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Incident Name: Hells Half Complex
Date: 07/07/08 1630 hrs
Personnel: John Hermo
Age: 33
Agency/Organization: a private company GH Ranch, Klamath Falls, Oregon; under contract with the USFS
Position: Type 2 Crew Member

Summary: Firefighter John Hermo was in R&R at the designated fire camp established in Willow Creek, CA after being assigned to the Hells Half Fire for 14 days. Humboldt County Deputies responded to Kimtu Beach in Willow Creek at about 4:30 p.m. after receiving a report of a possible drowning in the Trinity River. John Hermo's body was pulled from the river near Patterson Road by his crewmates. Rresuscitation efforts, including CPR, were given but were unsuccessful.

Photo credit: John Hermo's MySpace page.

John Hermo John Hermo

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Accident Site

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • No Reports since John was technically "off duty" but required to take R&R with his crew at the ICP.
  • Safety Suggestions from Mellie who lives in the area
    1. SMOKE: I would recommend that when crews are required to take R&R, they are encouraged to get out from under the heavy smoke inversion that always exists in our norcal canyons during fires like the lightning fires of 2008. R&R taken at an ICP under smoke inversion conditions is likely not a quality rest environment and likely will not allow firefighters to "clear their heads" before going back to work. Two weeks in smoky conditions affect judgment.
    2. RIVERS: Oftentimes firefighters traveling outside their area to a fire incident do not know how dangerous our rivers are. What looks calm from a beach might have underwater roots or driftwood trees that can hang up a swimmer in the current or a killer "keeper whirlpool" formed as the water current passes rocks. These pull you down and can be hard to escape as you're tumbled around. Every year unwarry swimmers, even experienced ones wearing life vests, drown on our fast flowing rivers of northern California.
  • Safety Messages on subsequent Iron Complex Incident Action Plans; Firefighters were also warned at briefings after John's death.

Photo of the Trinity River at Kimtu Beach, Willow Creek CA where John drowned; it was much smokier than depicted here.

Trinity River at Kimtu Beach, Willow Creek CA Trinity River at Kimtu Beach, Willow Creek CA

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Hotlist Links:

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Media Articles and Reports.

Klamath Falls firefighter drowns in California

July 09, 2008 | Online Article

By aportal

KLAMATH FALLS -- A Klamath Falls man fighting wildfires in Northern California drowned in the Trinity River between Redding and Eureka.

Witnesses told Humboldt County sheriff's deputies that John Hermo was off-duty Monday when he swam halfway across the river before deciding to turn around and swim back to shore. He then got caught in the current and went under.

The 33-year-old was a member of a private wildland firefighting company that has four 20-person crews fighting fires in California.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Eureka, July 10, 2008

    The fire community is saddened by the tragic loss of one of their own. Firefighter John Hermo, 33, resting and recuperating from a strenuous fire assignment, drowned in the Trinity River Monday, July 7, 2008. Hermo was employed by GH Ranch, a private wildland fire company based in Oregon.

    He was a member of one of GH Ranch's four 20-person firefighting crews currently fighting fires in California and had been working on the Hells Half Complex.

    According to the Humboldt Country Sheriff's Office, deputies responded to Kimtu Beach in Willow Creek at about 4:30 p.m. after receiving a report of a possible drowning. Deputies arrived and found approximately 12 people along the riverbank searching for Hermo. Deputies were assessing the situation when they learned Hermo had been pulled from the water near Patterson Road. Resuscitation efforts, including CPR, were given but were unsuccessful.

    The U.S. Forest Service has assigned a special team to gather facts about the accident.

    A public memorial service will be held for family and friends at 8:30 p.m, tonight (July 10, 2008). The service will be held at the Hells Half Complex Incident Command Post, located at Veterans Park, in Willow Creek, CA.

    Courtesy of Julie Ranieri, a Six Rivers National Forest representative

  • John Hermo's name appears in the Congressional Record in the mention by Nancy Pelosi (the congressman that replied got the river wrong):

    July 25, 2009 - Saturday Washington, D.C.Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the floor this afternoon (7-9-08) in support of H.R. 5541, the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act), which passed by voice vote. She said, “We also express our deepest sympathies to those who have suffered deeply personal losses as a result of these fires, particularly the families of the two firefighters who lost their lives: Robert Roland of the Anderson Valley Fire Department, a volunteer fireman who lost his life fighting a fire, and John Hermo of Oregon - he came down from Oregon to help fight the fires. He drowned while off duty, but nonetheless, here in the service of this important fight."

    PDF Version

  • Eureka Fire Department flags at half staff for Firefighters that have died: Hermo, Palmer and Packer: Press Release
  • John Hermo's MySpace Page, Includes Personal Photos and Signatures on his Tent: Photos no longer online.
  • Message from Nelda Herman in response to Mellie's request for information:
    How wonderful to hear from you. John was dearly loved on his crew and actually our own pulled John from the river. They wouldn't even let the rescue people do it. His is a wonderful story that I'm sure you will want to hear. We have his pack, and everything in it hanging in the corner of our classroom with a memorial to him. We gave his GHR fire hat to his childhood friend who has visited us several times since the accident. (We still need to contact her again to get ICP Memorial photos and the stories.)

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Contributors to this article: Nelda Herman at GHR, Mellie, RJM, Julie Ranieri, Charlie Severson, John's friends and family who maintain his MySpace page.


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