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Incident Name: Pack Test at Sweet, ID
Date: 04/28/07
Personnel: Vernon Robert (Bob) McKenzie
Age: 66
Agency/Organization: Gem County Fire Protection District #2, ID
Position: Volunteer

Summary: Firefighter McKenzie completed an annual physical fitness evaluation called a “pack test.” The test is required in order to work as a wildland firefighter in many jurisdictions. It requires a firefighter to walk a prescribed distance carrying a backpack of a prescribed weight within a limited time.

Firefighter McKenzie completed the test. When he arrived home, he complained of not feeling well. He was transported to a hospital, but died of a heart attack.


Vernon Robert (Bob) McKenzie Vernon Robert (Bob) McKenzie

Credit: Gem County Fire Protection District #2

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Gem County Fire Protection District #2, ID

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • USFA Memorial Database: Vernon Robert "Bob" McKenzie
  • NIOSH Report: Fire Fighter Suffers a Heart Attack and Dies After Completing Work Capacity Test - Idaho (pdf download)

    The NIOSH investigator offers the following recommendations to possibly prevent a similar recurrence and to address general safety and health issues.

    • Check the vital signs of participants before and after the work capacity test.
    • Utilize a comprehensive medical form such as Standard Form 78 or the Federal Interagency Annual Medical History and Clearance Form for Arduous Duty Wildland Firefighters instead of the Physical Activity Readiness-Questionnaire (PAR-Q) to determine medical clearance for the work capacity test.
    • Provide pre-placement and periodic medical evaluations to ALL fire fighters consistent with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582 (or equivalent) to determine their medical ability to perform duties without presenting a significant risk to the safety and health of themselves or others.
    • Ensure that fire fighters are cleared for duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of firefighting.
    • Ensure that fire fighters participate in a mandatory wellness/fitness program designed for wildland fire fighters to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and improve cardiovascular capacity.
    • Perform an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation to ensure fire fighters are physically capable of performing the essential job tasks of structural firefighting.
    • Provide fire fighters with medical evaluations and clearance to wear self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs).
    • Perform an autopsy on all on-duty fire fighter fatalities.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Obituary (Submitted by his friend and Assistant Chief of the Gem Co. Dist 2 Fire)

    Vernon Robert "Bob" McKenzie, 66, passed peacefully into the next world on Saturday, April 28, 2007.

    Bob was born in Adams County, Ohio on Jan. 8, 1941, one of eight children born to Clarence and Catherine McKenzie. Following his high school graduation Bob enlisted in the Air Force. He served most of his four years in Germany. After returning to the states, Bob moved to Idaho to pursue a career in the forest service, there he met and married Darlene Buffington and together they had four kids. While supporting his family, Bob managed to graduate with honors from the University of Idaho with a degree in forestry. He earned the rank of assistant Ranger before retiring after 25 years. His love of the outdoors led him to purchase 10 acres of land on a mountain top overlooking the beautiful High Valley. Bob and Darlene called it their little piece of Heaven.

    In 1998 Darlene tragically passed away. But with help and support of his family and friends Bob found a way to enjoy life again. A special lady named JoAnn Dickover put the sparkle back in his eyes until he lost her to death too, still, Bob maintained his famous sense of humor, generous spirit and welcoming nature. Although his dance moves were considered questionable by many, Bob could be found with his karaoke machine singing and dancing at the local hotspots on a Saturday night. Bob was an avid hunter and fisherman, which he enjoyed sharing with his children and grandchildren. His true passion however was fighting forest fires. In fact, he was preparing to join his older son on the firelines once again, this year.

    Bob is survived by his mother, his children; Rich (Donna) McKenzie, Lisa Guerin and Tina Ruska. His sisters and brothers; Sally Covert, Pat Lewis, Jim (Beverly) McKenzie, Richard (Diane) McKenzie, his grandchildren; Devin McMillion, Shawn Ruska and Megan Ruska. Several nieces and nephews and numerous people he counted among his extended family.

    Bob was preceded in death by his wife of 33 years, Darlene McKenzie, his father, his brothers, Gus Charles and John and his dear friend, JoAnn.

    A celebration of Bob's life was held at the Ola Community Church in Ola Idaho on Saturday, May 5, 2007 at 1 p.m. In the event of his death, Bob wrote the following: in the following: "Don't cry for me, I've had a good life, had lots of fun and met lots of good people. We'll see each other again someday."

    Bob will be deeply missed.

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