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Inmate firefighter in California dies after tree falls on him

An inmate firefighter, age 26, lost his life recently when he was struck by a 3,000-pound falling tree in California. At the time of the incident, his supervisor's radio could not get in touch with emergency officials. The victim was clearing brush when a Douglas fir started falling. The Cal Fire captain shouted at the workers to get away. The victim failed to hear the captain, since the chainsaws they were using were so loud. The falling tree hit him on the head, causing him to subsequently fall in a ditch.

The captain ordered a nearby worker to cut away part of the tree so the victim could be put on a board and moved away. However, the supervisor had trouble reaching the Emergency Command Center on his hand-held radio, due to the remote area where the incident occurred, along with the topography of the area. That instrument resembles a big walkie-talkie but it has a wider range. The captain also had problems contacting emergency officials on the mobile radio in a Cal Fire emergency vehicle. He had to travel one-quarter of a mile away from the scene of the incident, in order to finally reach help.

Once he returned to the accident site, the victim did not have a pulse. By the time paramedics reached the scene of the accident, the victim had passed away. A second inmate firefighter was also struck by the tree, but he was unharmed.

A preliminary report determined that fire officials noted the particular tree at issue was a danger before the accident occurred. However, they thought the tree was not within the scope of the area where they were working.

California workplace regulators are investigating the incident. According to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the focus of the investigation will be on the prison agency.

Working on fire lines is an understandably dangerous occupation. However, that doesn't make incidents such as this one any less tragic. Those who have questions about situations like this, and whether they can seek death benefits through the state's workers' compensation system after a workplace accident may want to speak with an attorney.

Source: KQED News, "Emergency Response to Inmate Firefighter Killed in Northern California Hampered by Weak Radio Signal," Ted Goldberg, June 6, 2017

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