AZ Firefighter Sues To Obtain Air To Ground Radio Recordings from Yarnell Hill Fire

A former Arizona firefighter is suing the United States Department of Agriculture to obtain recordings and transcripts of air-to-ground radio transmissions that took place during the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. The fire killed 19 firefighters from the Prescott Fire Department, the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Fred Schoeffler, who served as the superintendent of the Payson Interagency Hot Shot Crew, filed suit earlier this month in US District Court in Arizona alleging that the US Forest Service failed to produce the requested information in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. The suit names the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the parent agency for the US Forest Service.

Schoeffler has filed a number of requests related to the fire. In his complaint he accuses the Forest Service of providing him with “wholly unresponsive” information. At issue remains the question of why the Hotshots left an area of relative safety to enter into a location that exposed them to grave danger. ABC15 in Phoenix is claiming that Schoeffler believes the radio transmissions may help explain why the Hotshots did what they did.

The FOIA requested the following information:

a) all voice recordings and written transcripts related to the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (“AFUE”);

b)all voice recordings and written transcripts related to the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Fire Panebaker and/or Moore and/or USFS Aerial Firefighting Study, also known as the Aerial Firefighting Study, AIR-TO-GROUND (A2G and/or A/G) radio transmissions;

c) between, to, and/or from any and all Yarnell Hill Fire air resources and any and all Yarnell Hill Fire Incident Management Team and any and all Yarnell Hill Fire operational and ground personnel;

d) between, to, and/or from any and all Yarnell Hill Fire air resources and any and all Yarnell Hill Fire Incident Management Team and any and all Yarnell Hill Fire operational and ground personnel; and any and all AFUE members, chairs, project leaders, project coordinators, and module leaders as follows:

  1. Bob Roth, AFUE Committee Chair, FS Fire and Aviation, 406-829-6712;
  2. Ryan Becker, Project Leader, San Dimas T&D Center, 909-599-1267 #260;
  3. Zach Holder, Program Coordinator, Missoula T&D Center, 406-214-6178;
  4. Chris Bolz, R5 Module Leader, San Dimas T&D Center, 909-635-7519;
  5. Erik Rodin, R1 Module Leader, Missoula T&D Center, 909-635-7519;
  6. Shannon Moore, R4 Module Leader, NIFC, 909-635-9624; and
  7. Dan Matthews, R3 Module Leader, Prescott, AZ, 909-635-9691.

The timeframe for the request is June 30, 2013, between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. for the AFUE records and from July 15, to July 28, 2016, for any and all e-mail records regarding Schoeffler FOIA/PA Request submissions.

The complaint seeks a declaration that the USDA and USFS conduct in not providing the requested information is illegal, that they be ordered to produce the requested information, and that Schoeffler be awarded costs and attorneys fees.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Schoeffler v USDA

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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