Northeast Fire Program
Northeast Region
 

Equipment Saves Firefighter's Life


by Larry Helmerick

Suffolk, VA; Great Dismal Swamp (June 28, 2008) – A firefighter from Crawfordville, Florida owes his life to personal protective equipment (PPE). The South One fire, burning in Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge near Suffolk, Virginia since June 9, had been accident free until yesterday when a “hazard tree” came crashing down. Richard Taylor is thankful to be alive.

Taylor was working as an Engine Boss on a 300 gallon (Type 6) engine providing support to the team that is managing the 3,800+-acre fire. Shortly after noon Taylor and Wes Coleman, also from Crawfordville, were responding to a quarter acre fire that had jumped the line west of Lake Drummond and was burning outside of the containment area. Taylor and Coleman, along with seven other engines, rushed to the scene as requested by their Strike Team Leader.

Both men joined up with a chainsaw operator and spotters in the area to try and knock down the renegade flames. The entire group was working well as a team when Taylor heard the cry “snag!” The pair started to move and the next thing Taylor knew, he was in the dirt with pain and blood coming from a head wound.

Following a strict protocol, the other firefighters nearby alerted the Incident Command Post near Refuge Headquarters and requested medical assistance. The radio frequency was cleared and the process of getting Taylor out of the swamp began.

Crews rushed to the site and found Taylor conscious, but injured. Coleman was five feet away from Taylor when the tree came down and narrowly escaped serious injury. Two squads of firefighters gave immediate aid and a back board was brought in to carry Taylor out. The crews used a flat-bottom boat to get Taylor across a flooded ditch to a waiting ambulance.

When the radio call came in Medical Unit Leader Melinda Horn got on the phone to Suffolk, VA Fire Rescue and requested an ambulance. Taylor recalled that the ride on the back board he got from the firefighters was “smooth as silk on the way to the Incident Command Post (ICP) where a medical helicopter was waiting. Thanks to the efforts of the rescue forces, Taylor was quickly taken to Sentara Norfolk General Trauma Center.

Richard was immediately taken into ICU where they assessed his injuries. After medical treatment, some stitches and x-rays he was released later last night. A true firefighter, Richard attended this morning’s firefighter briefing. Although he was still dressed in hospital clothes and said he felt like he had been hit by a train, he wished that he could be out on the line fighting fire.

Coleman said “everyone said that Richard was hard-headed, but no one knew that he could take a tree falling on his head.”

Taylor ended up with lacerations over one eye, two broken bones to his shoulder, numerous bruises and scratches across the top of his back, and a one-way airline ticket back to Florida. Thanks to PPE, his wife Dawn and son Rick will be waiting for his safe return.

Taylor is a fulltime firefighter and equipment technician with Attack-One Fire Management Services out of Crawfordville.

Coleman, an Assistant Chief with the Riversink Volunteer Fire Department is employed by Tallahassee Community College. He is married to Rachelle and the couple has a daughter, Carlie.

When asked what he’d like to say to others about his experience, Taylor simply stated, “PPE works.”

Emergency medical personnel from Suffolk Fire and Rescue and Nightingale Helicopter attend to injured firefighter Richard Taylor.
Emergency medical personnel from Suffolk Fire and Rescue and Nightingale Helicopter attend to injured firefighter Richard Taylor
Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS
Firefighter Richard Taylor testifies to fellow firefighters on how his hard hat saved his life.
Firefighter Richard Taylor testifies to fellow firefighters on how his hard hat saved his life
Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS
Firefighters Wes Coleman and Richard Taylor. Taylor suffered a broken shoulder and collarbone and a cut to the eyebrow when a tree fell on him
Firefighters Wes Coleman and Richard Taylor. Taylor suffered a broken shoulder and collarbone and a cut to the eyebrow when a tree fell on him
Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS
The hard hat that saved firefighter Richard Taylor’s life
The hard hat that saved firefighter Richard Taylor’s life
Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS
Last updated: February 27, 2013