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November 12, 1998

Investigation reveals worker-safety violations

TUMWATER - The Arlington Fire Department committed worker-safety violations during the deadly Arlington Manor boarding house fire last April, and as a result will be fined a total of $4,515 by the Department of Labor & Industries.

The investigation disclosed a total of 21 infractions - grouped as 10 serious violations - where firefighters were exposed to safety hazards, with the potential to cause serious or fatal injuries.

Arlington Fire Department officials provided full cooperation during the L&I investigation and have agreed to a joint abatement plan to correct the deficiencies. The fire department received significant deductions in potential penalty amounts because of excellent good faith efforts in firefighter protection.

Eight residents of the home died despite the rescue efforts of the Arlington Fire Department and other agencies responding to the April 27 fire. Two-dozen other people escaped.

L&I opened an inspection under authority of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) in the wake of the fire after receiving a complaint alleging worker-safety violations. L&I investigators said fire department personnel responding to the scene were confronted with a complex and chaotic situation. The two-story, wood-frame building was significantly involved with flames, occupants were being evacuated with some needing assistance, and there were reports that other residents remained trapped on the second floor.

L&I investigators commended fire personnel for taking quick and decisive action after immediately recognizing the danger to residents and the probability that the fire would spread.

However, the investigation also revealed that because there were violations of worker-protection regulations, Arlington firefighters were exposed to serious safety hazards. These exposures resulted because the fire department failed to effectively establish and implement complete accident prevention and risk management programs as required.

"We recognize that it's not a popular exercise to criticize and penalize public servants dedicated to the saving of lives and protection of property," acknowledged Dr. Michael Silverstein, assistant director for L&I's WISHA Services Division. "But we also recognize that failure to meet firefighter protection requirements can set the stage for a catastrophic loss of life or property to become even more tragic through the injury to or loss of a firefighter.

"These requirements are designed to provide firefighters with maximum protection while they go about their inherently dangerous jobs of saving lives and protecting property," he said. "And we are gratified to report that the Arlington Fire Department is receptive to and cooperating in efforts to ensure the safety of their firefighters."

Specifically, the fire department was cited for 10 serious violations, including:

  • Violations related to the timely and effective establishment of an incident command system for managing and monitoring firefighter activities. ($450 penalty)
  • Violations related to the communication capabilities between firefighters inside the burning structure and those outside. ($450)
  • Failure to assess the need for and establishment of a rapid intervention team for use in case rapid intervention or the rescue of personnel was necessary. ($450)
  • Failure to ensure that self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) was available and used by all personnel working in hazardous areas. ($255)
  • Failure to ensure that all firefighters received an initial fit test of the SCBA prior to be permitted to use it in a hazardous atmosphere. ($450)
  • Failure to ensure that on-going fit testing of SCBA apparatus was conducted and documented annually. ($450)
  • Violations related to the training and use of SCBA. ($450)
  • Failure to ensure that SCBA air cylinders were hydrostatically tested in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications. ($255)
  • Failure to conduct annual service tests of pumper apparatus. ($255)
  • Violations related to accident prevention program requirements, including risk management, respiratory protection, infection control and an assigned safety officer. ($1,050)

In addition, the department was cited for one general violation for failing to ensure that safety committee meetings were conducted quarterly. (No penalty)

The employer has 15 working days from receipt of the violation report to appeal.

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