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Incident Name:  Willow Helibase Rappel Accident
Date:  July 21, 2009
Personnel:  Thomas Marovich
Age:  20 years
Agency/Organization:  US Forest Service
Position: firefighter

Summary: While performing routine rappel proficiency skill training, Thomas Marovich, Jr of Hayward California fell approximately 200 feet and was fatally injured on 7/21/09, at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek. It appeares that Firefighter Marovich was not properly attached to the rope, resulting in a free fall. He died of multiple blunt trauma injuries. "TJ" was a second year apprentice with the Forest Service at the Modoc National Forest. He was working with the Chester Helitack Crew from the Lassen National Forest. The helicopter and rappel crew were assigned to the Backbone Fire.

Tom Marovich Tom Marovich
Rappel Crew Rappel Crew

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Accident Location

Adjacent to the Willow Creek Helibase – Trinity River – Approximately one half mile north of the town of Willow Creek, CA

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

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Horizontal line Links:

  • Theysaid: 7/22/09 and scroll up
  • Theysaid: 8/1/09 and scroll up
  • Hotlist Incident thread, including news releases and reports; it also includes the day-by-day insightful and touching posts from Captain 64 who was Tom's friend and laision with Tom's family, tasked with returning his belongings to them; he shares his very fine, thoughtful and honest perspective on the human difficulty -- his and others -- in dealing with emotions and thoughts surrounding firefighter tragedy, in this case, Tom's death. For me, Captain 64 captures and expresses the Essence and I thank him.
  • Hotlist Condolences thread
  • Tom Marovich Memorial Photo Page

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Firefighters Mourn Rappel Accident Victim

    Forest Service News Release 7/22/09 (42 K pdf)

    WILLOW CREEK, Calif. – Firefighters are mourning the loss of their comrade Thomas (TJ) Marovich, Jr., 20, who incurred fatal injuries after an approximately 200 foot fall on Tuesday. The accident occurred during routine rappel training out of a Bell 212 helicopter, at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek.

    Backbone fire personnel are deeply saddened by the accident and are having a small memorial as a tribute to Marovich’s life at 9:30 am today at the Backbone Fire Incident Command Post. Firefighters and local residents have been invited and are expected to attend.

    Critical Incident Stress Debrief teams will be on hand to counsel those closest to the victim and the accident to make sure they have an opportunity to work through their grief.

    The Forest Service mobilized a serious accident investigation team who is working with the National Transportation Safety Board. The investigation team will be in-briefed at 6pm this afternoon.

  • Hayward Man Killed in Firefighter Training

    Henry K. Lee, 7/23/09, Online article

    WILLOW CREEK, HUMBOLDT COUNTY -- A Hayward man working as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter died after falling from a helicopter during a training exercise in Humboldt County, authorities said Wednesday.

    Thomas Marovich, 20, died at 10:10 a.m. Tuesday after falling 200 feet from a Bell 212 helicopter at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek, authorities said. Marovich was a second-year firefighter apprentice with the Forest Service at the Modoc National Forest. He had been practicing rappelling maneuvers as part of training that is required every two weeks.

    He was assigned to a helicopter crew that was helping to fight the Backbone Fire, which has burned 6,324 acres and is 85 percent contained, said fire information officer Robyn Woods... (More at the link.)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Inciweb: Honoring Our Fallen
  • FS Heroes Memorial: Tom Marovich
  • Our Firefighter Photo Tribute to Tom (html)
  • Zack Trask: Memories of TJ Marovich (212 K pdf); Zack was TJ's supervisor and mentor at Fremont Fire Department and his very good friend.
  • Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement Regarding the Death of U.S. Forest Service Firefighter

    07/22/2009 - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Thomas Marovich of Hayward:

    "Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our deep sadness over the passing of U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Thomas Marovich. Thomas selflessly dedicated his life to protecting our communities and saving lives and we are forever indebted to his service. Our hearts go out to Thomas' family, friends and fellow firefighters as they mourn this terrible loss."

    Marovich, 20, died July 21 as a result of injuries sustained while performing routine rappel proficiency skill training at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek.

    Marovich was a second-year apprentice with the U.S. Forest Service at the Modoc National Forest and was working with the Chester Helitack Crew from the Lassen National Forest which was assigned to the Backbone Fire at the time of the accident.

    In honor of Firefighter Marovich, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

  • Accident Information, Condolences, and Services for the Marovich Family

    At this time, investigation of this incident is being conducted by the NTSB and a Chief's Level Forest Service Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT). No further details or information about the cause of the accident will be available until these teams complete their investigations and issue a final report. In some cases this may take up to a year.

    A Forest Service family liaison from the Modoc NF has been assigned for the Marovich Family. The family has indicated that they would like Forest Service employees and friends to send cards, condolences, and letters to their home.

    Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Marovich (Judy) (snip) CA

    Services have been arranged for July 30, 2009 at 10:30 am. Flowers may be sent to the service, but delivered no earlier than 9:30 am that day. A funeral service will be conducted at St. Clement Parish, followed by graveside services at Holy Sepulcher. Following graveside services a reception will be held back at St. Clement Parish. The family is encouraging attendance by any Forest Service employees or friends who wish to attend. Additionally, the family is working with charitable organizations in hope of setting up a scholarship fund in Thomas "TJ" Marovich's name. Once finalized we will pass that information along for those who wish to donate.

    St. Clement Parish, 738 Calhoun St. (near Mission Blvd), Hayward, CA 94544, Phone: (510) 582-7282

    Holy Sepulcher, 26320 Mission Boulevard, Hayward, CA 94544

  • Honoring Sacrifice

    Eureka Times Standard Editorial, no longer online

    Posted: 07/23/2009 01:30:31 AM PDT

    Once again this year we've lost a firefighter who had come to the North Coast to help protect local lives and property from the ravages of fire. As the Times-Standard reported Tuesday, 20-year-old U.S. Forest Service firefighter Thomas Marovich Jr. fell about 200 feet to his death while training to rappel out of a helicopter. He was killed immediately when he struck the bed of the Trinity River at Big Rock in Willow Creek.

    But this incident, as well as the one last year where nine firefighters were killed in a helicopter crash, illustrates again and again that these men and women are putting their lives on the line, and often for communities other than their own.

    This kind of selfless service deserves the highest accolades -- these young men and women are not only doing one of the most difficult jobs imaginable, but they do it with their lives and well-being on the line.

    We heartily extend our thanks to all of them for doing their absolute best to protect us all -- without such sacrifice, many more would lose their lives and property from the ravages of fire.

    Losing life is always a travesty, but unnecessary deaths are especially tragic. The loss of such young and promising lives has ripple effects that can extend for many years beyond the date of the incident.

    For the good of yourself, your families, and now the communities who depend on you for protection, keep safe and don't take unnecessary risks.

    And thanks again for being real-life heroes in our midst.

  • USFA Memorial Database: Thomas Marovich, Jr
  • Honoring Our Fallen: FS News Release 7/23/09 (doc)

    WILLOW CREEK, Calif. - Firefighters will be escorting the body of Thomas (TJ) Marovich Jr., on Friday July 24, 2009 to the Eureka/Arcata airport, where he then will be flown home to the Bay area and transported to Hayward. Marovich incurred fatal injuries this past Tuesday during a routine rappel training exercise while assigned to the Backbone fire.

    The procession will begin at 1:15 pm from the Bayshore Mall in Eureka, CA. The procession will be turning left onto Broadway merging onto Highway 101 to the Arcata/ Eureka airport located in Mckinleyville, CA.

    The California Highway Patrol, fire engines from the Six Rivers, Modoc and Lassen National Forests, as well as CalFire, will take part in the escort. Other official Forest Service, State and local emergency service vehicles are taking part. Out of honor to our fallen firefighter, the public is asked to observe a moment of silence as the procession goes by.


  • Flight home from Eureka Flight home from Eureka
  • National Fallen Firefighter Monument in Sacramento: Tom's Name was added on 10/17/09, photos on his photo memorial page.

Flag for Tom's family, carried by Paul, his good friend; Honor Guard and Procession in Sacramento as his name is added to the wall

Tom's friend Paul Tom's friend Paul
Honor Guard at Sacramento Memorial Honor Guard at Sacramento Memorial
Procession Procession

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Contributors to this article: Captain 64, Ben Iverson, Robin, Zack Trask, Paul, Tom Marovich, Sr, Mike, Mellie, and many more

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