| After briefing on 8/13/16, I voiced my concern to my HEQB Trainee. I had informed him that I wasn’t comfortable with the “parking lots” to leave our equipment in if this fire runs up the hill at our division. I had also informed him we won’t have a chase vehicle operator if our transports are being sent home. I explained that the transport operator becomes our chase vehicle operator, and by releasing transports, there is no body in the chase vehicle to keep it close so we can escape in a timely manner. I was dependent on my chase vehicle to escape if the fire made a run up the hill if we had no time. Also I would lose my road guard to inform me to shut down if any traffic had to pass by me and my machine. (The equipment on the fire line was working next to the road that traveled through the division which was the 2652 road.) Me Heavy Equipment boss told me that he would check with his Task Force Leader or Division Supervisor to voice my concern.|
A few moments later, before we left spike camp, the Division L trainee and my Heavy Equipment Boss trainee came to me and I had informed him that I was not comfortable with leaving the machines up there in the “parking lots.” I expressed my concerns of the size of “parking lots”, the weather, us being on the uphill side of this fire, and the fact the team is going to let the fire burn to our line. His comment to me “You have insurance don’t ya.” That comment caught me and my transport driver off guard and I didn’t know what to say so we just walked away. My Heavy Equipment Boss knew I was upset and asked me if I was okay. I told my Heavy Equipment Boss that I didn’t appreciate that comment, and that I know after briefing, Division Supervisors have a lot going on so I figured it was best to give him some time to think about everything he had going on.
After that I expressed my concerns to the Division L Safety Officer. I explained having the transports released from the incident would not be a good decision from a safety stand point. I also expressed my concerns about the “parking lots”, the weather, where our equipment is working in relation to the fire below us, and how the team is going to let the fire burn to the division. He told us that escape routes are in place, he would take our concerns to his supervisor and get back in contact with us.
Later that morning while we engage on the line, I kept my chase vehicle and transport operator close to me due the situation we were getting into and if we needed to get out of the division quickly, my chase vehicle was the way out. This is how I mitigated not having a close safety zone and using my escape route (LCES.) Not to long after we engaged, Task Force Leader came and talked with us about our concerns. I assume that our Heavy Equipment Boss talked to him also, but I do not know that for sure. He assured us that our division had three lookouts watching the fire, the division had a lot of air support, escape routes were in place, and that we had time to get off the division if we had to. I told him okay and that I really appreciated him come talking to us. I didn’t say anything to him about the equipment safety because it was an afterthought after he had left us. Awhile after that conversation, Division L trainee comes and talks to me and my transport operator. So we broke for lunch and started the conversation. He had the same message as the Task Force Leader saying the division had lookouts in place, good air support, and escape routes. So I asked him how do we keep the equipment safe? He told me that the parking lots were not going to increase in size and that option was out. He told me, I can walk my machine to the other end of the division and see if there is any work there, or I go home. I felt like I had been backed into a corner with no options. I told him that I wanted to stay on the fire. I also told Division L trainee I felt everyone was getting too comfortable on this division. I had explained to him about a couple of burn overs I had been in due to under experienced overhead on other fires in previous years. In the end I did stay engaged on the line. I never heard about my transports being released. I do know that other transports did get released, but mine didn’t.
Two days later on August 15, 2016 as I was working on the line, I saw that the smoke column was getting bigger and closer, fire activity was definitely picking up. At that point a started monitoring Air to ground and command channels on my radio to get a better understanding of what the fire was doing. I learned on the radio that the fire had jumped the line on Division K. I didn’t get a clear understanding but I was under the impression that they wouldn’t catch the fire. Later toward the end of day shift we completed the cutting and skidding operations on Division L. Some contractors move equipment to DP 23 on Division L due to fire activity. I believe that there were six pieces of equipment at DP 23, but I’m not certain on the exact number. My masticator and its transport was on Division K were move to DP 21. All contract personnel were released from the Division L and headed to spike camp or home after day shift. My personnel had gone home because we were local.
Around 2230 I receive a call from another contractor that the team is moving the equipment from Division L drop DP 23 and Division K DP 21 to DP 22 on division L due to the fire activity. The contractor told me that my resources on Division K were the most of threatened to the fire. My equipment that needed moved was a processor parked at DP 23 Division L, a masticator and transport parked in DP 21 Division K. The contractor wanted to know where my keys were for my transport. So I told them that the keys were in the center console and that they had my permission to move my equipment. I also informed the contractor that the agency (USFS) had my permission to move any of my equipment. I do believe the contractor that got in phone contact with me helped move the equipment along with the agency. So while the other contractor and I played “phone tag” due to poor cell service on the division, I retrieved my radio. I used command to get in contact with someone on the line. I got in contact with Division L Task Force. I asked the Task Force Leader if my equipment was secure, he told me yes. I asked what I can do to help. He asked if I knew how to operate another contractor’s forwarder because they could not get it to move. I told him that I would make a phone call and find out because I knew the contractor. By the time I had gotten an answer on how to move the forwarder, Task Force informed me they got the forwarder to move. At this time at night, I was a little shaken up by what was going on. I know I was probably 45 minutes to an hour away from the equipment driving at night. I trusted what Task Force had informed me, and I figured if I went up there, it would be too late if anything happened and I would be better off if I rested up so I was ready for the next day.
On the next morning, August 16, 2016 we went through briefing at Sheep Creek Spike Camp, not much was said about the prior night’s events accept that they had to move equipment and to please leave keys in all the equipment from now on. We were told to walk the equipment out, get them on our transports, and we would stage. Some equipment traveled to H-91 I believe (the bald sister big safety zone) from DP 22 on Division L. I went up the DP 22 on Division L and moved my equipment to H-120. There were also 2 more pieces of equipment that went out this way. We loaded our equipment and transported the 4 pieces at H-120 to the gravel pit on the 13 RD.
I don’t know why much wasn’t said at briefing on August 16. I believe that the agency was in “I told you so” situation from a contractor but no one wanted to admit it (that’s my opinion.) I found it strange that not much was mentioned. I did get the opportunity a few days later to see what had actually burned and see the slop over area’s on parts of Division L and Division K. What I seen on Division K where my equipment was staged, is the evidence very active fire activity. All the trees and vegetation was burnt (very good black.) I never did get to see past DP 22 on Division L till later. I do know at looking at the briefing maps, that the fire had gotten close. I did eventually see where the fire slopped over Division L. Where it sloped over, the fire activity was very intense. The whole tree log decks and slash piles were burnt in most places where fire burnt to the 2652 road. I am sure that I am missing some details on the after effect of this event. One thing to take in consideration, contract equipment operators usually do not get to see the after effects of their work or fire events once we transport our equipment from their engagement areas to the next. That is the case for me in this situation. I know there was concern when the agency has to move that much equipment to a different location after shift. Being an equipment operator, business owner, and a fire fighter with eighteen years of experience, it had taken a lot of time to move all that equipment.
In closing, I feel that I did my part in voicing my concerns and communicating through chain of command. When that didn’t seem to produce results at briefing, I talked with the Safety Officer. Also, if we are told to leave our keys in our machines, I think it is time to reassess the current situation. I do understand that leaving keys in agency vehicles is usually common on fires. With the situation of having no road guards around the clock I was uncomfortable by leaving keys in my machine but I did anyways and I am glad I did. Some knowledge I believe will help. A brand new processor comparable to mine is approximately $600,000.00. A used machine is about one half that value. Human life is priceless! I believe Agencies do not have enough training on equipment capabilities and production rates. I also believe that transports and transport operators can be an overlooked necessity to contractor’s team effort. I believe the main factor that led to this situation is the breakdown of communications between a contractor and agency. I hope that people have the opportunity to learn from my experience on the Rail Incident and maybe it will make a difference in the future.