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Incident Name:  East Amarillo Complex Wildfires
Date: 03/12/06, 1900 hrs; Died on 04/09/06
Personnel: James Wilson McMorries, Jr.
Age: 62
Agency/Organization: Howardwick Volunteer Fire Department
Position: Volunteer

Summary: Firefighter McMorries was operating a fire department water tender on the scene of a wildland fire. The vehicle was a converted military 6X6, 2-1/2 ton flatbed truck. A nonbaffled 1,000-gallon water tank, pump, and piping had been installed on the vehicle by members of the Howardwick Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire occurred during a period of high fire activity in the Texas panhandle. Firefighter McMorries and his crew had been on the scene of the incident for over 7 hours.

The apparatus was assigned to drive along the side of a freeway and extinguish fire. As the apparatus proceeded at a low speed, the firefighter on the front bumper signaled to Firefighter McMorries that the fire was approaching their position. As the apparatus was placed in reverse, the rear wheels lost traction in the sand and the apparatus began to roll over.

The apparatus rolled over once into a ravine, ejecting Firefighter McMorries and two other firefighters. Firefighter McMorries was not wearing a seatbelt. Firefighter McMorries received severe injuries, including a major head injury, spinal injuries, a broken back and broken ribs, and collapsed lungs. He suffered multiple CVAs during his hospital care and the decision to remove him from life support was made by his family. He died on April 9, 2006.

James McMorries James McMorries

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Media Articles and Reports.

Firefighter Dies Of Injuries From Panhandle Wildfires
A volunteer firefighter who was injured while battling fires in the Texas Panhandle has died.
From KWTX.com: Link to Online Article
Posted: 10:50 AM Apr 11, 2006

(April 11, 2006)--A Texas Panhandle volunteer firefighter hurt last month while fighting the Panhandle wildfires has died of his injuries.

Sixty-two-year-old Howardwick firefighter James Wilson McMorries Junior had been at Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo since his fire truck overturned March 12.

His family says massive head injuries had left his son without any signs of brain activity. To honor his living will, the family took him off life support Saturday and he died in a hospice Sunday. A funeral will be held Wednesday at Paramount Christian Church in Amarillo.

A month ago, McMorries and two other Howardwick firefighters were just off Interstate 40 in a field near Alanreed when hundreds of blazes broke out in the parched region.

The fires ultimately burned close to a million acres and killed eleven people before McMorries' death.

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Lubbock Fire Department Stands Down For Safety
From KCBD.com: Link to Online Article
Posted On 6/20/06

This week, the Lubbock Fire Department is calling attention to emergency vehicle safety. They call it the Fire Fighter Safety Stand Down.

The Lubbock Fire Department is suspending all non-emergency activity for the week. They will take a closer look at safety by focusing on seatbelt use and safe driving. They will conduct safety drills, procedure review, and a thorough check of all equipment.

You may recall, a Panhandle volunteer firefighter died on the job, in April. James Wilson McMorries Junior died from injuries received when a fire truck overturned while en route to a wildfire. This week's Safety Stand Down aims to prevent further tragedies like this one.

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Fallen trooper, firefighter honored
From The Amarillo Globe News: Link to Online Article
Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Phillip Yates, phillip.yates@amarillo.com

Perry bestows Star of Texas awards to men killed, injured in the line of duty

Gov. Rick Perry, on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, honored five Texas Panhandle law enforcement officers and firefighters for "heroic sacrifice in the line of duty."

The 2006 Star of Texas awards - created by the Texas Legislature in 2003 to honor the state's first responders - are given out annually for each peace officer, firefighter and emergency medical first responder who is seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, according to the governor's office.

"September 11th instilled in us all a renewed sense of appreciation for all the men and women who are first upon the scene of tragedy," Perry said in a prepared statement. "Today we pay special honor to the 49 men and women who have earned the 2006 Star of Texas Award for heroic sacrifice in the line of duty."

The 2006 Star of Texas Awards honored the following five law enforcement officers and firefighters from the area:

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Matthew Dewayne Myrick, 36, who died Jan. 20, 2006. Myrick was responding to an accident about 11 p.m., when he lost control of his patrol unit, which crashed into a concrete culvert along Farm-to-Market Road 1259 in Hereford and caught fire.

Engineer James Wilson McMorries Jr., 62, of the Howardwick Volunteer Fire Department, who died April 9 after suffering injuries March 12 while battling the largest wildfires in Texas history.

Howardwick Capt. Jeffrey Dean Cook and Firefighter Joseph Louis Garcia - who were injured during the same accident as McMorries, were also honored with Star of Texas awards. All three men were battling wildfires in Gary County when they were injured.

McMorries was driving in an area where graders had moved brush to prevent the fire from spreading, breaking up the hard, cracked dirt and leaving behind soft sand.

Garcia, standing on the front of the truck with a hose, saw flames approaching from another direction and motioned to McMorries, who quickly backed up. But the top-heavy truck loaded with water turned over and rolled down a 60-foot-deep ravine. All three men were thrown off and nearby fire crews rushed to pull them to safety.

Amarillo Police Officer Patrolman Mark Steven Simmons, who was injured March 24, 2005, when a pickup slammed into Simmons and his partner's patrol unit.

Simmons suffered critical injuries and is continuing to recover from the collision. He was medically retired because his injuries prevent him from returning to work as a police officer, according to the Amarillo Police Department. Several of Simmons' family members and at least four APD officers went to Austin to receive the award on Simmons' behalf.

Capt. Gary Lynn Winton of the Pampa Fire Department, who suffered injuries to his shoulder when fighting grass fires on April 6 when the firetruck he was on made a sudden jolt, throwing Winton off the truck.

"On behalf of 23 million Texans, I offer the salute of a people forever in your debt," Perry said. "As thousands of Texans who have had their prayers answered in their hour of need can testify, every peace officer, every firefighter and every emergency medical team member has earned our respect and admiration."

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Contributors to this article: Tim Stubbs (NMAirBear)

 

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