Incident Name: Blue Ribbon Fire in Hamilton County, FL
Date: 6/20/11, 1730 hours
Personnel: 2 lives lost
Agency/Organization: Florida Division of Forestry, Suwannee Forestry Center
Position: Forest Rangers / Firefighters / Tractor Plow Operators
Brett Fulton, age 52
Josh Burch, age 31
Forest Rangers Fulton and Burch were killed when their position was overrun by flames while conducting tractor plow operations on the Blue Ribbon Fire in Hamilton County, Florida. One of the tractor plows got stuck and the second person tried to assist. As the fire approached, both men tried to outrun it. They were overtaken and died without deploying a fire shelter. Two other firefighters - Robert Marvin and Stephen Carpenter - were injured while attempting to assist their fellow firefighters. Both were treated for smoke-related injuries and released from the hospital.
Incident Location (USNG: 17R LP 24 77)
- From the Florida Division of Forestry Press Release
"Josh Burch, 31, was a Forest Ranger who lived in Lake City with his wife and two children. He worked with the Division of Forestry for more than ten years.
Brett Fulton, 52, began as a professional welder with the Division 12 years ago. He has been a Forest Ranger with the Department for more than nine years. Fulton leaves behind a wife and two grown children in White Springs.
Two other Division of Forestry firefighters were injured, while attempting to assist their fellow firefighters. Both were treated for smoke-related injuries and released.."
Later statement from the Suwannee Forestry Center: The families of Brett Fulton and Josh Burch would like to thank the community for their kind thoughts and prayers during this time of great loss in our lives. The loving words and generous donations provided to our families have shown us all how deeply loved and respected our sons, husbands and fathers were in this community. Your support is appreciated more than we can possibly express at this time of grief. Memorial accounts have been set up at Sun State Federal Credit Union for both Brett and Josh. Cash Donations can be accepted at any branch location for the Brett Fulton Family or the Josh Burch Family.
- Florida Division of Forestry: 24 Hour Briefing (42 K pdf)
- Serious Accident Investigation Team: Accident Investigation Report (3,021 K pdf)
- Suwannee Forestry Center recognizes the benefit of multi tractor/plow operations during complex incidents.
- Excessive smoke caused by the fire hindered visibility of crewmen operating tractors on the ground and the pilot monitoring the fire conditions from a fixed-wing aircraft.
- Difficult terrain and limited visibility due to smoke hindered the ability of firefighters to escape dangerous conditions.
- Traffic and interference on radio communication channels caused some confusion during the incident, though significant effort was made to resolve this issue.
- Fire shelters were not used by the two firefighters who were killed.
Recommendations for preventing similar occurrences in the future include:
- Evaluate strategy and tactics used as fire danger increases.
- Provide refresher training to firefighters on principles of LCES (lookouts, communications, escape routes and safety zones) and situational awareness.
- Review radio frequencies and ensure proper channel and procedures are known and understood.
- Evaluate benefits of Asset Tracker System and consider installation on all equipment.
- Evaluate work/rest ratio to ensure proper rest of fire personnel.
- Evaluate how fire shelters should be carried and stored on equipment.
- Pursue avenues for increased availability of aviation resources.
- USFA Memorial Database: Joshua O. Burch | Brett L. Fulton
- Theysaid: Starting 6/20/11 and scroll up
- Hotlist: Thread starting 6/21/11 Incident within an Incident
- Hotlist: Condolences Thread
- 2 Firefighters Killed Battling Wildfire
2 Florida Forestry Workers Killed, 2 Hurt Battling Flames In Hamilton County
June 20, 2011 Online Article
HAMILTON COUNTY, Fla. -- The Division of Forestry confirmed late Monday night that two firefighters were killed fighting the Blue Ribbon wildfire in Hamilton County near the Florida-Georgia border.
WJXT-TV's sources said the two men were overrun by flames while driving tractors while cutting fire lines to prevent the fire from spreading.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the two courageous men who sacrificed their lives for the safety of others,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “We can rebuild the structures and restore the land, but the lives of these two heroes can never be replaced.” More at the link...
- Vigil Honors 2 Fallen Firefighters
2 Veteran Florida Forest Rangers Killed Fighting Fire In Hamilton County
June 22, 2011 Online Article
The two veteran Division of Forestry rangers who died Monday fighting in Hamilton County were honored at a vigil Wednesday evening in Columbia County.
Josh Burch, 31, of Lake City, and Brett Fulton, 52, of White Springs were killed when the tractors they were operating to cut fire lines were overrun by flames. Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid said the incident began when one of four forestry tractors became stuck on a stump.
"Another tractor went to help and the fire got to them," Reid told the Suwannee Democrat. "They were able to run a distance from the fire, but they were consumed."
Two other forestry firefighters -- Robert Marvin and Stephen Carpenter -- were injured attempting to rescue their fellow firefighters. Both were treated for smoke-related injuries and released that night. More at the link...
- Flags at Half Staff
Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered that state and national flags at the City Hall in Lake City, the Columbia County Courthouse and the state Capitol in Tallahassee be flown at half-staff on Friday in honor of Josh Burch and on Sunday in honor of Brett Fulton.
- Informal Community Memorial Service
6/22/11, Wednesday Evening
Originally scheduled as a "thank you" to firefighters
Lake City's Deep Creek Community Center
Pastor Howard Thomas officiating
- Fla. forest rangers killed in blaze mourned
6/26/11 Online Article from AP no longer available
LAKE CITY, Fla. -- Firefighters across the state were among the 1,000 mourners attending the funerals of two Florida forest rangers who died fighting the Blue Ribbon fire along the Georgia line.
Fifty-two year-old Brett Fulton and 31-year-old Josh Burch were plowing with bulldozers in Hamilton County when a small, smoldering wildfire flared up and trapped them Monday. Two comrades trying to rescue them also were injured.
Two Florida Division of Forestry helicopters flew overhead during the services held Friday and Saturday in Lake City. It's the first time since 2000 that a forestry division employee has died fighting a wildfire.
Many public service workers had black ribbons pinned to their shirts or black cloth covering their badges. American flags decorated both funerals, some hanging off fire truck ladders parked outside the churches. Flags at the Florida Capitol and in Hamilton County were flown at half-mast Friday and Saturday to honor the men.
Both of the deceased rangers were married. Fulton had two grown children and Burch had two sons, ages 4 and 5. Burch had been with the department's Division of Forestry for 10 years and Fulton for 12 years.
At Fulton's funeral Saturday, friend remembered a hero.
"Brett will be sorely missed and his mark will be left on the world for a long time," Fulton's partner, Andy Ross said. "We are all better people for knowing you, Brett. Godspeed, 680 (Fulton's number)."
Citrus County Fire Rescue Department Lt. Bob Bessler was one of five crew members from there to attending Burch's funeral Friday.
"We lost part of our family and we felt anything we could do like bringing our massive flag up here with our guard was tribute to these two firefighters. It was an honor for us to be here."
Memorial funds have been set up for each family. Contributions to either can be made through SunState Federal Credit Union in Gainesville or FLAG Credit Union in Tallahassee.
- Josh Burch Service, Friday 6/24/11, photo credit: firstcoastnews.com
- Josh Burch Service, Friday 6/24/11
- Brett Fulton Funeral, Saturday 6/25/11
- Brett Fulton's Helmet presented by partner Andy Ross
- Florida Fire Marshall presenting Flag
- 2012: Florida Prepares for another serious wildfire season
April 4, 2012 | Online article
A two-year long drought in Florida is raising concerns that the state will face another serious wildfire season. Last year, Florida experienced one of its worst fire seasons and its most tragic one with the deaths of two firefighters killed in a wildfire. Forest Rangers Brett Fulton and Josh Burch died when their tractors got stuck on stumps as they fought a wildfire.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says Florida has made some changes following their deaths, including mandatory refresher training for all firefighters.
"We have an aggressive training course on the front end, but as people have been on the front lines we want to make sure they stay sharp, that they stay vigilant, that they keep safety at the forefront, and we've completed that round of training for all of our firefighters and it was very successful."
Contributors to this article: GA Peach
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