Incident Name: The Sanborn Fire on the Santa Clara Unit in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Saratoga Springs Resort, Saratoga, CA
Date: June 5, 1979, 1755 hrs
Personnel: Sam Morrison
Agency/Organization: CDF (now CAL FIRE)
Summary: On June 5, 1979, firefighter Sam Morrison and his crew were fighting a small fire in a steep creek drainage. Firefighters, including Sam, were focused on the suppression effort, working with McLeods and backpumps on fireline and a spotfire. Crewmembers did not realize that their capable fellow crewmember was in trouble. In retrospect it appears that Sam Morrison wandered away from his crew as he became delerious, disoriented and lost. He was found the next morning. It was determined he died of pneumonia precipitated by heat stroke.
Sam's Santa Clara Unit duty station (If anyone knows this location, please let us know.)
- California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (now CAL FIRE): Summary Report
- Firefighter training
- Acclimatization to working conditions is a must. Require daily physical conditioning wearing protective clothing from the first day of employment (For new considerations regarding acclimatizating to heat, see the Webinar linked below.)
- Reinforce identifying symptoms of heat exaustion, stress and stroke (Handbook 1190, 3(B))
- When it is safe, loosen protective clothing to allow more air flow
- Encourage drinking of water and emphasize need to carry canteens when leaving vehicle
- Maintain communication with your crew using radio, visual contact, and voice
- Order rest breaks
- Observe crews for heat stress
- Firefighter training
- Through the years as a result of this heat stroke incident and others -- most recently in 2011 in Texas -- wildland firefighting agencies have renewed their efforts to understand the effects of heat, humidity, exertion, hydration and electrolytes on the human body. The science has progressed. Firefighting continues to be a Lessons Learned culture. As we know more, firefighters can become more aware to better care for themselves and their co-workers; and managers can better remain aware of the best ways to recognize and mitigate the influence of heat on firefighters. Most recently, renewed effort to educate all firefighters about hyperthermia includes the following resources:
- Safety Alert: Hyperthermia (117 K pdf)
- Forest Service, Missoula Technology & Development Center: Heat Illness Basics For Wildland Firefighters (2,648 K pdf)
- NIOSH Report, 2011: Wildland Fire Fighter Dies from Hyperthermia and Exertional Heatstroke While Conducting Mop-Up Operations - Texas
- CDC - Heat Stress - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic (pdf - downloadable info and list of watchouts)
- Webinar video at Wildlandfire Lessons Learned Center Webinar Archives: Wildland Firefighter Heat Illness Awareness and Prevention - Expert Panel, May 17, 2012, 1 PM PDT (viewing requires no-cost registration with gotomeeting.com)
- 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 Knappsmith 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.
- Sam Morrison is listed on the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Sacramento, CA.
- It is unclear if his name is engraved on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Maryland. That online database (USFA Memorial Database lookup) only goes back to 1981. If anyone has a photo of the names on the physical National Memorial for 1979, please let us know if Sam's name is on it. If it's not, that might be something to pursue, especially if family members can be found who would like to participate.
Contributors to this article: Dale McGill, Prev43, Kevin Conant, M Barbour, AZ Trailblazer
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