Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

It was a very good day. Sunburst over Sandstone Falls, New River Gorge National River. Photo by Gary Hartley.

Planning + Response = Life Saved During Firefighter Fitness Test

New River Gorge National River, West Virginia
National Fire Plan, Firefighting*

People have died taking the fitness test for wildland firefighting. Bruce Miller, fire-management officer for New River Gorge National River, thought about the statistics and realized, "This is a planned event; maybe we can change that."

The National Park Service's New River Gorge NR, like other federal units, administers an annual work-capacity test to firefighters who participate in wildland fire activities that require a high fitness level. To pass the WCT, firefighters must walk three miles in 45-minutes or less wearing a 45-pound pack. To give the WCT, federal units must prepare a medical-response plan. In 2004, Miller further improved his plan: New River Gorge NR staff would give the test on a track where they could observe participants the entire time. Miller also required that a staffed ambulance with good cardiac protocol and an automated external defibrillator be on-scene.

It was a change. It was more than the minimum requirement. Sometimes the ambulance was late, and people had to wait. Some people complained, but Miller stuck by his plan.

And it's good that he did. On March 12, 2010, a 46-year-old NPS employee collapsed while taking the WCT. Others there responded promptly and effectively. After determining the man had no pulse, park ranger and CPR instructor Mark Bollinger began chest compressions, and park ranger and first responder Frank Sellers gave ventilations through a pocket mask. The on-scene ambulance quickly moved to them and ambulance workers hooked up an AED. It advised a shock and they administered it. They then provided ventilations through a bag-valve mask. Park ranger and EMT Randy Fisher began to see the employee breathe independently and gave him high-flow oxygen via a non-rebreather mask. The ambulance then took the man to a local hospital, which later transferred him to a regional hospital. According to the final report, early CPR and use of the AED were crucial to his successful outcome.

Best of all, the hospital discharged the employee on March 23, and doctors have given him a good prognosis. On medical advice he walks every day, but without the 45-pound pack.

Contact: Frank Sellers, District Ranger, New River Gorge National River
Contact: Barb Stewart, Fire Communication Specialist,
NPS Northeast & National Capital Regions
Phone: (434) 220-9065

*This story supports Department of the Interior initiatives.