Immoral Fire Contracting?

Today’s Idaho Statesman investigates the death of a 65-year-old dozer operator who was contracted to help fight a wildfire near Kamiah (click on “Satellite” in upper-right to get nice post-burn imagery of this 2013 fire).

Had the dozer operator been a BLM-employed firefighter, he would have to take and pass an annual fitness test and fill out a health questionnaire. He would also have to have been no more than 57 years old. [Note, as reported by the Statesman, early news reports on his death state he was in his young 50s — slip of the tongue?].

What compelling reasons justify two different fitness & age criteria for wildland firefighters? Are we less concerned about the health and welfare of contracted firefighters?

I had my say in the Statesman article; now it’s your turn.

PS: Here’s the Idaho/BLM fire fatality investigation report.

3 Comments

  1. Yes, the contracted equipment even gets a thorough “physical” before going on the fire lines, too. Many old timer dozer operators are on it because they are too out of shape to leave their “thrones” too often. They often have their own chokersetter. These are the last few guys who truly know the limitations of such monstrous machines. Maybe a two day “fire school” could be required, each fire season, to cover all the safety stuff. There are also lesser levels of fitness that could be used in positions that are hard to fill. I do think that the Forest Service has a responsibility to make sure their contractors are as safe as a person can be, fighting a wildfire.

  2. I don’t think this is necessarily immoral. Dumb, perhaps.
    I view dimly the fact he ran down past his stop point and got himself in deep doo durt, didn’t properly saddle up in Nomex. Five minutes either way, but that’s a technicality. He could have gotten that thing up the hill, parked it, went home and THEN keeled over. But this is not the indictment of policy some seem to want it to be.
    Maybe he’d still be alive if there was water in the radiator and he was wearing yellow and green. Or maybe not.
    I kind of find it very interesting that people have failed the pack test, and actually died doing it. I remember taking the old step test, and although I had been digging ditches all summer, could do 20 one-legged squats each side and Cossack dance (I was young once) — I failed the step test because although my heart rate was well below minimum, my recovery rate was not fast enough. I was amazed, and more than a little ticked off. But it worked out in the end.
    Mr. Long volunteered for the duty, jumped the contractor line, and he paid for it with his life. That’s a lesson for others, but not a reason for a complete restructuring of national policy. Adjustment, fine.

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