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Incident Name:
Date: 3/18/2002
Personnel: Joan Esther Spear
Age: 46
Agency/Organization:  MT DNRC Fire & Aviation Mgmt, Dillon Unit, MT
Position: Senior engine boss

Summary: Senior Engine Boss Spear was preparing for an annual recertification pack test. The test requires the firefighter to carry a 45-pound pack a distance of 3 miles within 45 minutes. Senior Engine Boss Spear embarked on a practice walk carrying a 25-pound pack. Well into the walk, a passerby saw her struggle and fall to the ground. The passerby called 9-1-1. Despite the efforts of local EMS providers, Senior Engine Boss Spear died. The cause of death for Senior Engine Boss Spear was a CVA. She was 4 days short of her 46th birthday.


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MT DNRC Fire & Aviation Mgmt, Dillon Unit, MT

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  • Montana Firefighter Dies During Training

    3/19/2002 | Heather Caspi of News : Online Archive

    A Montana firefighter collapsed and died Monday while preparing for the yearly pack test which requires wildland firefighters to carry a 45 pound pack a distance of three miles within 45 minutes.

    Firefighter Joan Spear was a Senior Engine Supervisor with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in Dillon, Montana. She was going into her 12th season of wildland firefighting, and would have turned 46 on Friday. Spear had never failed the pack test.

    On Monday she went out for a practice walk with a pack of about 25 pounds, and got a good distance away from the office before she collapsed said John Pilsworth, a geographical information specialist at the DNRC.

    "A passerby had seen her kind of struggle and fall down so they stopped and called 911," he said.

    Spear left for her walk at about 12:20 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 3:00 that afternoon. Pilsworth said the official cause of death is undetermined, but was likely the result of a brain aneurysm. "She was a tough lady and she had been a senior engine boss for a long time. She was well respected," he said.

    Spear grew up on a ranch in Madison County, Montana and continued to run cattle on her own ranch, said Rick Strohmyer, a supervisor at the Dillon DNRC unit. "She had a real love of wildland firefighting and of nature," he said.

    Spear was a full time firefighter from March through November, and played an integral role in initial attack incident command. During the winter she worked part time for the DNRC providing basic firefighter training for volunteers from around the state, and working on forest improvement projects.

    "She was very pleasant, had a mischievous sense of humor, and was a very capable fire person. She was a female in a male-dominated profession and and she was exemplary in every area," Strohmyer said.

    Spear is survived by her husband Harry Worman and other family.

    She had arranged to be a full-body organ donor, so after her death there were jets lined up the local airport to send her organs around the country to those in need, Strohmyer said. "It was truly inspirational," he said. "She was the first full organ donor out of this county."

    A memorial service is planned for 12 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27 at the Beaver Head Search and Rescue Building in Dillon, MT and will be followed by a wake at the Elks Lodge. Spear's ashes will be carried aboard her engine, number 42.

    The family has requested that memorials be directed to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, Box 3633 in Boise, Idaho 83703.

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  • Spear had been a seasonal wildland firefighter for twelve years, and was also a cattle rancher in Madison County. During the winter months, she trained volunteer firefighters and worked on forest improvement projects.

    Spear was a full-body organ donor. According to DNRC supervisor Rick Strohmyer, jets were lined up at the local airport to send her organs around the country to people in need. "It was truly inspirational," Strohmyer said.

  • Memorial Service Wed March 27 at the Beaver Head SAR Building in Dillon MT. Spear's ashes were carried on her engine, Engine #42.
  • International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services: Joan Spear


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Contributors to this article: Mellie, Vicki Minor of the WFF


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