Firefighter Revived After Backcountry Cardiac Arrest At Rocky Mountain National Park

Members of Horseshoe Meadow and Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crews carry Luther E. Larkin Sr. to the emergency medical helicopter while Paramedic Kraig Schlueter (center), of Grand County Emergency Medical Services attends to patient. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

The call for help from the backcountry at Rocky Mountain National Park early on Father's Day morning could have been a worst-case scenario: a firefighter on the Big Meadows Fire had collapsed due to a sudden cardiac arrest. The outcome is a testimony to excellent planning, training, communications and equipment.

Early on the morning of Sunday, June 16, Luther E. Larkin, Sr., 51, was walking with his crew from a field spike camp to the fireline when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Larkin is a senior crew member of the Horseshoe Meadow Type I Interagency Hotshots based out of Sequoia National Forest in California.

Members of the crew quickly began CPR and requested assistance. Paramedics assigned to the fire arrived within minutes and park dispatch requested an emergency medical helicopter, which was placed in "aerial standby" in the area.

An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) was used on-site to resuscitate Larkin, and fellow crewmembers then transported him to the nearest helispot just as the requested medevac helicopter arrived on scene. He was then transferred to the medical flight crew and taken to a cardiac care hospital in Denver, Colorado.

Early in response to the Big Meadows Fire, Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team A, in coordination with Rocky Mountain National Park officials, began extensive preparation for any emergency response. While the strenuous work on any wildland fire poses safety risks, the combination of high altitude, rugged terrain, lack of vehicle access to any part of the fire and hazards from numerous standing beetle-killed trees made work on this fire especially risky.

In this case, the emergency was a medical one rather than a physical injury, but the planning still paid off. Kyle Patterson, Information Officer at the park, notes that "the presence of an AED and the availability of advanced medical care on the fireline were critical to reviving the firefighter and obtaining a pulse" after this incident occurred." The prompt arrival of the emergency medical helicopter also helped facilitate a faster transport to a cardiac care facility.

New procedures established since the death of Andrew Palmer were instrumental in the successful outcome of the incident at Rocky Mountain. In 2008, eighteen-year-old firefighter Andrew “Andy” Palmer was struck by a falling tree while on the Iron Complex Fire in northern California. He died during a medevac flight while in route to a local hospital.

After his death, protocols were put in place to prevent similar loss of life in the already dangerous environment in which wildland firefighters work. These protocols were implemented during the Big Meadows Fire.