Incident Name:  Grass Fire
Date: 8/1/02, 1645 hrs; died 8/6/02
Personnel: David Martin
Age: 48
Agency/Organization: Opal Volunteer Fire Department
Position: firefighter

Summary: Firefighter Martin and the members of his department responded to a wildland fire. He was riding in the back of a pickup operating a hoseline along the boundary of the fire. The pickup was equipped with a slide-in tank/pump unit. Firefighter Martin was thrown from the pickup and landed in the flames at the head of the approaching fire. The driver of the pickup was not aware that Firefighter Martin had been thrown off. When the driver realized that Firefighter Martin was gone, he attempted to locate him. The driver’s view of the scene was obstructed by smoke and flames. When Firefighter Martin fell, he lost his eyeglasses. After the fall, Firefighter Martin began to walk or run for about 200 feet in an attempt to escape the flames. He attempted to seek refuge from the fire in a brush covered dry creek bed but was blocked by a fence. He then walked or ran an additional 374 feet in an unburned area along a fence. He was discovered by other firefighters and moved to a safe haven. He was transported by helicopter to a regional hospital and then transferred to a burn treatment facility. Firefighter Martin died as the result of complications from his burns on August 6, 2002. He was burned over 80 percent of his body. The fire was intentionally set and his death was classified as a homicide.


Opal Volunteer Fire Department, Opal , South Dakota  57765

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • NIOSH Report: NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should ensure that fire fighters follow established procedures for combating ground cover fires
  • develop and implement an Incident Command System
  • develop, implement, and enforce standard operating procedures
  • provide fire fighters with wildland-appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., Nomex® pants or coveralls) that is NFPA 1977 compliant and appropriate wildland fire fighter training
  • use National Weather Service (NWS) Fire Weather (WX) Forecasters for all fire weather predictions and immediately share all information about significant fire weather and fire behavior events (e.g., long-range spotting, torching, spotting, gusts, and fire whirls), with all personnel
  • follow the 10 standard fire orders developed by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group
  • ensure that the Incident Commander conveys strategic decisions to all suppression crews on the fireground and continuously evaluates fire conditions

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Media Articles and Reports

  • South Dakota Firefighter Dies from Burns8/7/2002 | Online Article

    BOISE, Idaho – A volunteer firefighter from Opal, South Dakota died Tuesday from burns he sustained last week while fighting a grasslands fire in Meade County, South Dakota. David Martin was burned when he fell off a brush truck into the path of the blaze. His death brings this season’s toll to 15. (more at the link…)

  • Opal, South Dakota Firefighter Dies From Severe Burns8/7/2002 | Tim Palluch & Bill Cissell, writing for The Rapid City Journal, South Dakota (from, no longer online)

    ST. PAUL, Minn. – A volunteer firefighter who was burned severely last week while battling a wildfire in Meade County died Tuesday.

    David Martin, a firefighter with the Opal volunteer fire department, died at 2:30 p.m. MDT in the burn unit at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

    Martin and other local volunteers were fighting a grasslands fire in east-central Meade County on Thursday when Martin fell off a brush truck, directly into the path of oncoming flames.

    He was flown to Rapid City Regional Hospital and later transferred to the burn center at Regions Hospital, where he remained in critical condition with burns over 80 percent of his body until his death Tuesday.

    An arrest was made at 1 p.m. Tuesday in connection with the fire, one of several suspicious fires to break out in a three- or four-mile stretch of Red Owl Road between Red Owl and Marcus.

    Ray Wicks, 71, of Red Owl, was charged with third-degree arson and aggravated assault.

    Wicks was released on $5,000 bond Tuesday. His initial court appearance is set for Aug. 19.

    Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said the charges may change because Martin died.

    The Meade County sheriff, state Division of Forestry, state fire marshal, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, state Division of Criminal Investigation and investigators from the Rapid City Fire Department investigated Thursday’s fire.

    Carlson said the last firefighter to die on duty in South Dakota was Robert Buehler, a 62-year-old firefighter with the Delmont Fire Department who was burned by a wildfire in March 2000.

    Carlson said Martin was only the fourth South Dakota firefighter to die on duty in the past 25 years.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

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