Skilled Forest Service firefighters respond to national disasters

Photo of a group of employees standing on a paved road receiving a briefing.Wildland firefighting crew’s primary job it is to suppress fires, yet the crews are highly skilled and typically include Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), first responders, or structure protection trained personnel. These skilled crews are often called upon to assist in natural or human caused disaster situations worldwide, and just down the road.

Panther Creek Hot Springs on the Salmon National Forest draws dozens of visitors annually and is one of Idaho’s treasures. The hot springs is located about 50 miles north-west of the tourist town of Salmon, Idaho. On August 20, 2015, a freak accident occurred at the popular spot in the sprawling Salmon-Challis National Forest. Paden McCormick was badly burned and his two dogs, Dexter and Delilah died from injuries sustained from the unusually high scalding temperatures present in the hot springs.

The situation was life-threatening due to the remote location of the spring and severity of the burns. Fifty percent of McCormick's body was covered in 2nd and 3rd degree burns. He had to walk out of the hot springs area to the nearest camp in order to get help. Fortunately for McCormick, a firefighting crew with first aid qualified personnel came upon the scene and took control of the incident.

The Centennial Type 2, Initial Attack crew from Island Park Ranger District, Caribou-Targhee National Forest were traveling back to Salmon, ID when the crew came across an individual in dire need of medical support. The crew quickly contacted Central Idaho Dispatch Center, who then contacted Air Ambulance and Lemhi County Medical Personnel. The crew established a helispot for the Air Ambulance. While the air ambulance was in route, the crew was able to stabilize McCormick using emergency medical equipment. When the air ambulance arrived, the Centennial fire crew helped support the medical transport and conducted a thorough transition to the Lemhi County personnel.” Forest spokeswoman, Amy Baumer, reported.

Forest Service crews have used these skills in disasters such as Katrina, the Shuttle disaster, Oso Mudslide and many other incidents that these individuals respond to without hesitation or need for recognition.  The crews are well equipped with first responder equipment and knowledge of protocol from pre-season training drills and classes. Crews often train using medical scenarios that replicate real life situations in mountainous terrain and involve other responders, including ambulance crews, life flight and local dispatch units. The Incident Command System (ICS) under which the Forest Service operates is an organizational structure that provides an immediate infrastructure that is very useful when any disasters occur.

Cody Peel giving a welfare briefing to other people assigned to the disaster.