The recapture of the two fugitives on a National Forest last month made headlines across the nation. An alert Forest Service employee became integral to the recapture and the successful end to this situation. In a matter of just a few moments, this employee made several key decisions and took specific actions that prevented a potentially violent outcome.
The employee’s attitude, his adherence to several safety standards and practice, and his situational awareness literally saved his life during this encounter. The male fugitive stated to law enforcement that he wished he had shot the forest service employee when he had the chance. This employee followed his instincts based on safety and procedural training and guidelines for dealing with uncomfortable situations, agitated visitors or potential law enforcement issues.
Forest Service employees work in dangerous locations and in dangerous situations more often than most think: wildfire situations; wildlife encounters; wilderness and remote locations; operating dangerous equipment; small plane, boat and off-road vehicle travel; and extensive public interaction at thousands of campgrounds and recreational facilities every day and night.
We review safety procedures through the use of job hazard analyses or JHAs, for each project we conduct. We have seasonal and annual training for boating, driving, airplane, wildlife, survival, equipment operation and wildfire safety to name the more prominent. We train so that the behaviors and actions we need to take in any situation become more a part of our habits and routine than something we have to try to remember suddenly.
And so last month, when this employee followed procedures to investigate the unattended campfire, to make brief observations, and to limit his engagement in what he rightfully perceived as an unsafe situation, he was responding as he has been trained. His actions were swift, precise, and decisive. His steps were calculated and with purpose. And in the end, it saved his life certainly, and prevented a potentially violent situation for the responding law enforcement personnel who made the capture and arrest.
Safety: we practice, train, and walk it out every day. This incident highlights the reasons why we do.