A federal report recently released on factors that lead to the death of a wildland firefighter killed during operations in Texas in 2011 touched on crew members’ reservations about taking a break in the field, among other issues.
The report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Firefighter Fatality Investigation program discussed the death of Caleb Hamm, 23, a seasonal wildland firefighter on an elite hot shot crew who was deployed to Texas after a four-day widland firefighting stint in Georgia. Hamm died from cardiac arrest brought on by heat stroke.
As the report noted, fatal exertional heatstroke is rare among wildland firefighters–this was the first reported case in the agency’s 65-year history and only the second reported federal wildland firefighter to die from heatstroke according to wildland fire service records. However, other heat-related illnesses are more common, and one of the report’s recommendations, to “barriers, real or perceived, to reporting or seeking medical attention for heat strain,” suggests that members may be reluctant to seek attention for heat-related symptoms for cultural reasons and/or concerns about job security.
“Some crewmembers believed that taking ‘extra’ rest breaks/pauses might jeopardize future IHC employment/assignments,” the report said.
Read the entirety of the report and its recommendations HERE.