After I landed I wrote the narrative of the
incident that is below, which was subsequently filed as a
I am grateful for my supervisor, Eric Bush, for encouraging this timely
reporting. This Safecom was picked up by the news media, some of
the links ( there were dozens more) are here:
Immediately the USFS started their investigation,
a procedure called an
FLA, short for Facilitated Learning Analysis. Here is the
It is 26 pages, but is highly detailed on how the
incident occurred and what lessons could be learned from it.
Perhaps the most important part is the field visit report:
The FLA team visited the site of the incident to validate the stories
of the pilot and (firefighter) TFLD. The extraction site was located
with the TFLD’s tool still in place and green vegetation present with no
The re-burn area the pilot described was also located and showed
intense fire behavior that validated his description of the fire
behavior that occurred September 28th.
The team noted that something unknown changed fire behavior: wind,
terrain, fuel bed profile, etc., which stopped the fire front movement
towards the extraction site. Had that change in conditions supporting
fire behavior not occurred, the extraction site may have been impacted
by fire. The FLA team concluded that both stories from the pilot (the
concern that fire behavior would impact the TFLD) and the TFLD (his
escape route and safety zone was available and appropriate) were
plausible. Their joint decision making with the information they had at
that time, led them to a reasonable, if unusual, action.
From the standpoint of the FLA process, it matters much less who was
technically "right" about the risk to the TFLD on the ground. Nobody
went out that day looking to take (or give) a ride in a bucket. The
people involved based their decisions on what they could see, filtered
through their experience and training. Our task is to learn from their
experiences. We don’t want a bucket extraction to be seen in any way as
a normal or desirable escape strategy, but we do want pilots and
firefighters on the ground to act decisively and creatively to protect
their safety, as these two did.
Additional media followed and I was identified as
final photo showing the burned area from a different viewpoint,
(B) is the area I was making water drops to where the burning was
(D) is where the firefighter was standing. It burned shortly
after he left and was at position (I) when I decided it was necessary to
suggest to him the bucket extration.
Although the pick up area did not burn intensely, it was not possible
to predict the future fire behavior during the extraction.