Wildland Firefighter Killed By Falling Tree Identified As Missoula Resident – Attended Hellgate High School
19 year-old Trenton Johnson of Missoula was identified at the victim of Wednesday's firefighting accident after the top of a burning tree snapped off and caused a fatal injury when it struck him.
President of Grayback Forestry of Merlin, Oregon, Mike Wheelock met with the media at the company's Missoula operation near the airport on Thursday afternoon, and described what happened when the 10 man crew was preparing to tackle a half-acre lightning caused fire in the Seeley Lake area.
"As the crew was getting lined out, a top broke out of a tree towards a group of four individuals, one was a crew boss," Wheelock began. "Trenton M. Johnson was struck by a tree and, from what I gather, it was a burning tree. He was taken to the nearest heli-spot and medivacked out to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula. This was Trenton's first year and his second tour. He spent his first tour in Utah. He was a sophomore at Montana State University in Bozeman. He attended Hellgate High School in Missoula where he ran cross country and played lacrosse."
Firefighters are required to wear safety gear while in the field.
"They have a hard hat," he said. "They have fire PP&E protective clothing, they have leather boots and gloves, they have a fire shelter in case they're overrun, and they carry a pack with water, food and personal items. Usually, every person in a 20 man crew is assigned a chain-saw, or one guy might have a Pulaski, one guy might have an ax and another have a shovel."
Wheelock said the crew was just preparing to get to work on the fire when they heard a loud crack and the burning snag struck Johnson before anyone could react.
"It was as quick as lightning," he said.
Wheelock said an investigative team from the U.S. Forest Service was already in Missoula to investigate the fatal accident, as well as representatives from the Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA). He said sometimes the investigations can take up to a year to complete.
Wheelock said the last work-related deaths in Grayback's history were a small airplane crash in northern California in 2008 where seven employees were killed.