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Training saves firefighter bit by bear

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

CHUGACH NATIONAL FOREST, ALASKA-Glacier District Ranger Tim Charnon had his hands full with wildfires on June 22, he didn’t know he would also rely on his training to survive an unexpected bear encounter.

Officials said that Charnon was scouting a fire near Juneau Lake in a remote area when he startled a sub-adult brown bear. When Charnon saw the bear it was already charging and officials said he didn’t have enough time to deploy his bear spray. The bear swiped at Charnon and knocked his helmet off. Charnon grabbed his helmet, covered his head and dropped to the ground. The swiped, bit him and ran off. Charnon stayed in placed and radioed for help.

Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team 4 (ORIIMT4) was activated with the emergency call. The call implemented ORIIMT4’s “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 Stetson Creek and Juneau Lake fires.

Along with ORIIMT4, Forest Service law enforcement and the fire crew at Juneau Lake responded. The Type 3 helicopter assigned to the fire was launched to transport a paramedic and Forest Service law enforcement office 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.

Montana’s Lolo Type 2 IA Crew had been alerted by the call and 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.

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.

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.

Officials said that agencies continually work to mitigate dangers through training firefighters for encounters with hazards, and providing emergency response leadership and support.

Officials said that Charnon is doing well because of bear awareness training and emergency response protocols.

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