Incident Name: Willow Helibase Rappel Accident
Date: July 21, 2009
Personnel: Thomas Marovich
Age: 20 years
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
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.
Adjacent to the Willow Creek Helibase – Trinity River – Approximately one half mile north of the town of Willow Creek, CA
- Fatal Accident During Routine Training at the Backbone Helibase 7/21/09 (News Release)
- Inciweb: Fatal Accident During Routine Training at The Backbone Helibase Update
- Preliminary Mishap Notification 7/21/09 (15 K pdf)
- 24 Hour Notification of Firefighter Fatality 7/21/09 (14 K doc)
- National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) Full Narrative
- National Transportation Safety Board Probable Cause | NTSB Factual
- NTSB Lookup Utility for additional information: use accident # WPR09TA356
- OSHA Report: 10/2/09 (386 K pdf)
- Jim Saveland, PhD: Rappel Accident, Human Performance Analysis (179 K pdf)
- USFS Serious Accident Investigation - Report and Action Plan (posted March 3, 2010 then removed from the wildfirelessons.net archive, probably on or before March 7, 2010); technically NTSB is lead on this.
- Missoula Technology and Development Center, June 2010: New Descent Device "HR-1" Evaluation Report # 2 (224 K pdf) HR-1 was developed and evaluated to help protect against a similar accident | Demonstration video (mpg) of the HR1 for evaluation from MTDC for download (152 MB) and viewing | or Watch Flash Online
- Rappel Activities in Support of Large Fire Operations: Interagency Helicopter Rappel Guide (IRHG) - Appendix N (38 K pdf) | Wildland Fire Helicopter Rappel Website
- The process to standardize the rappel program began in earnest in August of 2009, following the July Willow Helibase Rappel Accident.
- The rappel standardization effort was mandated by Deputy Chief Hubbard (FS Deputy Chief State and Private Forestry) in letter to Fire & Aviation Management (FAM) Director Harbour, dated December 17, 2009. (If you have a copy of that communication, please send it in.)
- National Stand-Down for 2010 and reevaluation of and standardization of the rappel program: Communication from Tom Tidwell, Chief of the Forest Service dated February 1, 2010 (If you have a copy of that communication, please send it in.)
- Tom Harbour, FS Director of Fire and Aviation Management to James Hubbard, laying out options and criteria for re-initiating operational rappelling in the Forest Service. (distributed sometime prior to June 30, 2010 when we received it) Stand-Up Heli-Rappelling Decision letter (23 K pdf)
James Hubbard, FS Deputy Chief State and Private Forestry, June 28, 2010: Stand-Up Heli-Rappelling letter (20 K pdf):
The enclosed decision memo reinstitutes the Helicopter Rappel Program as noted in the Chief’s letter dated February 1, 2010, (File Code 6730, “Accident Review Board Safety Action Plan on the Willow Helibase Rappel Accident Fatality”). Prior to returning to operations, Regions must schedule a quality assurance review through the Assistant Director Aviation Operations, Airworthiness and Quality Assurance, as described in the enclosed decision memo, and meet the requirements.
- Stand Down of Intermountain (R4) Heli-rappel Program for 2010 with communication of what must change for re-instatement - from Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester R4 FS, dated March 15, 2010: Intermountain (R4) Region Rappel Statement for 2010 (10 K pdf)
- James Peña signed for Randy Moore, Regional Forester R5 FS, dated July 12, 2010: Pacific Southwest (R5) Region Rappel Statement for 2010 (12 K pdf)
- Discussion of Program Changes on theysaid: starts 1/27/10 and scroll up; starts 2/8/10 and scroll up
- FY 2009 Accident Reviews: Flash Presentation Jim Morrison, presenter (6 min play time)
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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
Contributors to this article: Captain 64, Ben Iverson, Robin, Zack Trask, Paul, Tom Marovich, Sr, Mike, Mellie, and many more
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