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Incident Name: Island Fork Fire (Rowan County, KY) on the Daniel Boone National Forest near Cranston, KY
Date: 4/6/1999, 1743 hrs
Personnel:  2 lives lost
Age:
Agency/Organization: Route 377 Volunteer Fire Department
Position: Volunteer Firefighters

Summary:
Kevin Rex Smith, 30 years
Kenneth Allen Nickell, 28 years

Captain Nickell and Firefighter Smith responded to a wildland fire in the Daniel Boone National Forest near Cranston, Kentucky. They were part of a seven person team that was constructing a fire line in hardwood leaf litter on the forest floor. Nickell and Smith were using a rake and a gasoline powered leaf blower to construct the line, they were in the lead. As the fire line was being constructed, spot fires were breaking over the fire line and several members of the team doubled back to control the spot fires. Captain Nickell and Firefighter Smith continued to construct fire line. The fire was growing in intensity and the wind was picking up so the crew leader gave the order for all firefighters to pull back. Captain Nickell acknowledged the order and indicated that he and Firefighter Smith would pull back. Shortly thereafter, another radio transmission was received from Captain Nickell indicating that he and Firefighter Smith were burned or on fire. Evidence suggests that the two tried to outrun the fire uphill but were slowed by terrain. It appeared as if the firefighters attempted to run back through the fire to reach the burned area. At some point, they succumbed to the flames and collapsed. The cause of death for both firefighters was listed as asphyxia due to environmental oxygen depravation, smoke inhalation, and acute carbon monoxide poisoning. Neither firefighter was equipped with a fire shelter.

Additional information about this incident can be found in NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation 99-F-14. A report is also available from the Kentucky Division of Forestry entitled "Report of the Accident Investigations Team for the Island Fork Fire, April 6, 1999" Near Cranston, Kentucky.

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Maps

Burnover Location

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Island Fork Fire Accident Investigation Team: Investigation Report (979 K)
  • NIOSH Report: Two Volunteer Fire Fighters Die While Fighting a Wildland Fire - Kentucky (Read the whole report.)

    Recommendations:

    • Provide fire fighters with wildland personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., fire resistant pants or coveralls and fire shelters) that is NFPA 1977 compliant and ensure its use.
    • Fire fighters who fight wildland fires should be equipped with an approved fire shelter and provided training on the proper deployment of that fire shelter at least annually with periodic refresher training.
    • Utilize National Weather Service (NWS) Fire Weather (WX) Forecasters for all fire weather predictions and immediately share with all personnel all information about significant fire weather and fire behavior events (e.g., long-range spotting, torching, spotting, and fire whirls).
    • Fire departments engaged in wildland fire fighting should learn, communicate, and follow the 10 standard fire orders as developed by the NWCG.
  • Training Video of what happened from the Lessons Learned Center
  • Information and analysis included in the Firefighter Fatality Report for 1999
  • Excerpt from Protective Clothing for Wildland Fire Suppression ...

    Protective Clothing for Wildland Fire Suppression

    The article that this was transcribed from is no longer online -- was at tinhelmet.com under archives_files/mauney_wildland.pdf

    The following portion was apparently a MTDC review of deaths of firefighters (1985-1999) wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) not designed for wildland fire conditions.

    The following has info on firefighters that died... Ch 8 (pp 26-27) heart attack and heat stroke fatalities.

    "The following individual firefighter fatality information was obtained from NFPA, NIOSH, and OSHA investigation reports as well as personal interviews with department personnel."

    6.1 East Coast Fatalities

    (snip)

    On April 6, 1999, two Kentucky volunteer firefighters, Captain Kenneth Nickell and Firefighter Kevin Smith, died while trying to escape a wildland fire burning in hardwood leaf litter. They were wearing a mixture of street clothes, wildland PPE, and structural PPE. Had they been wearing wildland PPE compliant with NFPA 1977, it is estimated that their burns would have been reduced by 36%. They were not wearing fire shelters.

    The NIOSH report indicated that had proper PPE and fire shelters had been used, the victim’s chances of survival would have been greater. Recommendation #1 from the NIOSH report was “Provide fire fighters with wildland PPE (e.g., fire resistant pants or coveralls and fire shelters) that is NFPA 1977 compliant and insure its use. Fire fighters involved in wildland fire fighting activities should be provided, at a minimum, the PPE and training as described in NFPA 1977 to perform these activities safely.”

    Citing NFPA 1500, recommendation #2 was “Fire fighters who fight wildland fires should be equipped with an approved fire shelter and provided training in the proper deployment of that fire shelter at least annually with periodic refresher training.” The Kentucky Division of Forestry's report also cites improper PPE and lack of fire shelters as factors in their deaths.

  • MTDC: 1993 - Components of Wildland Fire Personal Protective Equiipment (PPE)

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Media Articles and Reports.

 

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • KY EMS Virtual Condolences Book
  • In memory of the fallen firefighters of KY: Members of the Route 377 Volunteer Fire Department in Northeastern Kentucky acquired the inactive 80' tall Hickory Flats Fire Lookout Tower with a ground cabin where the towerman with the U.S Forest Service or CCC lookout lived while on duty. It was made by the Aeromotor company that made windmills and was part of the old Cumberland National Forest system (now the Daniel Boone NF). Mr Jim Getz donated the tower in 2002 and 1/2 acre site which he acquired through a land swap/purchase with the FS in the early 80's. The fire department and friends raised the money to purchase access to the site and to make the repairs to the ground house and the cab's windows and floorboards. "The tower and grounds will be dedicated in the memory of Kentucky firefighters who have lost their lives attacking wildfires across the commonwealth."
  • USFA Memorial Database: Kevin Rex Smith | Kenneth A Nickell

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Contributors to this article: Danny Blevins 

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