Fire Expert Witness: Firefighter Death Could Have Been Avoided

Fire Expert WitnessThis case takes place in California and involves a fire expert witness, who was requested to testify on behalf of a plaintiff killed during the course of his duties as a volunteer firefighter. The individual in question was working with the forestry department during a forest fire, where he was ordered to help prepare a fireline by clearing brush. Other members of the team used chainsaws to remove trees in the area. A tree was felled by another member of the team which landed squarely on the plaintiff, killing him instantly.  A fire causation safety expert witness was requested to testify regarding protocols to safely utilize chainsaws for firefighting purposes in a forest setting. It is alleged that poor supervision of the volunteers charged with working with the chainsaws directly lead to the plaintiff’s death.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please explain why you're qualified to serve as an expert witness on this engagement.
  • 2. Have you previously / or do you currently oversee a forestry firefighting department that utilizes chainsaws from tree removal? If so, have you ever had anyone sustain injury directly or indirectly associated with the usage of a chainsaw?
  • 3. How do you ensure the safety of all individuals in the vicinity of the chainsaw user? Are there specific safety measures that must be taken to ensure awareness?
  • 4. Have you ever served as an expert witness? Please explain.

Expert Witness Response E-011979

Expert-ID: E-011979

I have 43 years of experience in Wildland Firefighting, which includes from basic hand crew work, up to  Incident Commander. I am currently assigned to a Type 1 U.S. Forest Service Interagency Incident Management Team  as an Operations Branch Director, where I regularly am assigned to large wildland fires through the western United States.  I command, manage, and supervise large numbers of resources of all types for wildland firefighting including air tankers, helicopters, fire engines, bulldozers, hand crews, etc. and I am on duty at these incidents for up to as many as 26 days at a time.  I also hold the qualification as a Type 2 Operations Section Chief, where I Command all Operations on Type 2 Incidents throughout the country.

Over the last 36 years I have been an instructor and educational designer, developing and instructing courses in all types of Firefighting, Incident Command, and Emergency Response, from small basic calls, up to and including disaster response.  I have participated in the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Program, and achieved the position of Operations Section Chief overseeing all operations of the Urban Search and Rescue Teams on many deployments to various disasters around the United States.

Expert Witness Response E-011980

I have had extensive experience directly supervising Fire Crews.  As a Fire Captain, I was in charge of both male and female volunteers in emergency response situations, and work project roles.  I had two teams of sawyers under my supervision and I closely supervised both saw teams and the remaining Firefighters while engaged in fire suppression of Wildland fires.

My current station is the third largest ‘all risk’ Fire Departments in the Nation with a specialty in Wildland fire suppression.  We are currently authorized to operate 39 Conservation Camps statewide. Through cooperative efforts we are authorized to operate 196 fire crews year-round.  These crews are available to respond to all types of emergencies including wildfires, floods, search and rescue, and earthquakes.  Fire crews perform several million hours of emergency response each year, and more on work projects

Policy and training dictate protocol when felling trees. Safety briefing of all personnel and those in vicinity of the operation would be required.

There are many safety precautions that are outlined in the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s (NWCG) S-212, Wildland Fire Chain Saw training. As well as other policy and procedures that should always be honored and implemented when responding to any type of incident.


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