing disclosures-which are separate and distinct from complaints of reprisal or retaliation for whistleblowing which are reviewed by OSC's Complaints Examining Unit as a prohibited personnel practice.

The OSC disclosure process differs from other government whistleblower channels in at least three ways: (1) federal law guarantees confidentiality to the whistleblower; (2) the Special Counsel may order an agency head to investigate and report on the disclosure; and (3) after any such investigation, the Special Counsel must send the agency's report, with the whistleblower's comments, to the President and Congressional oversight committees.

As stated above, a whistleblower's identity will not be revealed without their consent. However, in the unusual case where the Special Counsel determines there is an imminent danger to public health and safety or violation of criminal, the Special Counsel has the authority to reveal the whistleblower's identity.
5 U.S.C. 1213(h).

Welcome to the United States Office of Special Counsel Website

Who We Are

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from three federal statutes, the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Hatch Act.

For those with things to SAY ON THE RECORD, but would like to say them ANONYMOUSLY without fear for their jobs or their family security..... .... HERE is the location.

Sometimes it is hard to speak on the record.... but when it comes to safety, folks need to act upon the "Greatest Good" for all..... Speak up!!!

Gizmo..... a Whistleblower

1/9 Trench Warfare,

What you asked about is (I think) about the "Commanders Intent" never being heard or understood from the field....

The biggest problem: No Commanders have stepped up at the RO/WO levels to admit failures nor accept their mistakes. I doubt any of them will unless they are true leaders... true leaders embrace what has worked and put down the failures that have plagued them in the past.

It takes alot of dedicated people to say BS where BS is due. There will be leaders who step up...... And some..... some who just do ?

Gizmo
1/9 Rod Altig,

You hit it on the the head better than most of us could ever before....

Your post was from the heart and without any fear of your statements being used against you.... kinda like a gut reaction.... but from a well known local expert.

Thank You Rod..... You Rock.... Hopefully all of us will be protected while trying to make things safer in the future for our firefighters and their families....

Things need to be said.... and it is for the "Greatest Good"....... Hopefully some of the ICT1's and ICT2's will speak up on the record..... As a protest and on the facts about the violation of federal law that the USDA OIG was allowed to accomplish.....

Special Agent Parker broke the law...... and exceeded his investigative authority for some reason.... in direct violation of PL 107-203...... and his actions will lead to increased risks for wildland firefighter safety in the future......

<To Ken Weaver Only and the FitzPatrick Family> If you want to see wildland firefighters safer.... Contact me or others.... I will introduce you to friends who have similar interests.... and similar goals....Things will get better... I promise.... but you have to let go of the anger.......... and you have to focus.... without anger.... on how you would like to feel in the future as you begin healing.... really healing.... and understanding....

/s/ Kenneth Kempter
Wildland Firefighter, District AFMO
ICT2(t), OSC2, DIVS, ICT3... etc....
1/8 I have enclosed my personal and professional thoughts about the recent
criminal charges filed against the 30 mile fire IC, Ellreese Daniels. The
silence from the fire community has been deafening. I wonder where is the
outrage, when an Agency employee, doing the Agency's work, is allowed to be
brought up on criminal charges and the Agency is nowhere to be seen. I
think it time we have a dialogue about supporting our IC's and Operations
personnel, before we have gone so far down this slope that there isn't
anyone left that's willing to perform these crucial positions. I am sure
there will be those that disagree with my statements, and that fine, that's
part of the process. Feel free to share this with others, or delete, or do
what ever...but please, lets not sit here in silence.

Rod Altig
Fire Management Officer
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Welcome Rod, your letter has landed in the right place for public viewing (more than 100,000 per week). Thanks for getting the word out through your channels. Most of us are having the same thoughts and are sharing them loud and clear. Well written piece. Ab.

1/8 Hello all,

Though I don't believe a stand-down will solve the current problem facing Ellreese, I do believe an actual SHOW of support is the best way we can all help out. Personally, I will be on the district courthouse in my greens, yellows, and boots with a FREE ELLREESE sign in my hands on Jan. 30 in Spokane. I understand it's easier for some than others to make it, but if any other laid off temps from around the area want to get involved, it would be a great opportunity to show our support for Ellreese. This kind of thing is what makes America great, our right to voice our opinion. Ellreese was my parent's crew boss in the late 70's/early 80's and was an instructor for my rookie class in 2001; he is a great guy and deserves our support.

-Hog

1/7 Abs & All,

I have no intention of quitting my job or this fight. I just won’t status myself as available in ROSS until PL 107-203 goes away. I’m militia, my boss doesn’t give a hoot whether I go on fire assignments or not. I have remained active in fire because I enjoy the people, the travel, the challenge, and because I think it is the right thing to do. I didn’t change, the job did.

I believe this is one of those important life issues that every firefighter needs to decide individually. Personally, if I was just starting out, I’d think strongly about moving to a different agency or changing my career if our agency can’t resolve this problem very soon.

When I look back at the way things used to be, I think we crossed a dangerous line with South Canyon when OSHA became involved with Forest Service entrapment investigations. The fire orders, which had previously been used as a teaching tool and to relate lessons learned following entrapments and burnovers, were held out to OSHA by our leaders as our rules of engagement.

That major blunder has since been compounded by codification of the “We don’t bend them, we don’t break them” message from senior management. But there are a number of reasons why the fire orders don’t work as rules of engagement, and why “we don’t bend them etc” is misguided wishful thinking on management’s part. I don’t believe our Forest Service senior management ever did understand, or understands today, the importance of these fundamental changes.

For one, the fire orders tell you what to do but not how to do it. Therefore, each fire order MUST be interpreted subjectively based on an individual’s own training and experience. Thus, two firefighters with different training and experience standing side-by-side will frequently come to entirely different conclusions about what they are seeing and experiencing, which influences what they consider important and unimportant, which in turn influences strategy, safety zone selection, etc. As in quantum mechanics, there is no single correct answer to any question regarding firefighter safety. It depends on the perspective of the viewer at a specific moment in time.

There have been a number of excellent papers written in recent years that clearly prove why the fire orders should not be considered as rules of engagement that can be “broken.” In 1995, Jim Cook wrote a great paper entitled “Fire Environment Size-Up: Human Limitations vs Superhuman Expectations.” He demonstrated that our most seasoned fire leaders compare their present experience with previous experiences to make prudent fireline decisions, and that the fire orders are only referenced and used in an incidental way.

Behavioral scientists use the term “Recognition Primed Decisionmaking” (RPD) to describe how human beings actually make decisions in high-tempo environments. Gary Klein and many others have written extensively on this subject. Jim Cook’s paper supports the RPD model.

Additional papers by Ted Putnam, Jennifer Ziegler, and others demonstrate the fallibility of the fire orders as rules of engagement. Used as a tool of retrospection, the orders can be utilized to provide a snap shot of a previous moment in time. But we need to croak this myth that firefighters constantly refresh the fire orders in some kind of “linear loop” fashion to maintain situational awareness. If you were able to accomplish this, it would be the only thing you would be capable of doing. You wouldn’t be able to speak, listen, change locations, work, and do all of the other things it takes to engage and fight fires.

On top of that, each updated assessment would only be relevant to you and your immediate surroundings! Doing an initial size up of a small fire using the fire orders is one thing, maintaining perfect situational awareness of the fire and fire orders as time passes or your location changes on a large fire is something else entirely.

I think the burden of proof in Ellreese's case is on the prosecution to prove that the fire orders are actually used by wildland firefighters in the manner held forth by senior Forest Service managers. I don’t think they can. Where is the training program that shows you how to use and apply the fire orders throughout the duration of a fire assignment? Where are the papers extolling the virtues of the fire orders as rules of engagement? They don’t exist, and for good reason.

For you primary fire types who still have to answer the bell, I have an idea. What would happen if many of our ICs really did what management SAYS it wants and started utilizing a zero-risk strategy on wildfires?

Let’s challenge this erroneous presumption that any experienced wildland fire IC can look at a fire and calculate the fuels, terrain, weather, available firefighting resources, projected fire growth & other variables and somehow predict everything that will happen over the next 12-24 hours.

Part of your calculation includes the spacing and size of safety zones needed to insure that all firefighters have ready access to a safety zone on all portions of the fire at all times. Since all fires produce hazardous convective gases and most are capable of producing firewhirls, safety zone size and location calculations for a zero-risk operation must include assuring that firefighters can be protected from such phenomena.

Don’t forget, by definition, a safety zone is an area where firefighters can remain safe from the harmful influence of fire effects without needing to deploy fire shelters.

Since there is no published direction for determining safety zone size and location beyond the IRPG guidelines for radiant heat protection, you can make your safety zones as numerous and big as you wish. Who can say you’re wrong?

The logical conclusion to this line of thinking is simple. The ONLY safe course on a wildfire is to not engage and place firefighters in proximity of the fire. Period. After that, all choices contain an element of risk.

Here’s how a mature organization deals with risk. From the US Army Risk Management Chain Teaching for Leaders:

It is imperative to develop twenty-first century leaders who trust their subordinates’ abilities and judgment. Such leaders must be willing to underwrite their subordinates’ honest errors and coach them on to excellence, without tolerating incompetence or laxity. We must recognize that Army leaders are not perfect, and that activity at the ragged edge of audacity sometimes leaves debris in its wake.

GEN William W. Hartzog
Commanding General

US Army Training and Doctrine Command

MORAL AND ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS
FOR LEADERS

To be successful, risk management must be underwritten by the chain of command. Leaders should not expect that all missions will be accomplished with zero defects—free from errors, flaws, or less-than perfect performance. Demanding such rigid standards leads to oversupervision and paralysis; it produces timid leaders, afraid to make tough decisions in crisis and unwilling to take risks necessary for success in military operations. A zero defects mindset creates conditions that will lead inevitably, in the larger sense, to failure in battle and higher casualties.

Leaders are morally bound to support a subordinate’s decision to accept risks that are within his commander’s intent and guidance, as he understands it. Leaders accept that things may go wrong, even with the certain knowledge that a subordinate has done all within his power to prevent an incident. In such an event, the leader steps forward and accepts the responsibility along with his subordinate.

Everyday as we respond to the nation’s needs, we expose our soldiers to hazards in uncertain and complex environments. We do this with the full knowledge that there are inherent risks associated with any military operation. The nature of our profession will not allow for either complacency or a cavalier acceptance of risk.

General Dennis J. Reimer
Chief of Staff, Army

As long as our Forest Service “leaders” still cling to nonsensical Rumsfeldian statements like “We don’t bend them, we don’t break them” as representative of our fire management philosophy, the US Forest Service and our cooperators will continue to struggle with this terribly important issue. How long do you think it will take before our cooperators start seeing Forest Service fires and Forest Service firefighters as potential liabilities to be avoided? Is that really where we want to go?

Free Ellreese.

Misery Whip

1/7 vfd fire Capt

Slight delay in responding, but I just got back in town. For a number of reasons, I am going to stay out of the overall Thirty-Mile discussion, but I would like to respond to your comment from 1-3-07;

It doesn't have to get much more complicated than

1. "This is what I think the fire is going to do,
2. this is my plan for what we are going to do, and
3. these are our contingencies in case I've got it all wrong."

This is dangerous ground. I hope you are not actually really using that or teaching it to students. Here's why,
It doesn't have to get much more complicated than

1. "This is what I think the fire is going to do, (THE FIRE IS PROBABLY GOING TO DO SOMETHING ELSE).
2. this is my plan for what we are going to do, and (RARELY DOES A PLAN REALLY WORK AS DESIGNED).
3. these are our contingencies in case I've got it all wrong." (IN A CRISIS ASSIGNED CONTINGENCIES FREQUENTLY FALL APART).

I could spend days writing about why both original and contingency plans fall apart, but I do not have the time (that does not mean we should dump the planning process, it has great value).

I will give you the short version of what I tell every "new" group of students that starts our firefighter academy. The short version is a little long, so hang in there.

I have worked in a number of very complex career fields. I worked as an Air Traffic Controller at one of the only military bases in the world that had fighter aircraft (multiple types), turbo-prop transports and heavy jet transports permanently assigned to the same facility (the highly varied flight speeds of these aircraft, makes for an extremely dynamic and complex air traffic control environment). I cannot remember how many of my original classmates graduated from the training program, but it was not a large number. I spent 15 years as both a military and civilian Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD), and while I was qualified on everything from Nuclear weapons to hand grenades, my specialty was booby-trapped land mines. My EOD class (a mix of Marines, Air Force, Army, and Navy enlisted personnel / officers) started with 25 people and graduated 4 of the original members. From both the cognitive knowledge demands and manipulative skill requirements, Air Traffic Control and Bomb Disposal are about as demanding a profession as you could choose. I can personally testify that there is one profession that is significantly more complex in the demands that it places on individuals, and that's the fire service. I could spend the rest of my life studying just one small aspect of this business, fire behavior, building construction, tactics, command, anything, and I would only scratch the surface of that one area. I could concentrate on just one of these items, such as "wildland fire behavior," and in a lifetime I would not come close to having it all dialed in. I could "zero" my wildland fire behavior studies onto just one fuel model, and still not have that covered in a lifetime. For years I have told every fire academy that if you approach this career field correctly, firefighting is the most complex thing you will ever do. What we have and continue to ask from firefighters is far and above those demands placed on Air Traffic Controllers, EOD Technicians and almost any other "blue collar" profession.

If you think that a simple three-step checklist will solve your command/safety problems in the wildland fire environment, you need to get out more. It is far more complicated than that. If it was that simple, why haven't all of the brilliant minds that are in this business, already solved this problem. Trust me, they have tried. There are some incredibly bright people who post to "Theysaid". If you combined them with all of the exceptional people who have retired over the last decade, many of whom spent years writing and teaching about command, human factors, crew cohesion, and fire behavior problems; our problems should have been solved long ago. If a simple checklist or similar formula would work, it would have been discovered, because dam* near every option has been tried. Lists are great, they have their place, and they should be rigorously utilized, but they are just a "tool" within the complex arena of decision-making. Accidents, fatalities, and command failures cannot be solved or explained by simple three step solutions.

Thanks,

FOBS73

1/7 Mr. Mangan, I took the time to research "Discretionary Function Exemption" here in cyberspace. I found some "inspirational" reading in regards to court decisions, relying on the exemption, stemming from incidents in both daily and fire incident related matters. Obviously, the decisions come in both varieties, affirmed or denied, but it's ALL great learning material. For any of you that want to breath a bit easier (even in your "non-incident" jobs, Google it and learn. The Supreme Court in Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531 (1988), set out a two-step test to determine when the discretionary function exception applies. Lengthy material, but worth the understanding.

OSCN Found Document:BERKOVITZ v. UNITED STATES, 486 U.S. 531 (1988)

Now, the downside for Ellreese, the "exemption" appears to be a "Tort" defense, ie "civil". Obviously, it will be helpful down the road in any pending civil litigation, but I don't see any relief here re: the "criminal" matter. I could be wrong.

CA Seasonal, Thank you for your pound of flesh! I'm continuously reading the replies to your post(s) and I'm impressed with the amount of gray matter that you've stimulated. Don't disappear on us, there's too much being invested in your behalf.

FMO Joe, MBR? Too funny! I used to tell the "problem" prisoners that they were going to share a cell with "Tripod". Funny though, Tripod didn't even have a camera.

When I signed up for the Hot List Forum, I learned the "secret handshake" to be able to recognize other forum members while out in the real world. Wink wink, nudge nudge, you know what I mean? I'll take the Moose Drool and a burger, Fat Tire as a second option. They need the Drool at the Kopper Kettle in Boise.

Stay Safe! "Kicks"

And you think you have a good time with the secret handshake... Ab.

1/6 Gisgirl,

You hit the nail squarely upon the head throughout your post.

What interested me alot was your statement that said,

"Since 30 mile the focus during a fatality incident by the upper echelon seems to be more focused on the "blame game" and making some sort of "statement" by creating a new checklist or something than to learn at the operational level."

Those folks at the "upper levels" are the same ones around since Thirtymile... most are political appointees or people taking direct instructions from the political appointee chain of command.

There is a "white paper" being formulated at the WO/RO levels to address the current state of things..... how far do you think they will stray from the wishes of their "bosses", the political appointees? Hopefully the leadership and guidance of the Chief of Fire and Aviation Operations isn't the same as he gave folks on the Copper Fire on the Angeles National Forest 2002....

Gisgirl.... awesome....

Thanks,

Lobotomy

1/6 Most excellent news! Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the Forest
Service -- Dick King -- has retired. May he enjoy retirement to the fullest. His
name will not be forgotten, how could it be?

R1 Admirer

1/6 CA Seasonal-

I'm going to try and jump in here and answer your question. I think it has been clearly stated by MANY of our esteemed contributors but it isn't as clear to you.

This community has invested HEAVILY into safety. We have lost our brothers and sisters in multiple incidents through the years such as Storm King, Cramer, 30 Mile, Cedar and more. The overwhelming reason that we were able, over the years, to become safer and safer is this community's commitment to each other and our families at home. We have committed to the idea that every time something bad happened we would look at it objectively, we would learn and we would HONOR our fallen by improving our safety. This improvement was only feasible through honest discussion, through being able to understand what happened, and through learning from what occurred. Lessons learned are a huge part of this community.

Since 30 mile the focus during a fatality incident by the upper echelon seems to be more focused on the "blame game" and making some sort of "statement" by creating a new checklist or something than to learn at the operational level. People are starting to feel that it is no longer possible to be honest, state what happened, and learn. They feel even that acting within the scope of their duties, they will be hung out to dry. They feel that instead of the leadership backing them- they look for scapegoats. This is going to hamper our efforts at improving safety. People are concerned for those at Esperanza because it is a new era -- it's no longer investigate to learn only.

While many love the job and love this community- can you honestly say you would look into your 5 year old daughter's eyes and walk into a situation where you felt by doing your job honestly you risk your ability to house her, feed her, take care of her? People feel that by acting within their duties, in their job, in an environment where you truly cannot control every factor- they may be held personally responsible for things beyond their control.

I think another factor is that on a fire with 50-hundreds of people, with decisions being made about tactics, resources, at the local, forest, geographic, and national level- and honestly- decisions being made by individuals as to where to shelter (based on their own personal experiences and best available information at the time) how can you hold ONE man responsible? The general feeling I hear is how can we nail one man for hundreds of holes in the swiss cheese which led to this tragedy using rules which changed AFTER the incident.

There are a number of people abandoning their monikers to post real names backing this man and decrying the process being used. These are people with lots of experience and knowledge of the fire service. We have read the reports, seen the photos, and seen the investigation presentation.

I have to say- this is a community that when they feel someone is a true danger- they don't pull punches and they let it be known. If are in a situation going sideways you have to know your colleagues will back you and get you home at the end of the day. If that trust is not there, we have problems. This witch hunt is not helping create a community of trust that is committed beyond all else to SAFETY and honoring our fallen by learning from the situation which caused their demise.

My 4 cents,
GISgirl
1/5 Just read the Y Herald article about Daniels making his first court appearance regarding new charges in relation to 30 Mile. Did the phrase" break new ground" make anyone else stick to their chairs due to increased sphincter suction? I still maintain that someone in Spokane doesn't have enough to do. This is a bunch of crap and will set precedent for all who come along behind us. Just think, you can follow all of the guidelines, do great briefings, perfect weather presentations, and have bulletproof tactics and still get raked over the coals, lose all you have worked for (not to mention everything you and your family have or will ever earn, maybe get to share a cell with a guy known as the Midnight Bung Raider) just because Skippy was too busy picking his a$s or e-texting someone in Sweden and didn't hear the briefing or, in the case of 30 Mile, didn't agree with the CRWB-T selection and took it upon themselves to destroy any possibility of having crew cohesion in a mixed crew.

I agree with you folks that plan on dropping quals to protest this. However, your decisions will ultimately hurt our capabilities to perform as the agencies can always find folks that are marginal to fill in behind you, putting more FF's at increased risk. Next thing I would caution you about if you choose to stand down. Best be looking at your Position Descriptions before you commit and check how they are written so that the course you choose to follow doesn't lead you into disciplinary actions or subsequent removal.

I say we stand behind Mr. Daniels and ride this out as a consolidated force.

By the way, for the guy who thought that Yakima was "pretty White", my advice for you would be to do bit of study about where all of those Washington apples, pears, and other tree fruit come from. When I stayed there I went to my motel room at dark and didn't move til morning. Huge migrant worker and Hispanic population in Central Wa, as well as having numerous Native American tribes that have ancestral lands there.

FMO Joe

1/5 Dear Jumpin Jill & others:

This is not the time to leave. Its simply the time to do what we can to change the organization and system for your benefit as well as those of your colleagues.

In May 2005, Mark Rey told me that he didn't have a care about the "brain drain" or the loss of firefighters from the federal service to other agencies because at some point, "we'd see them again anyway on another fire." Of course this meant they'd be with another agency making 5 times what his feds make, but the point is he could care less about his firefighters.

Instead of leaving, let's work through the channels many of us have created over the years and make this organization, along with the other land management agency fire programs, "the place" to make a career.

I guarantee you that despite the apparent doom & gloom regarding Thirty Mile, there are folks listening to us that are in a position to effect positive change. It's not going to be overnight but it will happen. Those that have promulgated the dysfunction of the Forest Service's fire program know we're not going away and know we've got their number.

We've tried and tried to offer to work with them for the sake of agency firefighters but they have demonstrated time and again that their arrogance won't allow them to do so. Sooo, we'll do it for them. Where it leaves them, I could care less as long as it isn't in a position to negatively impact our firefighters any longer.

All of you deserve so much more than what the Agency has done for you. That's why, whether its AB, the FWFSA, or so many others who work in front of or behind the scenes on your behalf, won't give up until this thing is fixed and you can not only be proud of who you are, what you are and what you do, but also be proud of the organization to which you belong.

Casey
1/5 From Firescribe:

Defense attorney blasts charges against fire crew boss
www.yakimaherald.com/page/dis/287894252010530

1/5 Ab,
Here's the link to a video news story re: Ellreese's court appearance.

www.spokanetogo.com/index.php?id=3746

atbm07
1/5 Yesterday I had a discussion with our law enforcement officer about 30 mile, civil liability, criminal liability and documents put forward to the grand jury.

We talked about the Garrity ruling and the protection it provides to those that work in law enforcement. Every thing in the Garrity ruling makes sense (self evident) from a "personal liberty" perspective (see US Constitution). It still took the Garrity ruling plus one other court case to get these self incrimination protections into law. And these are relatively recent rulings (Late 1960's).

Given the grand jury process and what is alleged in the grand jury documents that is most likely a slam dunk for the DA. However proving the allegations in a criminal trial will be another matter. I think it was a matter of time before a case like this was brought to trial regarding wildland fire suppression. I think the reason it took this long is due to the relatively infrequent occurrence of fatalities vs. what occurs in law enforcement.

While this is a dark time I do believe it will be the catalyst for making the changes that we want to see. Keep in mind that it took two separate court rulings with appeals to get these kinds of protection for the law enforcement community. My sincere hope is Mr. Daniels is getting the support in his local community that he needs to see him through this time.

Some say this is mostly a Forest Service issue. A DOI solicitor told us that as DOI employees we do not have an obligation to talk to USDA OIG. That's all fine and good. However when someone dies and it may be due to the actions or inactions of a person/entity then the District attorney, State attorney or even a County prosecutor has and obligation to investigate. And that effects each and everyone of us whether we are Fed, State, Fire Dept. or VFD.

Our law enforcement officer said that you have to really screw up for the agency to say you were outside your scope of employment. My response to him was I use to think that also. But 30 Mile has redefined for me what "really screw up" means. It is now a very low bar. And it is not Mr. Daniels who lowered that bar.

Small Agency FMO
1/4 All,

Ellreese made his first court appearance today. He was released on
his own recognizance. Here's a link to the article:

www.yakima-herald.com/page/dis/287891465792909

I feel sick. This is a dark day in our history.

Under the present circumstances, with our (alleged) Forest Service
leaders AWOL, until PL 107-203 is rescinded, I will no longer make
myself available for fire assignments. Scratch another DIVS from the
list.

Y'all be careful out there....

Misery Whip

I'm sorry this country is loosing your fireline supervisory services, Misery Whip. I wonder what it will take for the message to get through that prosecution of firefighters in this kind of situation is wrong. Today was the new Congress' first day. Perhaps they will get it together to change the law. Ab.

1/3 Ab,

I was reading back through some of the info on theysaid after 30 mile and this critique by Mr Kampfen jumped out at me. Well said, Mr Kampfen, Sir! Thank you for bearing witness to the truth!

(vfd cap'n please read this, notice the complexity, and how one thing leads to the next and the speed of change.)

What decision should be made, in hindsight may seem very rational -black and white. In the moment it's not so clear. Those of us who fought the 2003 fires can identify with the complexity and velocity with which things change.

Tahoe Terrie

1/3 Mellie,

Awesome.

The only thing I have questions about.... how do we get the "knowledge of how large a safety zone is required"?

That supposedly simple thing, a "Safety Zone", has often been quoted as a cure all to end all, but there has yet been anyone to quantify and verify (through research or empirical studies) what a true safety zone is?..... That cure all has also been used to "blame" countless firefighters and supervisors for their actions in the past... In fact, it has become the root and basis for the use of the 10 Standard Orders for investigations when firefighters are killed or injured through burnovers.

There have been PhD's, MS's, fire experts, mathematicians, and statisticians, etc... studying this for years..... None of them (us and others) have been able to quantify and share their "expert knowledge" of what a true Safety Zone is. There are far too many variables to calculate, even with a super computer on your side.... none the less, a human brain to try and do those calculations at a moments notice under stress.

I believe Doug Campbell has come the closest..... with Dr. Domingos Xavier Viegas a close second.... I hate to paraphrase Doug's lifelong work, but simply said.... stay the hell out of those questionable areas when things are in alignment and time tag your efforts...... It is all about risk vs. gain.

Dr. Viegas' work is adding to years and years of work of the international wildland firefighting community... and upon Dick Rothermel's initial work so many years ago..... Keeping wildland firefighters safer.

None of us can predict what will happen, but we all know what the true outcome could be if the worst case things happen when we are in really bad places on the fireline.

Gizmo
1/3 Dear vfd cap'n:

We've had some differences of opinion before and will likely again in the future. That's what makes this forum great. However I have to address your question of :

"Is it any wonder that the families actually expect that the Agency will do what it says? Or, that they will continue to push for changes or else criminal charges?"

You hit the nail on the head when you said Agency. Where has the leadership of the Agency been in all of this? Why has the Agency allowed a crew boss to take the rap for what many consider to be organizational dysfunction?

Not dysfunction by the firefighters but dysfunction by those (non-fire line officers and agency heads) who establish and implement policies and then fail to take responsibility for organizational failures.

Let's face it, its easier & safer for protecting politically appointed rear-ends for a politically-inspired US Attorney and the USDA OIG to go after a small fish even though both offices have received overwhelming evidence of serious regulation & federal law violations by FS Agency officials involved in interference of a FS LE investigation pertaining to a VIPs escaped prescribed burn in 2004.

It is time for the Agency, and those that establish & implement the policies, doctrines, whatever, to stop worrying about their political appointed rear-ends and do what is right. Complying with the law would be a good first step. A good second step would be showing some semblance of respect for their firefighters and some effort in improving pay, benefits & working conditions and perhaps the third step would be for them to actually get some FIRE training and be qualified in the performance of the duties that they impact each and every day by what they do in the WO & Mr. Rey's office.

When you have agency leadership violating laws & regulations and other agencies failing to administer the law equitably in those cases, it becomes incumbent upon us to do what we can to fix the problem. Replacing some folks in DC with fire experienced and qualified individuals who have a higher degree of integrity than those currently in place and who is not beholden to any Administration or member of Congress but to his/her firefighters, might be a good start.

sorry AB, I hinted but didn't let the entire cat out of the bag...

Casey Judd
1/3 vfd cap'n

You hit the nail on the head of the issue. Those guys in Jack Ward Thomas' day got that part of it wrong about not bending or breaking the 10 Fire Orders, while mitigating all of the 18 Watchouts. Others' perception of wildland firefighting is stuck here.

The "rules" are really guidelines for the process of engagement and disengagement of fire. Original Intent Fire Orders were described again by Karl Brauneis in 2001 and there's a good schematic here. As many have pointed out through the years (Doug Campbell, for one), they're very loosely written and can always be found to have been violated in fatality fires. In actuality, how well someone can follow the "rules" that are really guidelines is a matter of

  • Knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that equate to
    • training,
    • experience with and awareness of fire behavior, how and where it changes, it's signature on the particular piece of ground and how to assess the changing fire risk on the fireground itself
    • knowledge/experience with how to mitigate the risk using LCES (Lookouts, Communication, Escape routes and Safety zones, which are really a distillation of the 10 fire orders see Gleason); knowledge of how large a safety zone is required
    • experience with and awareness of people-dynamics under stress,
    • leadership, and
    • all kinds of other human factors that affect situational awareness at individual and group levels
      • Individual differences:
        • concurrent responsibilities (wearing too many hats)
        • sleep deficit
        • duration of assignment without real "rest"--> tiredness/fatigue
        • adrenalin (epinephrine)
        • hydration/dehydration
        • smoke (carbon monoxide among other components)
        • physical fitness
        • guts or courage to step up and question leadership if you feel the situation may become unsafe
        • ego issues; lack of emotional intelligence
      • Group dynamics include the above and, among other things, also include:
        • crew cohesion
        • experience in working together on a particular fire, if a pick-up crew
        • soft-spoken leader/charismatic squad boss
        • trust in the leader if you're up against the wall
        • experience levels of those in the crew, ratio of new to experienced members that model excellent "followership" behavior, gut level knowledge of following chain-of-command.
          Who do you follow on a pick-up crew?
  • Timeframe in which to make life-saving decisions:
    Is the speed in assessing and following the guidelines of engagement/ disengagement (formerly known as "10 Fire Orders") moving at a human "molasses pace" relative to the "hypervelocity" of the fire's movement? (Regarding timeframe, see Kelly Close's excellent article.)

So that brings us to Doctrinal Change and Professionalism. In spite of the recent regression in these charges being brought against Ellreese, and the current administration's attempts to dismantle fire (outsource it), I feel that we've been working toward Doctrinal Change.

  • Yeah, firefighters are still called Forestry and Range Techs (even the Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, Part III, "Implementing Cultural Changes for Safety" suggested wildland firefighters be classified as firefighters by OPM).
  • And yeah there's still a retention issue, especially in where forests abut cities on the WUI (wildland-urban interface).
  • ETC

But the thing that gives me hope for change is that there is this theysaid community of individuals -- professional firefighters. You're willing share your wisdom and network to take critical issues that affect this nation: to the public, to the congress, and to the judicial branch. You're good thinkers and planners and you have an impact. Read over that section in the link above on "Implementing Cultural Changes for Safety" and you'll see we're in the process of creating change from the fireground, in spite of the bureaucracy. This is a mark of the Wildland Firefighting Professionalism you HAVE.

Here's to you, my friends, you participants! Nice work. I sure enjoy all our individual differences and our group dynamics, our wisdom and our quirky kneejerks. Thanks Ab, for the inspiration of this website. You were/are ahead of your time in this vision!

Mellie

1/3 Casey,

Good point.

The folks (Hastings and Cantwell) who authored PL 107-203 were acting on impulse (a normal human reaction) for their constituents who were suffering a terrible loss and pain.... while many others (elected officials) were also acting on impulse... just not wanting to "piss off the Pope" and reap the wrath of the press  and their constituents during an election period.... Their actual intent was noble and just....... keep wildland firefighters safer.... their actions actually lead to increased wildland firefighter risks and they need to know it and OWN it, before they speak out and make the changes they are wanting.... They need to be educated as to the risks of their actions......

Many of the families who actively pursued PL 107-203 also acted on impulse wanting to alleviate their pain and suffering, and an intent to gain a "pound of flesh" from the Forest Service in any way possible (a normal human reaction). That is normal, and I understand it now more than ever before.... but those folks need to seek friends within the wildland fire community who actually can look beyondthe pain and desire for a "pound of flesh".... I recommend they contact the Wildland Firefighter Foundation for a better understanding and a chance for healing and focusing on their true intent....

I understand some of their pain and grief.... the Forest Service needs a "pound of flesh" removed, but not from the hides of the folks at the bottom of the failure process..... The people that are "FAT" and need some additional pounds removed are the political appointees who are not wildland firefighters and have never been a firefghter, but feel they are qualified to judge, manage, and supervise the wildland fire program.......  BUT CONTINUE TO PUT BARRIERS in front of wildland firefighter safety by their actions to cover their asses and direct the accountability downwards, rather than correct the deficits known for over 40 years..... They are the folks who need a "pound of flesh" removed from....

The entire wildland fire program needs to be completely revisited and revamped.... for future wildland firefighter safety...

Ken Weaver.... you yelled and screamed at me at the gas station shortly after the Thirtymile Fire....I heard and experienced your pain..... Ken, Please,  stop screaming at me and others,  and start listening to the wildland fire community as a whole who has suffered these losses... Things will get better if you don't concentrate on blame and embrace the folks who really understand and recognize your loss and want to prevent future losses....

JMHO... It is going to get ugly unless folks speak factually on the risks of wildland fire....

I'll be damned if I ever serve as an Incident Comander ever again, until the entire federal wildland fire program is revisited and revamped to account for the professionalism, the risks, and the possible outcomes..... for future wildland firefighter safety. Top to Bottom.

Families hurt and so do the wildland firefighters left behind who have lost friends.... we have a common goal.

I have done a risk vs. gain analysis.... I would rather work as an Assistant Manager at an In-N-Out Burger rather than sit on my hands any longer...

Always Remember....

/s/ Kenneth Kempter
Wildland Firefghter
1/2 WRITING YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS

For those of you who plan on writing your congressional representatives; the press; the US Attorney in Spokane, or whomever else, it is imperative that you remind these folks that nowhere in the process of introducing & passing the legislation that became PL 107-203, did Congress make an "informed or implied" intent or expectation that such a law be applied retroactively.

If so, where would we start and how far back would we go? The USDA OIG & US Attorney have subjectively interpreted the law to apply it to Thirtymile. Perhaps they assumed they had such authority because the incident was in Washington and the authors of the legislation were also from Washington.

Regardless of their thought-process, your legislators, especially in Congress, need to be reminded that as far as we know,
  • no one in congress -- inclusive of the authors of the legislation -- intended, anticipated or expects criminal prosecutions to result from the passage of the legislation and
  • no guidance, implied or stated, gave either agency the authority to apply the law retroactively.

Thanks in advance for your letters. You all have a powerful voice.

Casey

Ab's bolding.

1/2 Missoula Squid,

Ab said maybe you could find a phone or fax number for the Spokane
Spokesman-Review? It's a key media resource on the US Attorney's
home ground.

Anyone else got that info?

Someone emailed me and suggested we might want to contact newspapers
and legislators in Washington State (and our own home states) about the
Yakima editorial. As he said, The US Senate and House get sworn in
Thursday, so they'll all be in DC.

Here are some contact numbers:

Washington US Senator Patty Murray: Fax 202-224-0238
Washington US Senator Maria Cantwell: Fax 202-224-8273
Washington US Rep. "Doc" Hastings: Fax 202-225-3251

Tri-City Herald: Fax 509-582-1510
The Olympian: Fax 360-357-0202
Yakima Herald: Email opinion@yakima-herald.com
Wenatchee World: phone 509-663-5161
Seattle Times: Fax 206-382-6760
Seattle P-I: phone 206-448-8000

Montana US Senator Jon Tester: Fax 406-449-0184
Montana US Senator Max Baucus: Fax 202-224-0515

Folks, you can get to your elected officials e-mail addresses and fax numbers:

http://thomas.loc.gov (General Info and Individual Websites)
http://www.house.gov (House of Representatives)
http://www.senate.gov (Senate)

Mellie

1/2 To add a bit to all of the 30 Mile postings. Mistakes were certainly made, this is well documented and written about. One fact always sticks in my mind, those that stayed on the road with their crewboss lived.

On a more subjective note, after things went quite wrong and the crew was cut off from a down canyon/upwind escape, probably the best survivable place on the road was selected. That is what my "where would I have gone?" hindsight said. I did spend several weeks in that same canyon fighting fire (2003), visited the site, and drove the length of the road. If I remember correctly from the report, the vans weren't even significantly damaged although the civilian vehicle didn't fare well. Other than keeping the crew together and focused, spending time "improving" the chosen spot may not have had any positive effect on the safety of those on the road.

......and....No, I don't know Ellreese or have any particular affinity for the region or its ways of doing business. I do know that sometimes bad stuff happens and we can't get a do-over on the crux moments after the fact. That however doesn't mean we should forget mistakes....

Odin
1/2 Take a look at a Column By Phyllis Schlafly "we Need Compassion" at
www.bendweekly.com/opinion/1600.html I hope The Ellreese case
doesnt get this far.

A few years ago I would have said "This could not happen!" But here we are.
Keep up the good work with "they said". And cover your butt, whatever you do.

Retired and Glad I am.

1/2 Thanks yactac.

I hadn't seen the errata sheet for the 30-mile Report; I had only heard
about the changes. It would be interesting to know the motivation behind
those changes from the top down.

Veeeery int-er-est-ing.

Regarding Elreese's lawyer:

I have heard that Ellreese has a very sharp and competent Public Defender,
versed in this kind of federal law. I do hope that someone is copying and pasting
pertinent info from theysaid to pass on to his lawyer. There is such a wealth of
professional firefighter information being shared here.

My thought about the US Atty in Spokane who brought the charges:

Part of me says "poor guy". If that federal attorney did make this opportunity
to increase his visibility to advance his career, it really might backfire. As
we're seeing in the Duke University "rape" case debacle, legal professionals
can come down hard on their peers for ethics violations. Heaven knows
that the DA in that case has certainly ruined the lives of some young men
and cost their families big bucks without having real evidence.

Time and more information will tell.

Veeeery int-er-est-ing.

Happy New Year everyone! Rock and roll to a professional beat!

Mellie

We've posted a link to the errata Sheet for the 30 mile Report on the Archived Documents Worth Reading.

1/2 Lobotomy,

So, as a layperson, it would appear the Special Agent Parker's heavy reliance upon the Forest Service investigative record, the Forest Service Administrative Review Team, and the Forest Service Oral Reply Team was a violation of Ellreese Daniels' Fifth Amendment Right against self incrimination?

Kastigar Hearing:

In such a hearing, the government must bear " `the heavy burden' of proving an independent source for all its evidence." United States v. Mapelli, 971 F.2d 284, 288 (9th Cir.1992)(quoting Kastigar, 406 U.S. at 461). Such hearings have already had the approval of this court in re Grand Jury Proceedings (Kinamon), 45 F.3d at 348, and the Tenth Circuit in Grand Jury Subpoena, 40 F.3d at 1104. Such a hearing compels the government to establish that there is no Fifth Amendment violation in the use of the compelled statement.

NorCal Tom

1/2 At least some of the media seem to understand what is going on.

www.missoulian.com/articles/2007/01/02/opinion/opinion3.txt

SDSUPT

Here's a bit of it. Excellent piece. Ab.

The mistakes contributing to the Thirtymile disaster have been well documented. The Forest Service and Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated and thoroughly catalogued the contributing factors leading up to the deaths. They range from inadequate safety consideration to flawed firefighting tactics to fatigue to lapses in leadership. Forest Service investigators faulted the crew boss for some of the mistakes, but assigned others more broadly. Charging a middle-management firefighter with manslaughter for the death of crewmen in a fire is akin to filing manslaughter charges against an Army captain for the deaths of soldiers caught in an enemy ambush.

1/2 Re: OIG Actions Regarding the 30 Mile Prosecution(s):

Here is the reason why the OIG investigation is supposed to be independent and not rely upon information from the Forest Service administrative/investigative review:

Ninth Circuit Decision


This was a decision at the Ninth Circuit Court. It was never taken to the United States Supreme Court.

There is a still an undecided issue of the Constitutionality of compelled/non-compelled vs. administrative/criminal in regards to the protection Fifth Amendment Rights..... but there are some very important procedures clearly not followed by USDA Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Washington, and Special Agent Parker.

Lobotomy
1/2 Ab,

You said, "Those bringing charges in Spokane and the FS "leaders" allowing the charges to be brought are acting from their own agendas. As time goes on, no doubt some of the nittygritty of the scape-goating will be revealed unless the "powers that be" find a way for all to save face. This action against Ellreese should not have gotten as far as it has. As a number have said, it's likely to get very ugly."

Ab, it is going to get VERY UGLY, unless people speak up on their personal levels, and admit their mistakes in the federal wildland fire program, past and present....... for failures and success. It is also going to be important that folks admit their successes and how they have kept firefighters safer. I agree, it will probably get "very ugly", but hopefully better.

I personally think it is too late for many of us to "save face", but we have time to save ourselves from prosecution through culpability of our actions throughout the years.... as firefighters died and their families grieved, and we all wondered about what "we" all had done wrong.... We weren't professionals... we did what we were told to do for the last 30 years.

We all didn't concentrate on what really matters... a goal that each firefighter comes home each day.... WE are wildland firefighters and the wildland firefighting community and family, that is OUR ultimate goal.... Keep all of us safe... A FAMILY....

All of those folks who don't understand can also speak out and not only save face, but explain why they had their hands tied when it comes to wildland firefighter safety..... and why what we are talking about is simply factual.

All of those (us) folks can also say BS.... And point the fingers at the real problems for safety....... Those fingers point upwards......

Q, I wish you didn't have to sign the BS agreement... and hope that once it is over, you are able to speak your mind freely and educate us......

Q, you are the expert witness, the person who can make a difference for wildland firefighter safety in the future..... You have been there, and done that, and someone (process) silenced you.... Never sign agreements from the feds...... The feds have an agenda and a goal......

Time for the truth to be told and laid upon the table........ And accountability directed where accountability is due....... To the TOP......

/s/ Kenneth Kempter
Wildland Firefighter
1/2 Hey All,

I've had the pleasure of hanging around on our "porch" of wildlandfire.com since 2000. The very best that has come out of this community is our individual ability to speak up, of points both good and bad, in an extremely public manner. The discussions that come out of "They Said" have done so much for the safety aspect of the worldwide wildland fire community.

Someone posted a quote not long ago "when everyone agrees, someone isn't thinking". I hope that we don't all ever agree completely. That having been said, in my humble opinion, the insinuation that "we as a community" would cover for a brother (or sister) in a proceeding such as the Thirty Mile investigation just goes completely against the grain. That would be like setting a criminal free to strike again within your own neighborhood.

Also, for anyone interested in helping Ellreese, the Hastings / Cantwell Legislation(s), being 7 USC Sec.2270b & 2270c, lists a date of July 24th, 2002. In researching those Sections, I did NOT see anything that would allow for it "to be applied retroactively". In further checking into that avenue, in most other cited cases, the Supreme Court decisions seem to hold that it would be more harmful to attempt to do so. If that's not enough to quash the matter, it sure would make great grounds for an appeal. Down the road, there will be a US Attorney looking for a Judgeship. Having a Supreme Court decision against one of your prosecutions won't help much.

Make it a meaningful new year and, as always, "Stay Safe"!

"Kicks"

Thanks Kicks. Excellent points. Ab.

1/1 Why do the writings of the OIG investigator sound so infantile compared to the cogent and
sagacious writings of the judge in the Molloy Backfire decision this summer. I am not a lawyer
but these are the conclusions of a thoughtful person, So unlike Mr. Parker:

the vague principles of the Ten Fire Orders
and other directives show that hard and fast rules are not
appropriate to all fires under all circumstances. Because fires
are unpredictable, and because lighting a backfire can be a
lifesaving emergency measure, the Government's orders and
directives do not specifically direct, for example, at what wind
speed a backfire is prohibited. One firefighter, Safety Officer
Beardsley, cancelled a backfire on August 5 because the "wind is
blowing . . . too much for a burnout." Because one firefighter
decided a burnout was too risky on one day at one location does
not mean that the next firefighter, assessing different, or even
identical circumstances, would possess any less discretion in
making his or her own judgment. The point is not the sagacity of
the firefighter, but rather "the nature of the conduct." E&&
airlines, 467 U.S. at 813.

And

But each mandatory directive provides discretion to
the firefighter. For example, Standing Fire Order Number Seven
holds that a firefighter must "determine safety zones and escape
routes." But the firefighter must use discretion to decide what
constitutes an adequate safety zone based on the surrounding
fuels, topography, weather, fire behavior, availability of other
firefighting resources, time available to prepare the site and
other factors involved in fire fighting discretion. An adequate
safety zone may vary greatly in size depending on these and other
factors. The Orders tend toward vagueness. Standing Fire Order
Number Ten instructs firefighters to "Stay alert, keep calm,
think clearly, act decisively." This is the language of
discretion, not of specific mandatory actions or protocols.
The non-specific language of the Government's policies and
directives, such as the Standing Orders and Watchout Situations,
supports the Government's position. These are flexible
principles to be used in fighting fire, an activity that depends
on firefighters' judgment, common sense, and experience. The
Miller Court's holding is applicable here: "The existence of
some mandatory language does not eliminate discretion when the
broader goals sought to be achieved necessarily involved an
element of discretion." Miller, 163 F.3d at 595.
Case 9:03-cv-00198-DWM Document 85 Filed 09/05/2006
Page 16 of 25

FC180

Nice find, FC180. Ab.

1/1 Thirtymile choices

The scree that the fallen were sitting on as the fire blew up is similar to places we have waited out a firefront before. In hindsight it was not good and I will not take refuge in that kind of place again without serious thought or only as last resort. One good lesson that came out of 30mile.

I'm pretty sure there was a clip in the NOVA special showing the blowup on the Bitterroot (2000, Carvello was IC) that has a bunch of hotshots sitting on just such a scree slope. Not an uncommon practice.

As firefighters we each are responsible for our own choices. Some of us make decisions with more information and experience and some with less. Some years when we're fighting fire, time working does not equate to time getting real fire experience, unless you're a hotshot. How many of us have any experience with really extreme fire behavior? Do we know how we'll think or act? Hopefully we have good training, good fire experience, good sleep, good intel when confronted with life threatening choice.

I hate to be the one to say it, but once entrapped, the dead had as much of a hand in that choicemaking as almost anyone else on that crew. Ab, if you look at the photo where it happened, how could anyone guess ahead-of-time what place was better and what place was worse? I wonder if <the person saying the wording in the thirtymile report had to change> feared having to tell the families their sons/daughters/husband made choices that were not good. The push in 2000 was very much to not blame the victim. Did that become policy?

There's a huge difference between blaming and lessons learned, the second is gathering info to educate us and make us a more professional org. I wonder if our leaders know it or if it's just CYA and politics.

An old hotshot supt told me years ago something like "To the families of the fallen we owe our sympathy; to the dead we owe the truth." If I die on a fire, I hope the truth will prevail even if my family is unhappy with it. I have had this conversation with them. New years day is always a good time to say it again. I want my peers to learn as much from my death as possible about why I and others made the choices we did that caused my death.

I have good hopes for the new year. Educating people, 365 new days to do it...

Tahoe Terrie

2007
12/31 Mellie,

Is this the doc you spoke of??

www.wildlandfire.com/docs/2006/30mile_report_errata.pdf (pdf file)

yactak

12/31 Ah, even on New Year's Eve...ain't ignorance bliss??

This link is to an "uneducated" editorial from the Yakima Herald www.yakima-herald.com/page/dis/287856322042718

Below...a response faxed today to them at 509-577-7767

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

<FWFSA Logo>

FEDERAL WILDLAND FIRE SERVICE ASSOCIATION
P.O. BOX 515   INKOM, IDAHO 83245   (208) 775-4577

December 31, 2006

To the Editors
Yakima Herald Republic
P.O. Box 9668
Yakima, WA 98909

Dear Editorial Staff:

I had hoped to spend some quality time with my family this New Year’s Eve but unfortunately, ignorance reigns supreme within the confines of your editorial on the Thirtymile charges.

Isn’t it great to have the power and authority of an editorial column to illustrate such irresponsible ignorance to your readers? Perhaps if you or those who collectively wrote this hit piece had any semblance of wildland firefighting expertise & experience, your commentary would be a bit different.

Let’s cut to the facts shall we. The majority of the wildland firefighting community is concerned with this “politically aspired” (can we say federal judgeship for the U.S. Attorney) persecution because, oddly enough, we do have the expertise & experience in dealing with, this may come as a shock to you…a dangerous occupation.

Suffice it to say, it won’t matter how many are prosecuted or how many “lessons learned” to be published, wildland firefighters will continue to die in the line of duty. That is a fact and the nature of the beast.

Your collective assessment of professions with accountability is absurd. There are of course plenty of dangerous jobs. However nowhere in this world, even in the structural firefighting environment, are elements and environments as dynamic and unpredictable as wildland firefighting.

To equate soldiers raping people, truck drivers, farm & dairy workers to fighting a nemesis that produces its own weather; can devour 1000 acres in an hour; blow flames horizontally across a six lane freeway at 100 mph and more often than not requires split second decision-making is unconscionable and irresponsible. As is so often suggested, if you haven’t filled the shoes, then you know absolutely nothing.

Case in point is the prosecution based upon the affidavit of a “postal inspector” turned “wildland fire investigator” who, as I understand, has not a day of practical wildland firefighting experience yet apparently has the authority to second-guess and use the proverbial 20/20 hindsight to attempt to take someone’s liberties away from them.

Moreover, while your editorial speaks of justice, explain the “justice” in the OIG’s office violating PL 107-203 by relying so heavily on the Forest Service investigation. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that the investigator, Mr. Parker, had no expertise or experience in this field and had to rely on the Forest Service investigation…again, a violation of the law.

Now let’s talk about the law. After the investigatory debacle in the Cramer Fire, I personally contacted staff in both Cantwell’s & Hastings’s office, among others to inform them of the “unintended consequences of the law.” No one, inclusive of the two offices who introduced the legislation, intended, anticipated or expected criminal prosecution. In fact, all the law says is:

“…the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall conduct an investigation of the fatality. The investigation shall not rely on, and shall be completely independent of, any investigation of the fatality that is conducted by the Forest Service.

As soon as possible after completing an investigation under section 1, the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall submit to Congress and the Secretary of Agriculture a report containing the results of the investigation.”

There is no guidance from Congress to DOJ or the USDA OIG’s office with respect to how to conduct the investigations. As a result, both agencies have subjectively interpreted their authority under the law with respect to bringing charges against Mr. Daniels.

Still further, why is the language of the law limited to fatalities to an officer or employee of the Forest Service only? There are four other federal land-management agencies. Why are they not encumbered by this legislation?

Heck, since we’re all for accountability, since you feel that professional firefighters should feel the fear of prosecution for going to work and doing their best each day, why not use your “editorial advantage” and call on the State of Washington and every community in your state to pass a law for state & municipal firefighters. I dare say you’d be run out of town.

Since we’re looking for accountability, why not charge President Bush with manslaughter for the deaths of our soldiers in Iraq? How about the squad boss in Iraq who orders his crew down a road only to have a roadside bomb explode and kill his team? How about the mayor of New Orleans for the deaths of his residents?

Sirs, wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job. People will continue to die regardless of how much “pain” is relieved from prosecuting someone. No firefighter in this country goes to work on any given day with the intent of killing or maiming their co-workers.

We will continue to learn from each fatal fire…but there will always be more. And let’s not be so ignorant as to think this isn’t an organizational problem. The management of the Forest Service fire program is performed by those with little, if any practical fire experience. From Mark Rey, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources & the Environment, the “puppeteer” if you will, has no red card. Try finding a line officer who does.

By the way, have you seen Mr. Parker’s red card? Didn’t think so.

Very few of us were there at the scene and we are all entitled to our opinions. However, the public would expect some semblance of experience or expertise from the press when it talks about something as serious as this. Yet you have none.

Perhaps when the season starts up next year, you, the US Attorney & Mr. Parker might want to spend a couple of weeks cutting line, dodging snags, enduring blowups etc. Heck, maybe we’ll even let you make some command decisions since you know it all!!

As a nationwide organization comprised mostly of federal wildland firefighters, we have nothing but admiration & respect for those that lost loved ones on Thirtymile. But there are many, many others who have lost loved ones on Storm King, Cramer, Esperanza and many others that despise the prosecution of Mr. Daniels.

Maybe Mr. Weaver could take some comfort and solace in talking to those families that have found other ways to deal with their grief & tragedy.

Mr. Editor, you expect accountability & responsibility in an extremely dangerous and dynamic occupation as wildland firefighting. Shouldn’t the public be able to expect the same thing from you?

Respectfully Submitted,

Casey Judd
Business Manager
FWFSA

Links to 30 Mile Report.

12/31 VFD Cap’n,

Don’t look now, but your hindsight bias is showing. You seem to have fallen for Agent Parker’s still very UNPROVEN assertions that Ellreese lied about his actions at Thirtymile, so therefore was guilty of trying to hide his own mistakes that contributed to the fatalities. I think there is a far more plausible and less sinister answer as to why there are conflicts among the Thirtymile firefighters witness statements.

You could start by putting events in their proper context.

Don’t forget that NWR Crew 6 crewpersons had all worked the previous day, had maybe a couple of hours of rest, then traveled the rest of the night and worked all day on a tough fire. The investigation report equated their sleep-deprived condition to a .10 blood alcohol level, or legally drunk. How reliable do you think ANY of the firefighters statements are given that what they were seeing and hearing was filtered through their handicapped mental state?

You (and Agent Parker) ought to know better than to expect everyone’s witness statements to exactly line up following a traumatic event such as this. I actually find it remarkable that there are so many statements within the criminal complaint that corroborate Ellreese’s version of events.

Witness statements acknowledge that Ellreese yelled and gestured at one firefighter to come down, that Ellreese expressed to other firefighters that the road was probably the best place to be, that Ellreese told firefighters to get shelters out and to “cover your buddies,” etc.

The criminal complaint cherrypicked the evidence against Ellreese to attempt to portray that he had a careless indifference to safety. When viewed in totality, the Thirtymile Fire Investigation Report reveals that significant management failures outside of Ellreese’s control also contributed to the overall outcome. The complaint makes it seem as though only Ellreese made errors in judgment. And there is a large difference between being carelessly indifferent to the safety of others and making honest errors in judgment.

The Thirty Mile abatement plan is a laundry list of admitted management failures. For instance, work-rest guidelines were revised because of Thirtymile. Working at the time under the old rules, Ellreese and crew were attempting to make important decisions in a sleep-deprived state that would have severely impaired their abilities to maintain good situational awareness and make good decisions.

Another post Thirtymile management change is the restriction that personnel cannot simultaneously be a crew boss and IC. That sort of “duty shifting” of roles was common before Thirtymile, and was found to be a contributing factor in this case. The fact that he was essentially pressured into accepting simultaneous roles as ICT3/CRWB/trainer cannot be construed as Ellreese’s failure, this was a management failure.

The complaint reveals a blatant hindsight bias in its interpretation of events. The “Lessons from the Thirtymile Fire” training program was created in response to the Thirtymile Abatement Plan’s mandate to share lessons learned from this incident. Entrapment Avoidance training and entrapment reaction drills only came about after Thirtymile. Again, these programs were developed after recognition that this area was lacking before Thirtymile.

Post-Thirtymile Fireline Leadership training and post-Cramer ICT3 simulation evaluations are additional belated acknowledgements that agencies had also previously neglected teaching basic leadership and communication concepts. Ellreese and company did not have the benefit of hindsight and leadership training/evaluation specifically designed to help improve leadership and communications during stressful circumstances like entrapments.

The complaint undercuts its own case throughout with statements meant to bolster the prosecution’s interpretation that Ellreese lied to cover his failings. I saw many indications that Ellreese did attempt to communicate with the people on the rocks and expressed concern that everyone would be better off on the road. Ellreese is a very soft spoken individual and does not have a forceful personality. I very much believe that in his own mind, he feels he did these things.

Remember, this was an extremely sleep-deprived person who was dealing with a troublesome fire and some strong-willed individuals in his charge. The other crewmembers were also sleep deprived and distracted by fear and side-events, so their attention span and memory of what actually transpired is also suspect. And even though the firefighters had been watching the fire advance up canyon toward them, everyone at the upper site was surprised by the suddenness and severity of the event’s onslaught.

Errors in judgment should not be construed as indicators of carelessness or bad character. When you take into account that many of the key players were operating under a severe sleep deficit and experiencing extreme stress, it is not surprising that errors were made and that people have different recollections of specific events.

At the time of the Thirtymile Fire, no training or method existed for helping firefighters determine the size and location of safety zones in various fuel and terrain conditions, and which locations might be especially vulnerable to firewhirls and convective heat and/or gases. The guidelines in the Interagency Response Pocket Guide are for radiant heat only. How can Ellreese be faulted for not being able to predict something that fire behavior experts still are unable to define? The effects and range of convective gases and heat in relation to determining safety zone size and location is still largely guesswork based on experience. And as we saw again this past summer, firewhirls can emerge from nowhere and rapidly cross open ground independently from the main fire.

Although the Interagency Response Pocket Guide contains safety zone size specifications for protection from radiant heat, guidelines for protection from convective gas/heat and firewhirls still do not exist today. The firefighters at Thirtymile undoubtedly experienced an unusual fire phenomena that is still not completely understood.

After the entrapment, Ellreese’s biggest error was underestimating how severely the down canyon crownfire would impact their location, and consequently failing to make deployment preparations. Once the situation became deadly, there was really no opportunity for Ellreese to direct the actions of firefighters and civilians. People simply reacted wherever they were when the heat wave struck and deployed.

I still have an unforgettable memory from my first visit to the Thirtymile fatality site. As I looked around, I realized that had I been in their place, I very likely would have determined that anywhere in the general van/road/rock scree area would be survivable without a shelter. And so I very well might have made the same judgment as Ellreese, that the fire would not heavily impact them and so would also have been caught unprepared.

I wouldn’t make the same choice today if I was caught in a similar situation. Based on what I learned from Thirtymile, I would prep for the worst and get everyone ready for a shelter deployment. But I have the benefit of hindsight.

Misery Whip

aerial photo of Thirtymile fatality site
more photos: www.wildlandfire.com/pics/30mi/30mi.htm

12/31 Uncle Louie,

You said:

but to presume no culpability because he's one of us (as many of the posts seem to project) is also wrong.

There are a number of reasons that the majority of wildland firefighter posters and readers here know Ellreese is not guilty of manslaughter and should not be brought up on charges. He is not culpable - that is, not worthy of the kind of blame he's charged with. He is a person who made choices in combination with others making choices under stress.

Those bringing charges in Spokane and the FS "leaders" allowing the charges to be brought are acting from their own agendas. As time goes on, no doubt some of the nittygritty of the scape-goating will be revealed unless the "powers that be" find a way for all to save face. This action against Ellreese should not have gotten as far as it has. As a number have said, it's likely to get very ugly.

My question to you: Have you read ALL of the 30mile Report carefully? You should.

Ab.

Links to 30 Mile Report.

12/30 vfd cap'n

You might have an old original copy of the Cohesion paper. The latest version does not mention info you cited. This was changed after it was pointed out that the Squad Boss and Daniels had known each other for many years and had worked on a number of fires and had a good working relationship the previous 12 years.

As far as Daniels lying, that is something we will never know. He may actually believe that he did say "come down out of the rocks" and the other things that he is accused of lying about.

In General

One thing when discussing Thirty Mile: we have to look at it through the guidelines and standards of 2001. Not 2006.

What was the definition of a safety zone back then? Thirty Mile caused a general change in attitude in regards to what is or is not a safety zone and actions to be taken at a safety zone. Any amount of prep work at the fatality site of Thirty Mile would not of prevented the deaths of the four people who died. They died because a cone of heat was directed at where they deployed their shelters. What caused this cone effect to hit that specific area has not been completely identified, although there have been various theories. Given it has been five years and no one has come up with a definitive answer, how is someone in the field suppose to be able know?

The families that are quoted in the papers truly believe that they are doing us wildland firefighters a favor by making us safer. They see our world as a black and white world, rather than the grey that it is most of the time. They have read our training material and rules and guides and think they are set in set in stone. They want guarantees that there will be no more fatalities and think if we would only follow our policies exactly as they are written, then there would be no dead firefighters.
As we all know, there are no guarantees in fire suppression.

BTW not all the families agree with what is being done to Ellresse.

Big Smooth

Big Smooth, thanks for sharing your wisdom. Give our best to the rest of the family. Ab.

12/29 FC180,

Much like the Balls Canyon Review, the lessons learned are often overshadowed by process and the bias of personal opinions. FC180, great review that you re-introduced to all of us from the heart.

The findings of the Devils Den Fire "Factual Review" stated the following,

"Written direction for the management of fires is numerous, confusing
and in some cases contradictory. There are separate or additional requirements that
relate specifically to the Agency which is responsible for managing the fire. Forms are
duplicated with different names. As we continue to work in an interagency environment,
the differences for Department of Interior personnel and Department of Agriculture
personnel do not appear until trying to sort which policies must be complied with on
which fire. The lack of unified definitions, common and standard language could easily
affect the method and manner the fire is managed."

Similar are the differences between the Forest Service and CDF... But we all understand each other and watch each others backs nowadays....

We are getting there... someday we will have a safer wildland fire community when we all have the same language and processes for looking for Lessons Learned... and we can all speak freely as friends with similar circumstances...

Lobotomy

12/28 emt_mb,

USC Title 18, plus case precedents involving actions of people accused
of negligence or gross negligence under federal criminal statutes.

BLM Boy,

As you know from working in the federal government, nothing is ever as
simple as it seems (or should be). I believe we are all working on the same
issues, just taking different paths.... Continue the research my friend.... it
will lead to answers in the future.

Higbee
12/28 I have a question about the Grand Jury process that some of you
may be able to answer.

In looking back at the history of the Grand Jury process, it is
commonly referred to as a Grand Jury of Your Peers.

Will the Grand Jury in Washington have true peers of Ellreese on
it or will it just be an uninformed public who have no idea what it is
like to be a wildland firefighter, or the personal risks these folks take
each and every day when they head off to work?

Noname

Original Ab's 2004 comments on Why Federal Agencies Should Support Their ICs. Clear, prophetic. Ab.

12/28 Ab,

Here is the full version copy (.html) of the abstract that vfd cap'n was referencing. It is free copy and available from the Western Journal of Medicine. I read it over two years ago and it is a very good foundational read for those interested in Human Error/Human Factors.... but you have to read it all to get the gist of where Dr. Reason is going..... It will make you want to read all of his research and presentations.

It also has some very good information on blame, HRO's, and the failures of people based systems that are currently in use.

www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1070929

Student of Reason

12/28 30 mile fallout

After all the news of the pending lawsuit, and the criminal charges, what
do they think is going to happen? One answer is who will want to step into
the ICT3 positions? I know that with the added pressure you can count me
out. I believe there is an article out entitled "where have all the ICs gone"
I think that sums up how many of us feel.

Thanks, ab
ENOP

12/28 Re: BLM Boy's research

Daniels is being charged in Federal Court, not state court. The WA criminal laws
are not what he's being charged under, but federal laws. I'm not sure where you
can find the federal standards, but I'm sure someone else here knows.

emt_mb
12/28 vfd cap'n,

You said,

"Meanwhile, the wildland fire community also has had considerable heartburn the last 5 years following the Forest Service investigation, which mostly took a "system approach" by, among other things, creating the Thirtymile checklist for managers."

I must respectfully disagree with you, while I think we are trying to say the same things. Most of the items within the Thirty Mile Checklist and subsequent policies were also person oriented and directed towards the troops on the ground, rather than looking at the latent systemic failures leading up to tragedies.

After doing countless hours of research regarding the work and theories of Dr. Reason, I feel the actions of the Forest Service following Thirty Mile to be a prime example of concentrating too much on the failure, rather than examining the organizational culture that allowed the failures in the first place.

By adding policies, checklists, or additional procedures to an already overloaded "pilot" (ie.-IC or line officer), it does little to create a safer "cockpit" (the wildland fire profession).

The "systems approach" recognizes that humans will always make errors. As such, the organization realizes the inherent risks and designs policies, operating procedures, and technology around the human to minimize their chances of error. The actions of the Forest Service following the Thirty Mile fire did none of these. In fact, they did the opposite by overloading incident commanders and line officers, while shielding the latent systemic failures that need to be corrected. Those actions also ensured that there would always be someone to "blame" at the bottom rather than share the "blame" throughout the organization.

The only actions that the Forest Service has done regarding a "systems approach" was the Foundational Doctrine... and it appears to have stalled after meeting opposition by some very vocal people in some of the Regional and in the Washington Office.

Lobotomy

12/28 The following is a joint news release from the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) and the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association. A cleaner version of this document can be found at: www.iawfonline.org/pdf/NEWS_30-Mile_Fire.pdf

Wildfire Groups Concerned about Public Safety and
Property Protection in Light of Criminal Charges

HOT SPRINGS, SD, December 28, 2006

Contact:
Dick Mangan, IAWF President, (406) 543-0013
Chuck Bushey, IAWF President-Elect, (406) 248-8307
Casey Judd, FWFSA Business Mgr., (208) 775-4577

IAWF Offices: 605-890-2348
www.iawfonline.org

The International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) and the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association (FWFSA) believe that the criminal charges for involuntary manslaughter filed by the U.S. Attorney in Spokane, Washington just before Christmas against the Crew Leader who lost four (4) firefighters in July 2001 on a wildfire does not serve the Public’s needs for fire protection.

Outgoing IAWF President Dick Mangan of Missoula, Montana and incoming IAWF President Chuck Bushey of Billings, Montana stated their opposition to the criminal charges today. Their concerns were echoed by Casey Judd, Executive Director of FWFSA.

The charges against the Crew Leader, coming more than 5 and one-half years after the fatal fire event, has had a chilling effect on Federal and State wildland firefighters across the U.S., and is also being carefully watched by Australian and European fire personnel. Since the announcement by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Hopkins of his intent to bring the Crew Boss before a Grand Jury, firefighters have been coming forward stating their unwillingness to accept the responsibilities of making the sometimes split-second decisions, only then to find their decisions reviewed with 20-20 hindsight for more than 5 years, resulted in criminal charges.

For the public at large, and for homeowners and others with property in the areas generally described as the wildland-urban interface, this may result in fewer highly qualified firefighters taking leadership roles on fires, and a more conservative and less aggressive approach to suppressing wildfires by those willing to accept leadership positions such as Incident Commander or Crew Supervisors. The end result could be more acres burned, more homes and other structures destroyed, and greater fire suppression costs to the taxpayers.

Mangan and Bushey of IAWF, with more than 50 years of professional wildland fire experience between them, have both served in wildfire leadership positions across the U.S. Both appreciate the uncertainty of some fire situations, and the decisions that must be made under stressful conditions with lives and property at risk.

IAWF and FWFSA believe that while holding firefighters and leaders accountable is essential to safe and efficient fire ground operations, the criminalization of firefighters for their decisions is counter-productive, and fails to serve the public’s needs for wildland fire protection.

Note: the criminal complaint can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/y9dxcy

The International Association of Wildland Fire is an organization founded to promote a better understanding of wildland fire, built on the belief that an understanding of this dynamic natural force is vital for natural resource management, for firefighter safety, and for harmonious interaction between people and their environment. The IAWF Board of Directors includes members from Portugal, Australia, Greece, Canada and the US.

The Federal Wildland Fire Service Association is an employee association formed in 1990 by and for federal wildland firefighters. We are THE political voice for all federal wildland firefighters. Our membership spans the full spectrum of firefighter positions from entry level through management officers. The FWFSA is dedicated and committed to improving pay, benefits and working conditions for the Nation's federal wildland firefighters as well as providing a forum for our members to become active advocates in the process of increasing awareness and education among those in Washington D.C. who are in a position to effect positive change.

Excellent. Ab.

12/28 Ab,

Here's a link to an article James Reason wrote for the British Medical Journal in 2000.
www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/320/7237/768

Several people have commented that the Thirtymile prosecution (what Reason calls a "person approach" to safety) will make firefighters less safe as it leads to the latent condition of fewer qualified commanders being willing to stay involved in wildfire at that level.

Meanwhile, the wildland fire community also has had considerable heartburn the last 5 years following the Forest Service investigation, which mostly took a "system approach" by, among other things, creating the Thirtymile checklist for managers.

I see that as a latent condition (increased pressure on line/zone officers following Thirtymile) that contributed to Spencer Koyle's death at Devil's Den in August:

"The AFMO [Koyle] then met with the Fillmore DR and reviewed operational issues. At that time it was agreed that if progress towards containment was not made by 1400 hours they would develop a Wildland Fire Situation Analysis (WFSA) for the incident."

- www.nifc.gov/ARB_Factual_Report.pdf

I think that pressure (get production on the line or else increase paperwork at the office) is why he felt compelled to go down the drainage to check the spot fires as their deadline approached. 

vfd cap'n

12/27 This writeup is circulating behind the scenes and comes from numerous sources:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/6420AP_WA_Wildfire_Charges.html

Supervisors worry about effects of charges in wildfire deaths

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The government's decision to file criminal charges against the boss of firefighters who perished during a 2001 wildfire in Washington state has potential fire supervisors having second thoughts about taking on the dangerous duty.

Ellreese Daniels was charged last week with four counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from his role as a U.S. Forest Service crew boss during the Thirtymile wildfire in Okanogan County in July 2001.

Lawyers for Daniels and other federal employees targeted in the government's investigation of the Thirtymile fire's handling say the criminal charges are inappropriate. They say many of the nation's wildland firefighters now worry they could end up facing criminal allegations for mistakes they make on the job.

Several firefighting veterans said the new rules have them buying personal liability insurance to protect their homes and pensions in case they get called into court, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported in its Thursday editions.

We certainly don't want to see a fire season where we can't find adequate people to manage the scene because the DA in Washington state decided to bring manslaughter charges, whether it's warranted or not,"

said Casey Judd of the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, which lobbies on behalf of federal firefighters.

Elton Thomas, a retired Okanogan National Forest fire management officer, said he believes Daniels could have done more to prevent the Thirtymile deaths, but didn't mean for anyone to die.

Whatever the outcome of the criminal charges, the case will change the nation's firefighting system, he said.

"There's maybe going to be a new `normal' out of this that people are going to have to adjust to, but it's going to be a significant effect," Thomas said.

Daniels' public defender called the charges baseless and contended he's being singled out among many in the chain of command who made mistakes.

Debra Roth, a Washington, D.C., attorney whose firm represented some targets of the Thirtymile investigation, also questioned the government's decision to prosecute.

"This is a guy who's going to work ... and he's doing his job, terrible things happened and four people died. It's not your typical manslaughter case," Roth said.

The deaths brought about changes in the way the Forest Service and other federal firefighting agencies attack wildfires, as well as new rules for reviewing wildfire deaths.

The families of the dead firefighters successfully pushed Congress to require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to independently investigate whenever a Forest Service crew is fatally overcome by flames.

Ken Weaver, whose son Devin died at Thirtymile, said Daniels wouldn't be facing charges if the deaths were unavoidable. Daniels failed to guarantee an escape route, a cardinal safety rule in the Forest Service, Weaver contends.

"This is a poster child for prosecution," Weaver said. "As long as you follow the rules and do everything you can, you're not going to get in trouble. The only thing you get in trouble for is not following the rules."

Advocates for firefighters already are calling for Congress to reconsider whether criminal charges are the best answer for deaths on the firelines.

Daniels also faces seven counts of lying to investigators about his role in fighting the 9,300-acre fire, which grew from an unattended campfire.

Prosecutors allege Daniels knew, or should have known, the crew would be trapped and that he failed to protect them during at least 30 minutes they had to prepare for the approaching inferno.

Killed were Yakima firefighters Devin Weaver, 21, Jessica Johnson, 19, and Karen FitzPatrick, 18, and their squad boss trainee, Tom Craven, 30, of Ellensburg.

The government's approach raises questions about the use of manslaughter charges, Roth contends. The charge is more typically used in cases of unintentionally deadly conduct, such as drunk driving, or when police questionably use deadly force, he said.

"They are a stretch away from the kinds of acts or omissions that occurred or may have occurred in any of these fires," Roth said. "From a legal perspective, it's an interesting use of the statute."

Judd said Congress should reconsider what it wanted when it passed the bill.

He said he isn't suggesting that criminal charges be off-limits for every fire death. But he said the legislation - a well-intended effort to appease the grieving Thirtymile families - didn't consider all the ramifications.

"There was no thought process given to how the dynamics of the legislation would play out," Judd said. "I think if they actually had hearings and had firefighters there, maybe there wouldn't have been a bill, or it would have been written differently."

fair use disclaimer

12/27 Re: Thirty Mile Charges

Five and a half years later, Maria Cantwell's statement seems so ironic and so distant.... it talks about the courage and sacrifices of those lost, but also wildland firefighters in general. I wonder if she even knows how much harm her and Doc Hastings bill has created. While the intent was admirable, both the Senate and House Bills were authored during the heat of anger, not during the healing of compassion. As a result, the goal of improving firefighter safety was completely missed and irreversibly harmed.

The Hastings/Cantwell legislation is one of the greatest challenges for firefighters to EVER exist. It creates an atmosphere of blame rather than a culture of learning. It creates fear and resentment at all levels of the Forest Service..... This legislation has caused many of our true leaders to retire early, seek other positions within the Forest Service, or to simply drop fire qualifications.

This recent action by the USDA Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Washington will be the straw that dissolves the Forest Service fire program..... unless it can be corrected soon.

I hope that some of the Thirty Mile survivor families who are still filled with anger and wanting someone to blame, look elsewhere within the Forest Service.... that is where you will find your answers....

Lobotomy

> Statement of Maria Cantwell, July 11, 2001

Statement (as prepared) by Senator Maria Cantwell on the Deaths of Four Firefighters in Okanogan County

Wednesday, July 11,2001
"It is with a heavy heart that I come to the floor today after learning of the tragic deaths of four firefighters in the Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state. These courageous firefighters died yesterday battling a wildfire in Okanogan County. A tragedy of this magnitude is felt throughout Washington state, but should also be recognized and mourned by a grateful nation.

"On behalf of the citizens of Washington state, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of the four brave men and women who gave their lives to protect their neighbors. Squad Leader Tom Craven of Ellensburg, Devin Weaver of Yakima, Jessica Johnson of Yakima, and Karen Fitzpatrick of Yakima gave their lives to keep us safe. This tragedy is compounded because these firefighters were so young - Tom Craven was 30 years old, Devin Weaver was 21, Jessica Johnson was 19, and Karen Fitzpatrick was 18. We join their families and friends in mourning their loss.

"I also want to wish the firefighters who were injured a speedy recovery. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

"The firefighters of the U.S. Forest Service come from all over the country and have been battling fires for many years. This year alone, 300 firefighting personnel are available on the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests. These firefighters work year after year in service to their country with little recognition. On behalf of the residents of Washington state and the nation, thank you for your hard work and dedication under some of the most difficult circumstances.

"This tragedy reminds us that we often take for granted the men and women who routinely put their lives on the line to protect us. Every state in the nation has experienced a serious fire and, tragically, the loss of a firefighter. This fire will be fully investigated and we will learn from it so we can prevent similar tragedies.

"I hope the families and friends of these brave firefighters can take some comfort knowing that the courage and sacrifice of their loved ones will not be forgotten."

I believe that bill was created with all good intentions but with a lack of understanding of the consequences for our nation. When people, including our legislators, don't understand the large picture, it's easy to focus on the small part to the detriment of the nation's wildland firefighting capability. It's time to revisit the bill, to educate and to make corrections. Ab.

12/27 BLM Boy,

You are right on target.

Even though the OIG investigator thinks he is qualified to evaluate, interpret, and judge the actions of a wildland firefighter(s), he is sorely wrong. OIG is the last place anyone interested in wildland firefighter safety should look at... especially the families that have lost loved ones.

The families that have suffered losses, and the Congressionals who are trying to meet the needs of their constituents, need to look down another alley for changes for firefighter safety and accountability throughout the Forest Service and USDA.

Everyone who has been touched by a wildland firefighter tragedy wants changes to be made... Families, friends, co-workers, and even the general public and elected officials. Some are more educated on the issues than others....

Even though Mr. Parker attended the S-230 (Crew Boss) class, he was not qualified to be in attendance. Specifically, he thinks he is now qualified to judge the actions of a Crew Boss and an Incident Commander Type 4... both positions he is not qualified to review or even capable of even understanding... He would not even qualify as an entry level firefighter position.... He took the classes that he thought were most relevant.... he missed the whole experience of being a wildland firefighter and understanding the true risks.

I am disgusted that Mr. Parker was even allowed to be in one of our classes...

Gizmo
12/27 Re: The "Common Man Test" for proving gross negligence

Both the 1995 and 2001 version of "Your Fire Shelter" reference rock slides as preferred areas for deployment.

In particular, the 2001 version states
(www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfpubs/pdf01512832/pdf01512832dpi72pt03.pdf  pdf file) (Ab note: if asked to sign in, the username is t-d and password t-d)

"Try to pick natural firebreaks such as wet meadows, creek beds, wet swampy areas, and rock slides" Part 2, Page 12.

"Large rockslides (right) can be effective deployment sites, but firefighters should deploy their shelters well away from grass, brush, and trees." Part 2, Page 14.

Is there any chance that the four firefighters who went into the rocky area were just doing what they were trained to do and just didn't recognize the convective hazards? Is there a chance that firefighters with similar training, experience, and education would have done the same thing?

Todd

12/27 BLM Boy,

You said, "People will make mistakes in life. The key was it intentional?"

I wish it was so simple.... It isn't. The case of involuntary manslaughter does not require an intentional act, just an omission of what most of his peers would do under similar circumstances, training, and education. It requires what is often referred to as the "common man test". In the case of wildfires, the "common man" his peers....

First of all, we need to understand that there are truly no "experts" in wildland fire except for the "ologists". Peers are never listened to when things go gunnysack... <<<<this is tongue in cheek>... Peers under similar circumstances, training, and education need to be listened to... they are the true "experts".

As a 30 Mile Survivor said, it is more about the perceptions... did Mr. Daniels know or understand his perceived actions..... ".gross negligence and wanton disregard for human life knowing that his actions would place firefighter lives in danger"?

I doubt it...... None of us "experts" understand the complexities of the human mind when horrible compounding mistakes are made... Laurence Gonsales has some pretty good understanding... Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why.

A good primer for many people who study personal and organizational failures.

Higbee
12/26 Dear Ab,

The whole 30-Mile prosecution debacle is just that…a debacle. There was loss of life and that is incredibly tragic and regrettable beyond words. But there is even more serious tragedy unfolding…that is the fact that firefighters are now “lawyering-up” after an accident. That will lead to even more tragedies since accident investigations will now be headed towards prosecution vs. prevention from lessons learned.

But lets talk about some facts:

• We all are ultimately responsible for ourselves and our own safety.
• Firefighting is inherently dangerous; loss of life is possible.
• Fireline leaders are human and it is always possible for them to make mistakes.
• Making leaders fearful of making mistakes is not the answer.

Now, just for the heck of it let’s think about a couple of things:

• How many deaths and disabling injuries have taken place during professional sports events?
• Have the players and coaches ever been charged with a crime?
• How about the referee? Well, they are supposed to keep the players under control and playing safe!

I did not mean to compare firefighting with professional sports; there is no comparison…we actually are productive members of society. But the point I was trying to make is what we do is sometimes dangerous…it is a fact…and we all accepted that.

People will make mistakes in life. The key was it intentional?

So who made the mistakes? I don’t know, I have no first hand knowledge of everyone’s actions that day. But I do know that criminally prosecuting someone for mistakes on the fireline is only going to make everything for everyone worse.

One last point…I just checked in the IQCS database for a “John R. Parker”. Seems that the only two people in the IQCS database don’t match the John R. Parker in the affidavit. Hummmmmm, so we have an investigator conducting an investigation who doesn’t even have his qualifications on file in the official source. And then again…when did he take his last refresher training, is he current with his quals? Kinda makes you wonder just a little bit about his ability to conduct an informed or competent investigation.

BLM Boy

12/25 Dear Ab:

On this Christmas eve, I want to thank Ken and Kathy from the bottom of my heart for their thoughtful, and for me, healing letter regarding Levi. They have moved a long way down the road of acceptance, a journey that I only wish some of the Thirtymile families would choose to make.

I am a survivor of the Thirtymile fire. As a father and a career firefighter, it is difficult to imagine the loss suffered by the wife, children, parents, and loved ones of Tom, Jessica, Karen, and Devin. The pain has to be enormous and beyond description.

Ken and Kathy mentioned blaming others and wanting answers to the many questions that inevitably arise. How can that be characterized as anything other than a perfectly natural response, particularly when investigations uncover errors and mistakes that contributed to the tragic outcome? Believing someone has to be held accountable and, if appropriate, punished for their mistakes and failures is obvious and therein lies the dilemma for management and now, the legal system.

Early on in the Thirtymile investigation process, I believe a decision was made not to place blame or culpability on Tom, Jessica, Karen, and Devin which may have contributed to their deaths. After all, they were not able to defend themselves. So, the failure, fault and blame must be borne by others, theoretically, based on the facts uncovered from 20-20 hindsight. However, this process leads to a significant bias!

The bias is introduced when the outcome is known. It is exacerbated by a belief that a diligent investigation can uncover the factors which lead to that outcome. Intuitively this is true; however, as often pointed out by Managan and Putnam; the human factors are not so easily understood. It takes a very good investigator using skilled techniques to work with eye witnesses and others to get the whole story. This did not happen in the Thirtymile investigations. The human factor side was sorely missed.

I believe this bias gave rise to the attitude Jim <snip> had when he arrived to lead the accident investigation team. From the beginning, he believed the Fire Orders were not followed, the 18 Situations compromised and his job was to confirm that belief because he knew the outcome. His arrogance was unbelievable!

The Thirtymile fire investigation did uncover many of the facts leading to the entrapment and fatalities. The significant failure, in my opinion, of this and the subsequent administrative disciplinary report was to waste an incredible opportunity to mine the “learning potential”. The attitude of the Regional Forester and senior members of the Chief’s Office was to punish the employees involved and make them an example to the remainder of the workforce. This resulted in employees refusing to discuss their involvement and expose themselves to further punitive actions, particularly when the OIG began investigating. At that point, the opportunity to learn from the tragedy was forever lost and it was never regained.

And now the legal process has entered the fray. Did Ellreese Daniels’ actions on July 10, 2001 constitute “…gross negligence and wanton disregard for human life knowing that his actions would place firefighter lives in danger”? That is the standard the U.S. Attorney will have to meet with the Grand Jury to indict him on charges of involuntary manslaughter. There is an adage that a ham sandwich can be indicted before a Grand Jury, so that may not be too difficult. However, when (and if) the case is tried, the U.S. Attorney will have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Ellreese’s actions meet these standards. I believe that will be an uphill battle for the prosecutor in front of a jury.

The false statement charges, in my view, are problematic. Ellreese was traumatized along with many other people on that day and I don’t know what to make of the allegations he lied to investigators.

I hope Ellreese gets a chance to mount a rigorous defense and clear these charges. This is a decision he and his attorney will make. I believe it would be a miscarriage of justice to accept a plea bargain that will undoubtedly be offered by the U.S. Attorney. He is a political animal and wants to get this mess behind him. He is looking for a payback at some point in his career...ie. federal judgeship when power shifts in D.C.

There is a great deal riding on this for all firefighters! When the opportunity presents itself to give Ellreese (and by proxy every one of us) the chance to defend himself, I sincerely hope the firefighter community will stand behind him with money. It could take alot to make this defense.

Sincerely,

A Thirtymile Survivor
12/25 From Firescribe: Read the whole article, but here are some excerpts.

Forest Service veterans worry about precedent
www.yakima-herald.com/page/dis/301405246229736

The prospect became reality Wednesday when federal manslaughter charges were filed against former crew boss Ellreese Daniels.

U.S. Forest Service veterans believe it was the first time criminal charges had ever been filed in connection with wildland fire deaths, and said it could worsen a growing sense among firefighters that their homes, jobs and pensions aren't worth the seasonal thrill of knocking down flames.

"I would think this is going to have a real chilling effect on the folks that are out there, the boots on the ground," said Jim Furnish, a retired headquarters official who led the Thirtymile fatality investigation for the Forest Service.

Furnish said after leaving the agency several years ago that he believed some Thirtymile supervisors and managers should have faced more severe discipline. None was ever fired.

Even so, the announcement of criminal charges so many years after the fire surprised Furnish and others.

"I have to admit I'm kind of flabbergasted," he said.

Furnish suggested that allegations that Daniels lied about his role might have spurred prosecutors to take a tougher approach.

Earlier, some of his statements prompted Furnish's investigative team to revise their report that Daniels had surely ordered the firefighters off the slope where they died.

[snip]

Retired Forest Service fire investigator Dick Mangan is even more blunt, suggesting that federal prosecutors took their sweet time examining every one of Daniels' actions -- a luxury he didn't have in the midst of a 9,300-acre blaze.

"Sometimes we have a decision space of 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes -- and you don't always get it right," said Mangan, a three-decade Forest Service veteran who has since served in active operations and safety posts.

He questioned whether the charges were motivated by publicity or politics.

"Five and a half years later, they have perfect 20-20 hindsight and they can find things wrong? I don't find that very beneficial to the fire service," Mangan said.

12/22 Some quotes from the OIG Special Agent's sworn affidavit:

"I obtained access to voluminous materials from the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture."

" I obtained these documents from the Safety & Accident Investigation Team's report."

Throughout the 52 Page sworn affidavit, there are literally hundreds of references to materials and statements obtained from the Forest Service investigative record, the Forest Service Administrative Review Team, and the Forest Service Oral Reply Team.

On page 2 of the sworn statement, it states, "In the case of each fatality of an officer or employee of the Forest Service that occurs due to wildfire entrapment or burnover, the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall conduct an investigation of the fatality."

His sworn statement seemed to overlook and not include the second sentence of 7 U.S.C. 2270b (PL 107-203) that states, "The investigation shall not rely on, and shall be completely independent of, any investigation of the fatality that is conducted by the Forest Service."

As Mr. Daniel's attorney says, "smacks of looking for a scapegoat to me."

Higbee
12/22 OH. MY. GOD.

I just read the criminal complaint against Ellreese Daniels. Is the US Attorney really serious about using this f**ked up piece of sh*t to deprive one of our fellow firefighters of their freedom and livelihood? This thing has more f**king holes in it than Mr. Crusty Drawers’ underwear, and it smells even worse. No offense intended Mr. Crusty Drawers.

Here’s the link to this atrocity:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2006/12/20/2003487396.pdf

OIG Special Agent JR Parker seems to be very proud of his fire training; unfortunately, he seems to have acquired just enough fire knowledge to become dangerous. There is a big difference between taking Crew Boss training and actually having to BE one in the real world.

As I read his complaint statement, I thought to myself, this is a person who thinks he has it all figured out but really doesn’t have a friggin clue about what it is like to be in the midst of a traumatic event on a wildland fire. EVERY SINGLE ONE of his assertions about Ellreese’s supposed failings and misstatements can be explained if you read Agent Parker’s complaint statement carefully.

As for basing their case on the 10 and 18, I have to call bullsh*t. Matter of fact, I’m going to offer another Misery Whip challenge: to any Crew Boss who can successfully demonstrate to me that they can simultaneously attend to important operational and supervisory details throughout a busy extended wildland fire shift AND constantly refer to and correctly update their present situation at any given time utilizing ALL of the Ten Standard Fire Orders and Eighteen Watchout Situations while being sleep deprived and… well, that’s probably enough. Anyway, the reward is two weeks of my take-home pay, and I’m a GS-f**king 12, so that’s about $1,600.

I am absolutely serious about this. Come on, all you hot rod fire management big dogs and fire investigators who insist that the 10 & 18 are our operational guides. Bring it on. I’ll arrange payment through the Abs if you think you’re up to it. Show me how you use the 10 & 18 in the fire environment I described above. I’ve been doing this sh*t for over 25 years and I still haven’t figured out how anyone could successfully execute that task. Ted Putnam made this point years ago, yet we still perpetuate this myth.

To Agent Parker and the Spokane US Attorney; you can spare yourselves a lot of embarrassment by withdrawing this case immediately. You may think you have hitched your wagon to a sure-fire winner, but you trusted the wrong people and got sold a load of bullsh*t. You should read Ted Putnam’s & Jennifer Thackaberry-Ziegler’s writings on the 10 & 18 before you dig your hole any deeper.

Sorry about the profanity-laced tirade, but I’m pissed. I hate what these people are trying to do to a fellow firefighter and I fear what this is going to do to our wildland fire culture. In the end, more firefighters may die because of this farce.

Free Ellreese.

Misery Whip
12/22 Ab,

We've digitized the text of the Thirtymile criminal complaint. It's included in our S-230 crew boss pages, along with a 1958 article from Fire Control Notes entitled, "Safe Practices Under Blowup Conditions - A Training Outline for Fire Crew Bosses " and the 1982 "Basics of Fire Suppression" letter from R-5 fire/aviation director Lynn Biddison.
www.coloradofirecamp.com/s230-crew-boss/thirtymile-counts.htm

In my opinion, the crew boss on a type 2 crew has the toughest job in wildland fire, with the ICT3 a close second.

It's still true after almost 50 years: "The crew boss has two main responsibilities: (a) To obtain an effective, fair day's work from his crew, and (b) to look after the safety and welfare of his crew 24 hours a day to the best of his ability."

vfd cap'n
12/22 Public Law 107-203 was signed into law on July 24th, 2002, after being passed unanimously by the House and Senate.

The wording of the law states,

"In the case of each fatality of an officer or employee of the Forest Service that occurs due to wildfire entrapment or burnover, the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall conduct an investigation of the fatality. The investigation shall not rely on, and shall be completely independent of, any investigation of the fatality that is conducted by the Forest Service.

The sworn affidavit of John R. Parker (USDA-OIG Special Agent) consistently VIOLATES Public Law 107-203 by relying upon information from the Forest Service investigative record, the Forest Service Administrative Review Team, and the Forest Service Oral Reply Team.

This is a clear and willful violation of the law by Special Agent Parker. The U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Washington also allowed this violation to be entered on their criminal complaint filed on December 19th.

Here is the link to the 52 Page Affidavit of Special Agent Parker

So, who really violated the law here? Seems pretty obvious.

President Bush, Secretary Johanns, Undersecretary Rey, Chief Bosworth, and Chief Harbour now all have factual information that they can act on, and it is on the record here at They Said and will soon be shared with the Press from numerous reliable sources.

Lobotomy

12/21 Re charges in 30 mile fire:

Mellie,

Let me give you the perspective from someone who has had a son killed in a wildfire.

Levi, was killed on Storm King along with 13 other firefighters. When Levi was killed I blamed many people. There were many mistakes made. Ken, was able to realize way before me that Levi had some culpability in his death. Right after his death we all were given a claim for the things that were in his red pack. After about the 4th or 5th time getting a letter back wanting to know how many socks he had in his red pack, we both had it and said we wanted 14 million dollars (it did get their attention). We were told we could sue the government. But that wasn't our goal, we wanted to change some things. Mostly being able to ask a question if things aren't feeling right. Ken blamed people that we later found out shouldn't have been blamed. We all must realize that was in the first months of Levi's death.

Twelve years later I feel that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. The people in charge do not plan on having firefighters die nor do the firefighters go to work planning on dying, they all go to work to make a living at something they love. We hope that everyone stays safe, but we do realize that accidents happen.

It will not help to charge someone for a firefighter's death, it will just cause good firefighters to not be squad bosses, IC3's and etc. Many good firefighters will leave for fear of being charged when an accident happens.

There surely must be another way to approach this. We wish that congress would not try to be so politically correct and do what is fair and right.

Ken and Kathy

12/21 Todays Seattle Times has a lengthy article on the 30 mile story, with links
to their archives, maps, and a copy of the charges. (Appears the US Atty.
in Spokane used the affidavit of the USDA-OIG Inspectors? - there is a link
in the story to that lengthy document)

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003488305_thirtymile21m.html

...and also in the article, a quote from our esteemed Governor......

Governor Christine Gregoire issued a statement saying, "It is my hope that
the action taken by federal prosecutors today helps these families find
answers."

I'll be e-mailing my feelings on the matter directly to Ms. Gregoire.....

Jimbo
12/21 The Yakima Herald has a number of things on their website including the criminal complaint. www.yakima-herald.com/

The Thirtymile Investigation Report and other materials have been located at www.fs.fed.us/fire ; at the moment the whole Forest Service website is down for maintenance so I couldn't get at it to link here.

It is worthwhile reading both the complaint and the investigation and other materials including the OSHA citations. There were long discussions on "They Said" about the investigation and the OSHA citations and a lot of concern was expressed about safety. A number of significant changes regarding safety have been made - a lot of people worked hard to do this. And we still have fatalities - more work on safety to be done by all of us.

I'm not sure it is productive to blame Tom Harbour and Dale Bosworth for actions by the US Attorney. They have no ability to convince a US Attorney to do anything - they'd be accused of interference. Harbour and Bosworth's responsibilities are to be sure safe practices are in use, that those practices are reviewed and revamped when investigations show the practices are not working. Too often it's personal actions that lead to fatalities - how do we deal with that as firefighters and managers? We work in a dangerous world and this is a sad, sad story, repeated too many times of people who have died and the too many people who are affected by this.

Reread the investigation, the OSHA citations, the criminal complaint, To me, it's about safety and our responsibility. I'm sad about the criminal complaint - is it meant to ensure compliance with safety procedures? I really don't know what " justice" is when 4 people die and others are endangered, all I know is I am sad.

Bud

Links to all the 30mile documents and reports are listed on the Documents Worth Reading on the Archives page. The FS web has been down but some links go to the Lessons Learned website. Ab.

12/21 Re 30-mile indictment:

I found who to send the letters to, but I keep going off and need to
calm down before I write it.........

So here is the info for everyone else.

United States Attorney's Office
920 W. Riverside Ave , Suite 340
P.O. Box 1494
Spokane, Washington 99201
Phone: (509) 353-2767
Fax: (509) 353-2766

James A. McDevitt US Attorney

Public Affairs Officer
Emily Langlie emily.langlie@usdoj.gov
(206) 553-4110

mjs

12/21 Re: Thirty Mile Prosecution/Cantwell-Hastings legislation

As we all struggle with the news of charges in ThirtyMile (4 years after the fact) so many of the posting are on point. I just want to add that politically, there are a number of folks in the Senate & House who have offered to address the current law.

Whether that means amending it, repealing it, holding hearings to address the unintended consequences, I don't know. As we have so often seen, agencies such as the D.A. poke their noses into environments of which they have no expertise and this is the result.

The need to address this issue & minimize the impact to the fire program and effects of the current law on firefighters has to be tempered with the respect due to the families of those lost. The Forest Service has had ample time to "educate" without interfering yet has done noting to diffuse the situation.

There must be a deliberate, well thought out plan to address this whether it be through Congress, the press etc. I am hopeful organizations such as the IAWF & others will collectively work with the FWFSA to present a united front in an effort to resolve the matter. We're certainly open to any and all ideas.

Casey Judd
Business Manager
FWFSA

12/21 We all need to come to the support of the CRWB in the 30 mile fire, It is going to take phone calls, emails, and letters to US attorney's office in spokane, washington state politicians, and our own congressmen. Collectively we need to draw the line in the sand and say enough is enough. If we don't help the CRWB, who will help us??

Fed up

12/20 Dear Ab:

Well, I hope Maria Cantwell and the families are satisfied with the recent actions taken by the Eastern Washington District U.S. Attorney in Spokane. He is a political appointee, nominated by the Senior Senator (Parry Murray) and appointed by the Bush Administration. He appears to have done the bidding of his Democratic Party handlers.

This is an extremely sad day for everyone involved with the tragic Thirtymile Fire. Tom Craven's parents and brothers didn't want this. I can't say the same for the other families, given the fact that they joined in a lawsuit against the fire shelter manufactures, Underwriter's Laboratory, and the Association of State Foresters asserting product liability with the fire shelters. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

Then several families filed Constitutional Torte claims against two Forest Service employees asserting the civil rights of their children were violated. The fire shelters were disposed of following property regulations. These families claim they would have gotten more money from the product liability lawsuit if they had the shelters to use as "evidence". However, they assert money wasn't the motivation. Yeah, right!

The families were prevented by law from filing lawsuits against the government, so they had to find other ways to extract their "pound of flesh"...or, to use their words, "hold someone accountable"! So now, the U.S. Attorney will do that for them. I hope and pray the grand jury stuffs this up his tailpipe and tells him to go chase real criminals.

I predict the effect this will have on the voluntary firefighting forces of the five wildland fire agencies will be significant and it will likely spill over onto the states and perhaps fire service personnel. Volunteers have choices and I forecast many will refuse fire assignments and/or severely restrict what they want on their Red Card.

The answer cannot just be to get personal liability insurance. There has to be some Congressional action to stop this train before it goes further down the track and get us back on a course that recognizes the high risk associated with firefighting.

Sincerely....

A Thirtymile Survivor
12/20 This is going to have serious consequences in the wildland fire community. As a result of the Cramer Fire I dropped my Incident Commander Type 3 qualification and bought PLI. I know many others that let qualifications go as a results of Cramer. With the announcement of this indictment many folks will be asking themselves why keep any qualification higher than firefighter, especially when my job title is "forestry technician" or "biologist".

signed: Wildland Firefighter - NOT a Forestry Tech or Biologist

12/20 RE : 30 mile Prosecution

Directions I received on 2/25/05 regarding how to obtain Professional Liability Insurance

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

These are simple instructions for obtaining Professional Liability Insurance and reimbursement from the Government for the amount.

1. Make contact with an insurance company that offers Professional Liability Insurance for Federal employees and apply. Go for the 1 million dollar policy and this will give you $100,000 for legal fees Wright and Co. is one source. One provider may offer a different policy than another. Go to the attached web site for additional info.

www.wrightandco.com/Plans/liability.htm

You can also conduct a Google search and locate another provider.

2. After you have applied, are insured and have received a receipt, you may start the process for reimbursement.

3. Gather the following to build a package and process through your Business Administrative Section.

1. Copy of your Receipt from the Insurance Company.
2. Copy of a completed SF-1164. (See example)
3. Copy of the Omnibus Letter. (See attachment)

It is your responsibility to make contact with the insurance providers and ask the right questions so you have a sound understanding and are comfortable with what is provided. My intent is to provide information on this subject and I'm not directing anyone to obtain Professional Liability Insurance.

/s/ DLK

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PROFESSIONAL FEDERAL LIABILITY
Government Agencies are required to reimburse up to 50% of the premium for this plan

Imagine this...
Three IRS employees found themselves defendants in a lawsuit brought by an individual who was convicted of tax crimes. They were found guilty of leaking information regarding the investigation. The penalties ranged from $150,000 to $1,000,000 between the three of them.
and...
A federal law enforcement officer pursuing a suspect on foot, and in the line of duty, accidentally runs into an innocent bystander. The person incurred several injuries and has decided to sue for medical bills and lost wages due to missed work. (for the rest, go to the website)

12/20 RE : 30 mile Prosecution-

Is there a book coming out on 30mile soon?
Is this stuff related to something like that?
Where is this coming from?

Todd

12/20 Ab,

Well, they went and did it. I heard rumors of this travesty months ago but I still find it hard to believe the US Attorney is charging Ellreese Daniels with manslaughter for his actions at Thirtymile. If Harbour & Bosworth don’t have enough guts to tell Congress that this action is WRONG, counterproductive to our advancement as a learning organization and harmful to our safety culture, we might as well declare the Forest Service fire management organization to be broken and give up fighting fire. After Alan Hackett’s railroad job on Cramer & now this friggin' nightmare, who in their right mind would want to take responsibility for ANYTHING on a USFS fire? What must be going through the minds of the Esperanza firefighters right now?

This BS is antithetical to wildland firefighting doctrine and incompatible with high reliability organizing. Dr. Reason would classify Thirtymile as a classic organizational accident. Congress needs to do away with PL 107-203 before it can do any more damage.

Mark my words, this is going to get really ugly.

Free Ellreese.

Misery Whip
12/20 Sent in by Mollysboy

From the Okanogan-Wenatchee NF Forest Supervisor:

The Forest Service has been informed this morning that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane has filed a complaint with a grand jury seeking an indictment of an Okanogan and Wenatchee Forest employee. The complaint is based on actions our employee took in his role as crew boss during the Thirtymile tragedy in 2001 and for statements he made afterward. The complaint alleges four counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven of false statements. We have now begun to receive news media calls on this matter.

Since this is a legal proceeding, we are not privy to many details of charges or the reasons they came to be filed so long after the event. It is important to understand that, even if a federal grand jury issues an indictment as a result of the complaint, this is merely a finding by the jury that federal prosecutors have raised sufficient question to indicate that a formal trial and consideration of the evidence is warranted. An indictment is not a finding of guilt. Our employee is represented by a public defender. Grand jury action on the complaint is not expected until the end of January or February.

My immediate reaction to this news is a profound feeling of disappointment that it has all come to this. The announcement more than five years after the event and just days before Christmas is especially disturbing to me. Thirtymile was a tragic, extraordinary fire. Still, I have never seen any indication that anyone intentionally put firefighters at risk. Our focus since 2001 has been on improvements to make firefighters safer, including changes in training to help them better anticipate or recognize changes in fire behavior that signal the need to disengage and fall back to safe areas.

Since this is a legal matter in the courts, I’m sure our legal counsel would advise us not to comment on it. If you are contacted by the news media on this subject, you may wish to refer them to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane at (509) 353-2767.

12/20 Out of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today, carried by the AP out of Spokane.
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/6420AP_WA_Thirty_Mile_Fire.html

Thought you might want to post? - JIMBO

follow-up note from JIMBO:
From the local Forest - Apparently what has happened is that the US
Attorney's office has filed a complaint with a grand jury seeking an
indictment of an employee.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Manslaughter charges reported in deaths of 30 Mile firefighters
The Associated Press

Spokane, Wash. -- KREM-TV reports that federal prosecutors have charged the crew boss with involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of four firefighters at the Thirty Mile Fire.

Court documents says Ellreese Daniels was in charge of the firefighters who died July tenth, 2001, in the Chewuch (CHEW'-uch) River Canyon near Winthrop.

Firefighters Tom Craven, Devin Weaver, Jessica Johnson, and Karen Fitzpatrick all died when the fire raged out of control and swept over the top of them as they deployed their fire shelters on a rocky slope.

Federal prosecutors say the crew boss was grossly negligent and his decisions caused the deaths of the firefighters.

KREM-TV also reports that prosecutors have also charged Daniels with lying to investigators. Daniels reportedly said he told the firefighters who died to move off the rocky slope and they did not follow his instructions. Prosecutors say Daniels never told the firefighters to move.

Daniels has not been arrested. He will make his first appearance in federal court in early January.

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