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Incident Name: traveling from Michigan to the Box Canyon fire in Utah; accident in Minnesota
Date: 8/27/16, around 1500 hrs
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: BIA, Beartown Fire Department - Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, 16429 Bear Town Road
Position: firefighters


Alan John (AJ) Swartz, age 25 of Baraga, Michigan
James Frederick (Jimmy) Shelifoe, Jr, age 23 of Baraga, Michigan

On 8/27/2016, Alan Swartz, age 25, and James Shelifoe, age 28, died and six others were injured when the crew transport vehicle they were riding in hit a cable barrier, bounced off and rolled several times -- on Interstate 35W near 95th Avenue in Blaine, Minnesota. The Beartown Firefighter crew, a crew located on the south shores of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was enroute to the Box Canyon wildfire in Utah. The crew is based out of Baraga, Michigan, is dispatched locally and nation-wide, and is jointly managed by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Those injured are expected to recover.


Accident photo from Facebook

Accident photo Accident photo


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on Interstate 35W near 95th Avenue in Blaine, MN


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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community reports that their Beartown firefighting crew was involved in a transport vehicle rollover crash in Blaine, Michigan: "Two of our fire fighters were killed and several others were severely injured. Our hearts are broken and our prayers are with the family members and those injured," the tribe said in a statement released Saturday night.
  • News Release on Facebook from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, 8/28/16:

    News Release News Release


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Media Articles and Reports

  • Two Keweenaw Indian Community Bay Firefighters Killed in an Accident on Way to Fight Utah Fire

    8/28/16 | Online Article

    BLAINE, MINNESOTA— The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is mourning the loss of two of its members and Beartown Firefighting squad who died in a van accident in Blaine, Minnesota on Saturday afternoon, August 27, 2016.

    The two who have walked are Alan Schwartz, 25, and James Shelifoe, 23, both of Baraga, Michigan. Seven others in the van were taken to the hospital and are expected to recover... (More at the link...)

  • Man charged in crash that killed 2 MI firefighters

    8/28/16 | Online Article

    ANOKA, Minn. - A Michigan firefighter has been charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide in a crash that killed two fellow firefighters and injured seven others.

    The criminal complaint against 28-year-old Michael Allen Johnson, of Baraga, Michigan, says he told investigators he had not slept in more than 24 hours except for a 45-minute nap early Saturday... (More at the link...)

  • Outpour of support for Beartown firefighters at funeral service

    8/31/2016 | Online Article

    L'ANSE, Mich. (WLUC) -- Hundreds arrived to a solemn atmosphere at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Zeba Hall in L'Anse to honor deceased Beartown firefighters James "Jimmy" Shelifoe and Alan "A.J." Swartz. "Our hearts are broken and our prayers are with the family members and those injured," the KBIC said in a statement. (More at the link...)


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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community announces details
regarding services for Beartown Firefighters:

The deceased firefighters will be returning tomorrow, Tuesday, August 30. The procession route is beginning at the Thomas-Dougherty Funeral Home, 2535 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN at 6:30 a.m. CST.
The route is as follows:
• Begining in Minneapolis, head North on I-35
• Travel East on I-35 towards Superior, MN then take US-2 over the Bong Bridge through Belknap Street and on to East 2nd Street/US-2
• From there stay on US-2 through Ashland, Wisconsin
• Continue on US-2 through Wisconsin, proceed through Ironwood on the Wisconsin/Michigan Border
• Through Michigan stay on US-2 through Bessemer to Wakefield
• In Wakefield turn on to M-28, travel through Bergland to Bruce Crossing
• Then turn on to US-45 North, turn East on to M-26 through Mass City
• From there head on M-38 to Baraga, turn on to Superior Avenue, travel through downtown Baraga, turn on to US-41 to L’Anse, MI to Reid’s Funeral home

The services for the firefighters have been scheduled by the families as follows:

James Frederick "Jimmy" Shelifoe Jr.

Traditional native services will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, August 31, 2016 at KBIC Zeba Hall. The family will greet friends at the Zeba Hall on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 from 11 a.m. until the time of the service. Interment will take place in the Pinery Cemetery. Following interment, friends are invited to join the family for fellowship and a luncheon at the Zeba Hall.

Alan John "AJ" Swartz

Funeral services for AJ will be held at 1 p.m. on Thursday, September 1, 2016 at the KBIC Zeba Hall with Pastor Steve Rhoades officiating. The family will greet friends at the Zeba Hall on Thursday from 11 a.m. until the time of the funeral service. A luncheon will be held immediately following the funeral service.

The Government Offices of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community will be closed beginning at 12:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 30 and will re-open on Friday, September 2 at 8:00 a.m.

  • Look for information on Facebook (link above) to donate to the families of the fallen. There's also information regarding critical incident stress counseling.
  • The Wildland Firefighter Foundation is helping with lodging for families of the two who died and other crew members who were injured. See their Facebook page for how you can help.


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Contributors to this article:  RJM, BWTFD (Brian), Mellie


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