Fresno Fire emerging from ashes of Dern injury, recession

In the midst of a rebuilding, Fresno’s fire department is refocusing on firefighter safety after Captain Pete Dern’s devastating injury.


This SART report – and its ilk – is nothing unusual.


Modern society revolves around the idea of scientific management. Bureaucratic problems can be solved, or at least made less onerous, through the study of what went wrong.

The same is held to be true for disasters, and their prevention in the future.

Perhaps the most memorable recent SART-like report in the Valley grew out of the Minkler shootings of Feb. 25, 2010.

A man named Rick Liles lived in this tiny rural community east of Fresno. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department had good reason to believe Liles was the person responsible for a string of fires and potentially deadly gunfire in the area.

Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire officials decided to serve a search warrant on Liles’s mobile home, not far from the Minkler market.

It was no secret that Liles liked guns.

At the end of the day in question, Sheriff’s Detective Joel Wahlenmaier and Reedley Police Officer Javier Bejar were dead, both at the hands of Liles and his guns.

Sheriff Margaret Mims sought an independent review of the tragedy.

The Minkler incident, obviously, was much different than the Dern incident. Minkler took hours to play out. Hundreds of bullets were fired. Dozens of police officers from many agencies were involved.

But the Minkler report is instructive because it shows the depth of detail in such peer reviews and the frank way that industry experts look at critical decision-making.

For example, the report found that Wahlenmaier did not complete a Sheriff’s Office “Risk Assessment Matrix” before heading to Minkler to serve the warrant. When asked about the assessment by a colleague, Wahlenmaier was quoted as saying, “Yes, we will handle this.” But he never did, and departed for Minkler with a flawed sense of the danger posed by Liles.

The Minkler report also speculated on what may have motivated Wahlenmaier’s apparent disdain for stronger help from his Sheriff’s colleagues.

“Approximately one year earlier, a detective remembered that Wahlenmaier had used FCSO SWAT personnel for a warrant service,” the report said. “Since that operation experienced no resistance, discovered no firearms and found only a small amount of marijuana, Wahlenmaier was ‘teased’ by fellow detectives. This detective speculated that the intended humorous behavior may have improperly influenced Wahlenmaier to not involve SWAT.”

Finally, the Minkler report pulled no punches when it came to recommendations. No. 1 on the list concerned Wahlenmaier’s attitude toward the risk assessment matrix and SWAT.

“Although we will never know or fully understand why Detective Wahlenmaier did not use these suggestions or recognize other pre-incident indicators, it is logically inferred that these actions reflect complacency,” the report said. “It is imperative that all members of any policing agency maintain and practice officer safety by continually checking and counter-checking each other’s actions. This ensures that common and repetitive police behavior does not create complacency.”

1 comment
  1. I’ve followed the Pete Dern event from day one as I’ve a relative who is also a Fresno Fire Fighter and this came close to home, even though I live over 200 miles away. I have to commend Chief Kerri Donis for her willingness to accept criticism and see it as opportunity. As a tax payer and former government employee I can appreciate BOTH sides of the “coin” and also the emotional issues. However, I agree with the Chief’s vision – training is THE KEY in all things. If you tuck your knuckles under while holding the onion and learn to slice it in that manner over and over eventually you will have a sliced onion in seconds and not minutes (I’ve never learned to do so, but then agin I never attended Culinary School nor have I practiced repeatedly – so now when I slice onions I cry) AND here is the “KEY”- application, physically doing the training, is essential, time consuming, and costly. If NOT done properly we all end up crying. I hope ALL Fire Chief’s across our Nation ask for Fresno’s SART Report. I’ll be asking my local Fire Chief’s to request it – I used to believe the Police/Sheriff/Marshal departments kept me safe, however EVERY incident where I’ve needed help immediately, it’s been the Fire Department that arrived FIRST. I want all my fire department personnel’s safety FIRST – Maybe I’m just selfish!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts