Five years after an Australian wildland fire shifted directions and overran a firefighting rig, a coroner’s inquest points to several flaws that led to one firefighter’s death.
Wendy Bearfoot and three other firefighters were in a rig working a brush fire in October 2012 when the wind suddenly shifted. The rigs engine stalled and was consumed by fire.
Three firefighters were severely burned. Bearfoot died of her injuries in the hospital three weeks later.
A coroner’s inquest report released this week points to critical failures in communicating the changing conditions. The inquest also found that the fire service trucks were ill-equipped to deal with the burn over. They did not have radiant heat shields, in-cab breathing apparatus and the windshield fell due to extreme heat, Perth Now reported.
The four firefighters sheltered in the vehicle until the flames passed, then left to take cover under fire blankets. Bearfoot was hit with a blast of intense heat and flames when she exited the truck. She was left separated from the others, badly burned, disoriented and later found walking around the fireground.
Bearfoot suffered burns to 80 percent of her body.
City of Albany lawyer Mark Trowell had said during the inquest that the trucks used in the area at the time, and in which Bearfoot was trapped when it failed, were “death traps,” 9 News reported.
Coroner Sarah Linton said, “training for a burnover situation was also important and not done as comprehensively as it could have been. “Wendy Bearfoot died … after bravely putting her own life in jeopardy to try to contain a fire that was threatening bushland and wildlife.”