A 20-year-old wildland firefighter was declared to have died in the line of duty from pneumonia that caused him to collapse the day after he left the fire line.
Eric Aarseth of Eugene, Oregon, had been working on the Horns Mountain Fire in Washington until Aug. 27. The following day he was found unresponsive at his apartment in Oregon.
Aarseth was diagnosed as having pneumococcal pneumonia that led to sepsis, which in turn caused irreversible organ damage. He never regained consciousness and he died on Sept. 4 at a hospital in Springfield, Oregon, the U.S. Fire Administration said in the notice that designated it a line-of-duty death.
Because of the incubation time of that sort of pneumonia, it is thought likely that Aarseth contracted the infection while working on the Horns Mountain Fire.
Sepsis occurs when a heightened immune response to an infection causes inflammation throughout the body.
A post on the website Wildfire Today cited the health risks of work on wildland fires: lack of sleep, poor nutrition and poor hygiene, in addition to smoke exposure that research has found increases the risk of disease.
This was Aarseth’s first season as a member of a hand crew for the contractor Miller Timber Services. In addition to the Horns Mountain Fire, he had battled southern Oregon’s Garner Complex in July.
A student at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Ore., he had gotten his start on wilderness crews as a teenager in the Northwest Youth Corps, his LinkedIn profile says.
Young wildland firefighter’s fatal pneumonia called ‘line of duty’ death