VFD & Government Agency Found Liable for FF Deaths (1 of 2), Read 40 times
EMERGENCY RESPONSE - LESSONS LEARNED
Dennis Gifford - ICQ 31637891 email@example.com
Saturday, July 03, 1999 02:28 PM
EXCELLENT learning tool here at too great an expense
to two of our fellow firefighters.
Read on good people, this exposure looms around us all everyday and at every call. The ONLY difference now is you've been warned. So how YOU handle it from NOW ON?
Subj: VFD & Government Agency Found Liable
Date: 7/3/99 12:29:42 PM CDT
Subj: VFD & Government Agency Found Liable for Firefighter Deaths
Date: 7/2/99 2:20:32 PM US EST
From: FW06237@MSXWHWTC.shell.com (Windisch, Fred FC SCC)(Ponderosa VFD in Houston,TX.)
A REASON FOR GOOD MUTUAL AID AGREEMENTS
A REASON FOR GOOD COMMAND
A REASON FOR QUALITY PEOPLE
A REASON FOR GREAT LEADERSHIP
A REASON FOR GREAT TRAINING AND QUALFICATIONS OF OUR MEMBERS
(but it will "never" happen to any of us..........)
From the Texas Fire Chiefs Friday Report
VFD and Government Agency Found Liable for Firefighter Deaths
By Bobby R. Young
Few Volunteer Fire Departments (VFDs) can handle large brush and grass fires without the help of neighboring departments who respond routinely under Mutual Aid Agreements. A recent federal court ruling in Idaho could seriously affect helping each other and place both receiving and sending departments under scrutiny.
On July 28, 1995, two members of Kuna VFD were killed while fighting a grass fire on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Idaho. The fire was started by lightning and burned in dense, high, dead grass. The temperature was in the high 90s and the wind was blowing 40 mph. Kuna VFD responded with a tanker and a brush truck. The tanker was operated by experienced personnel, while the brush truck was occupied by two firefighters experiencing their first fire season.
Upon arrival at the fire, no effort was made to split up the VFD crews and both units were deployed on the fire. The Kuna VFD chief could not communicate with the brush truck due to the crews inexperience with the radio. This unit did not hear the BLM warning of increasing winds. The brush truck driver became disoriented in the dust and smoke and the truck was overrun by fire, killing both of the inexperienced firefighters.
A suit was filed in Federal Court in Idaho and the ruling, handed down in January 1999, found that BLM was 35% responsible and that the Kuna VFD was 65% responsible for the deaths. These are the reasons BLM was found responsible:
1. BLM should have assigned duties commensurate with ability.
2. By assuming command and directing the volunteers without knowledge of their
qualifications, BLM did not comply with their own standard to assure the safety of firefighters.
3. BLM made no effort to ascertain volunteer qualifications.
4. When BLM makes assumptions of qualifications, BLM increases their responsibility in assuring safety.
5. The Court ruled that the mere dispatch of personnel by a VFD does not entitle BLM to assume qualifications to do anything.
6. BLM had the duty to instruct the VFD about safety, nature of fire, fuels, weather, etc. which it did not do.
7. BLM had the duty to make sure that all firefighters heard the weather warning and that volunteers understood the significance of the warning. This was not done.
Kuna VFD was found to be liable because of failure to: assure the safety of their firefighters; provide adequate equipment; make safe assignments; obtain a weather report; provide safety training; and advise BLM of firefighters' qualifications.
This case will have a far-reaching effect on how mutual aid is handled. At the very least, if command is assumed at a scene, you must make a reasonable effort to determine the qualifications of responders. You must make sure that cooperators are aware of fuels, weather, predicted fire behavior, radio frequencies, etc. before placing them out on the fire line. It is also the responsibility of the responding unit's ranking officer to inform the receiving unit of each person's qualifications, and to assure the safety of their personnel. While this case involved a wildland fire, the same scenario could have occurred on a structure fire.
Please contact Bobby R. Young, Associate Director, Texas Forest Service, PO Box 310, Lufkin TX 75902 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dennis M. Gifford - ICQ 31637891
District Chief - Lumberton Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Lumberton, TX.
President - Hardin County Fire Fighter's Association
2nd VP - East Texas Firemen's & Fire Marshal's Association