Report on Colorado firefighter’s death released
September 7, 2009
CRAIG, Colo. – A firefighter who was struck and killed by a tree that he was cutting down was fatally injured when the tree unexpectedly broke in the middle, hitting him in the head and back, according to a report released by the Bureau of Land Management.
Brett Stearns, 29, of Craig was working with two trainees at Freeman Reservoir to take down hazardous trees near a public campground June 26, when the accident happened, according to the report released Friday.
Stearns’ crew had safely cut down four or five trees when they started cutting down a 68-foot aspen. The crown of the tree became entangled with a live aspen, and as Stearns tried to free the dead tree, it broke in two, the report said. Pressure from the live aspen catapulted the upper portion toward Stearns.
The trainees, who were acting as spotters at the time, shouted a warning to Stearns, who was struck as he headed toward his escape route, the report said.
The report said Stearns generally followed BLM policy and guidelines but didn’t re-evaluate the time he needed to reach his designated escape route from where he was cutting the dead tree a second time to try to free it from the live aspen.