Vashon’s fire department has been fined $900 and has increased its training after the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) issued a citation earlier this year.
The penalty stems from a house fire one year ago that L&I officials contend Vashon responders did not handle correctly, possibly putting firefighters in danger.
“I think it was a real wake-up call,” said Fire Chief Hank Lipe several weeks ago, noting that he was disappointed at the turn of events but happy for the extra training now provided to firefighters.
According to a report recently released by L&I, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) responders did not follow proper procedure when they responded to a fire at a small cabin on Hake Road on the southern end of Maury Island on June 25, 2014. One responder filed an anonymous complaint to L&I, resulting in an investigation.
On the day of the incident, a fire engulfed much of the cabin and was deemed a defensive operation, meaning firefighters were to spray water on it from afar. When the blaze was out and only hot spots remained, one responder, Myron Hauge, entered the structure by himself without notifying the incident commander (IC), Captain Chris Huffman. According to the report, Assistant Chief George Brown also climbed a ladder onto the roof of the cabin without notifying the IC.
L&I officials determined those actions were against department policy and could have put the men in danger. According the report, the IC is responsible for assigning tasks and overall safety at a scene.
“Allowing firefighters to climb or enter a structure without establishing control zones exposes them to various hazards such as collapse, being trapped, etc.,” the report reads.
VIFR did not do an internal review of the incident.
In interviews, responders were not all sure whether the fire was classified as defensive and expressed differing views about whether firefighters were in harm’s way.
Hauge told an investigator he believed there was no danger in entering the house to put out a hot spot and he was doing what was needed. Jason Everett, however, told an investigator he did not enter the structure because he felt it was unsafe, noting that small explosions were heard inside the house, something was dripping off the porch and the house rested only on screw jacks. Huffman could not be reached by the paper for comment.
In April, L&I issued a fine of $900 for two violations, an amount Brown said was on the low end. It also ordered VIFR to give responders additional training.
Brown, who is currently interim chief, said he believes the details of the incident are up to interpretation and he doesn’t agree with L&I’s assessment. However, he was glad VIFR decided to join the South King County Training Consortium, a program that meets the L&I demand and will have career firefighters and volunteer officers doing significantly more online and hands-on incident command training. VIFR was already considering joining the consortium, but the L&I finding “basically spurred it,” he said.