Novato Fire Protection District
Burn Injuries, Overrun by Wildfire
Engineer Steven Rucker died October 29, 2003 while defending a home in theCedar Fire incident in San Diego County.
Steven L. Rucker, age 38, was an 11 year veteran of Novato Fire District. He began his career as a Firefighter/Paramedic in 1992. Steve had previously worked as a paramedic with American Medical Response in Concord, California.
Steve promoted to Engineer in 2003 and served as an Acting Captain. He was in charge of the District Easter party, and was the Chief Elf in the District Toys for Tots program. Steve also participated in the “People Helping People” program, assisting senior citizens reduce fire hazards around their home. Steve is survived by his wife Cathy and two children.
Engineer Rucker and the members of his engine company were assigned through a statewide mutual aid system to the Cedar Fire near San Diego. They were assigned to defend a home in a hilly area that was threatened by wind-driven fire spread. Upon their arrival at the home, the crew cleared some brush and decided that the location was defendable. The crew burned areas of brush near the house and made other preparations for the approach of the fire, including laddering the house and stretching hoselines.
About 20 minutes after arriving at the house, the engine crew observed an increase in the fire activity below them. The fire made a one-half mile run directly at Engineer Rucker and his crew in less than 2 minutes. As the fire progressed toward the crew, the firefighters retreated to a defensive position behind the engine and operated 2 handlines for protection. Fire conditions worsened and the Captain of the crew observed flame lengths of 40-50 feet.
Due to the intense heat, the Captain ordered his crew to abandon their position and seek shelter in the house. The firefighters, facing severe thermal exposure, ran for the shelter of the rear of the house. Two firefighters arrive safely to the interior of the house. They then heard a radio call indicating that a firefighter was down. The firefighters left the house and began to retrace their steps back toward the engine. They encountered the Captain, who told them that Engineer Rucker is down and needed their help. Due to intense heat, the firefighters and the Captain were unable to go to the aid of Engineer Rucker. Despite efforts by all 3 members of the crew, Engineer Rucker could not be rescued. By the time firefighters were able to reach him, Engineer Rucker had died of burn injuries.
The Captain received severe burn injuries and was hospitalized for an extended period of time. More information regarding this incident may be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200336.html