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Incident Name:  Santa Teresa Hills vegetation fire
Date: August 11, 1980, 1347 hrs
Personnel: Franklyn Chester Knapp-Smith
Age: 
Agency/Organization: CDF (now CAL FIRE)
Position: fire captain

Summary: On August 11, 1980, Fire Captain Chet Knapp-Smith succumbed to injuries received in an engine (Model 10) accident on a steep slope while fighting a fire in the Santa Teresa Hills of the city of San Jose. Chester was the Captain assigned to Engine 5466 pictured below from the Stevens Creek Station CA-SCU-Station 23. Also innvolved in the accident was North County ROP Firefighter Trainee David Hirschman, who survived. For the complete description, please see the Summary Report.

Photo of Chet from the newspaper; Engine 5466 compliments of Kevin Conant, one of the many firefighters who were enriched by Chet's life.

Chet Knapp-Smith Chet Knapp-Smith
Engine 5644 Engine 5644

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Maps

The accident occurred near Colleen Drive at Evangeline Drive in San Jose, CA.

map location of Santa Teresa Hospital where he died; Santa Teresa Hills run east/west to the south of San Jose; the concrete canal bounds the city



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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection: Summary Report
  • Recommendations to the Field:
    • Reaffirm that CDF fire equipment is not designed to be operated on slopes exceeding 40%
    • MI Sectiuon 2304.1 states "Each supervisor is responsible for carrying out the policy and purpose of the Department of safety program." Supervisors will "See that personal safeguards and safe clothing are provided and used for hazardous work."
      • Reaffirm that CDF policy (MI 2637.5) requires wearing of seat belts at all times when operating or riding in a motor vehicle.
      • Reaffirm that CDF policy (MI 2637.7) requires use of chock blocks for off-road parking.
      • Reaffirm that CDF policy (MI 2642.3) requires "All personnel will wear the standard issued safety helmet or an OSHA approved fireman's style helmet while engaged in, responding to, or returning from fire suppression activities.
    • Standard CDF winching hand signals, as found in Handbook 1190, should be memorized and used by all CDF personnel.
    • All CDF vehicle operators should be totally familiar with the contents of Handbook 2620 for every piece of equipment they operate.
Chet Knapp-Smith LODD Chet Knapp-Smith LODD

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

  • Hotlist: Discussion of San Mateo County Fire History - 7/13-7/15/2012
  • From Prevent 43:
    Sam Morrision was a friend of mine. We grew up together and started our careers together when SCU was part of Region 5 under the old CDF system, Santa Clara Ranger Unit. His passing was difficult for a lot of us specifically his two FC and the FAE's assigned to Stevens Creek when it was a two company house.

    Sam was a hard working incredibly strong man who had two speeds; fast and faster. Back in those days, Green pants and Tan shirts and no shelters yet, they came in 1980, you were supposed to lose the shirt and keep the greens on for the second layer. I was not at the fire but from what I was told, Sam still had his shirt on under his nomex and it was a very hot hot day. With his passing, lessons were learned and changes were made.

    The following year, a FC assigned to Stevens Creek and a mentor for many of us, Chester Knapp-Smith passed away on a fire in San Jose. A model 10 which I cant really remember who made them but a beast of a rig. Those details of the incident are horrible but, changes were made for the better. I wish to remember both Sam and Chester with fond thoughts and think that there actions may have saved many, many others for years to come. Chet, Sam, a real pleasure knowing you both and thanks for giving your all.

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Media Articles and Reports

 

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

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Contributors to this article: Prev43, Kevin Conant

 

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