On June 22, 2015 Chugach National Forest, Glacier District Ranger Tim Charnon had an encounter with a sub-adult brown bear. He is doing well because of bear awareness training and emergency response protocols.
The Chugach NF provides extensive training for employees on how to react to bears. Response depends on the situation such as whether the bear is predatory or whether it has been startled, thus provoking a territorial reaction.
Charnon startled the bear while scouting the fire in a remote area near Juneau Lake. When he first observed the bear, it was charging and there was not enough time to deploy his bear spray. The bear swiped at Charnon knocking off his helmet. Falling back on his training, Charnon grabbed his helmet, covered his head and dropped to the ground. The bear swiped and bit him and ran off. Charnon remained in place and radioed for help.
The call triggered implementation of the Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team 4 (ORIIMT4) “incident within an incident” protocol which provides rapid, coordinated pre-planned response to emergency situations. It includes a nine-step medical emergency plan. ORIIMT4 is the team managing the Stetson Creek and Juneau Lake fires.
Response came from several sources: the ORIIMT4, Forest Service law enforcement and the fire crew at Juneau Lake. The Type 3 helicopter assigned to the fire was launched to transport a paramedic and forest service law enforcement officer to Juneau Lake. The local Cooper Landing Ambulance and a Life Med helicopter responded and the National Guard hoist helicopter was activated, but later cancelled.
Charnon’s call alerted crew members from Montana’s Lolo Type 2 IA Crew. They worked through steep, rugged terrain to reach Charnon and help him walk about a mile to a rendezvous site. Assessment of the victim at that site led to the decision to use the most direct transport via Life Med.
Bear encounter mitigation includes training on how to respond to bear encounters, carrying bear spray, keeping food away from camp areas and providing bear protection agents (shooters) when needed.
Firefighting is an inherently dangerous activity. Agencies continually work to mitigate dangers through training firefighters for encounters with hazards, and providing emergency response leadership and support.