Norovirus sickened food crew at Bob Marshall Wilderness wildfire

In Aug, 2012, fire raged through the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana.

But the real catastrophe to be averted was when three food handlers suddenly came down with norovirus.

Having the kitchen staff call in sick not only meant a kink in the lunch line, it could have signaled infections throughout the closed world of a fire camp RapidCreekFireinvolving 114 firefighters.

According to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s “Lessons Learned” report, the first three people got sick on Aug. 4. The incident commander called the Lewis and Clark County Health Department for help, and they sent inspectors on Aug. 5. They shut down the entire kitchen the next day and started the first of three top-to-bottom cleanings of the food prep area.

By then, four more people were sick. Fortunately, the health inspectors determined the virus was spreading person-to-person, and didn’t seem to be hiding in the food supply. The only good thing about Norovirus is most people recover in 24 hours or so, and the initial victims were already coming back to work.

On the plus-side, the Elbow Pass staff got their sick people out of circulation quickly and started disinfection clean-ups as soon as they realized what the problem might be. They also set up a backup food supply.

In the warnings section, they pointed out the need for setting up toilets and washing areas earlier rather than later when a fire camp gets established. They also recommended getting rid of self-serve salad and fruit bars.