Saturday, January 26, 2008

OSHA and U.S. Forest Service Reach Settlement About Esperanza Fire

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Forest Service have reached a settlement which modifies some of the "serious violations" that OSHA found after the Oct. 26, 2006 fire in which the five members of San Bernardino National Forest Engine 57 were killed during a burn over.

According to the Press-Enterprise:

"Under the settlement, two of the six violations were withdrawn and the four others were amended, said Jason Kirchner, public affairs specialist for the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service.

Kirchner said the main issue for fire officials was that OSHA initially viewed some firefighting guidelines as safety rules that had been broken.

"We felt it was an incorrect assessment," Kirchner said. "They were not intended to be unbreakable rules. They are tools to help evaluate the situation and make decisions."

Kirchner said the remaining four serious violations have been addressed in the Esperanza Accident Review Board Action Plan that was devised by the Forest Service.

The serious violations showed the fire agency did not "furnish places and conditions of employment that were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm ..."

It noted that instructions from the branch director were either "poorly communicated, or misunderstood" by firefighters. Firefighters were not equipped with maps to familiarize themselves with the area and terrain. The report also noted that the firefighters were ordered to provide structure protection and ended up directly in the path of the strong winds and fire, resulting in the fatal burnover of their fire engine."

The crew of Engine 57: Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; Jason McKay, 27, of Apple Valley; Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; and Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley.

(photo is from the official USFS/CalFire Factual Report)

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