OSHA issues citation for firefighter fatality on Steep Corner Fire

(Originally posted at 2:00 p.m. MT, Feb. 12, 2013; updated at 5:44 p.m. MT.)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a citation related to the fatality of Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old U.S. Forest Service firefighter from Moscow, Idaho who was killed August 12, 2012 while working on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino, Idaho. The citation was issued to the organization managing the fire, the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association (CPTPA). The citation comes with a “Notification of Penalty”, fines totaling $14,000.

OSHA also issued a Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions to the U.S. Forest Service, but without a monetary penalty.

Ms. Veseth was killed by a falling tree, when one tree fell and crashed into another tree, causing it to fall in a domino effect. The day before she was killed, the Flathead Hotshots arrived at the fire, and after scouting it and assessing the situation, they concluded it was not safe to work under the conditions that were present. Then they left the fire after talking with the incident commander. Three days later they filed a SAFENET report, documenting the unsafe conditions at the fire.

The Citation for the CPTPA and the Notice for the USFS were both dated February 7, 2013.

The CPTPA citation was for the following:

  • Serious violation: For not providing a safe working environment; 8 of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders were violated, and they did not mitigate 11 of the 18 Watch Out Situations. Proposed penalty: $4,900.
  • Serious violation: employees engaged in wildland firefighting were exposed to being struck by hazard trees while constructing fire line.  Proposed penalty: $4,900.
  • Serious violation: Firefighters constructing direct fire line did not have fire shelters readily available. Firefighters constructing fire line were wearing denim and work pants not rated as fire resistant. Proposed penalty: $4,200.

The U.S. Forest Service Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions was for the following:

  • Serious Violation: 7 of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders were violated,  and they did not mitigate 9 of the 18 Watch Out Situations.
  • Repeat Violation: employees engaged in wildland firefighting were exposed to being struck by hazard trees while constructing fire line.

If the violations are not contested they must be abated by various dates in March, 2013, and the fine must be paid within 15 working days.

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About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of WildfireToday.com and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+

18 thoughts on “OSHA issues citation for firefighter fatality on Steep Corner Fire

  1. Although you see the 10 Standing Fire Orders and the 18 Watchout Situations in the citations, they are actually being cited under the General Duty Clause which is a catchall when no specific OSHA standard has been violated.

  2. I was “fortunate” to have worked on the steep corner fire this summer with my engine and crew. This fire live up to it’s name, STEEP. It also contained the most hazard trees I have ever seen for a fire of it’s size. There were many unfortunate events that led up to the fatality and we were lucky there were not more on this fire with the amount of trees coming down. My hope for the situation is that the federal agencies will work with the CPTPA to better train and equip them. They need help and encouragement rather than attacks. This area of Idaho is “BACK WOODS”. There is a different mentality and thought process. But there is also a greater passion for the forest than I have seen in many places.

    • How can you say that you were “fortunate”? Those that were there would surely not use the term “fortunate”.

    • CPTPA has long been a watchout situation of their own. Having been on fires with them and having taken training with their overhead, they do have a general disregard for rules and what seems like a pride for the disregard of rules. I’ve seen enough times of C-T folks dismissing what federal folks say in favor of their own cowboy way of doing things to believe that there is little hope for improvement.

    • Back in the early 70s I fought fires in the Canyon Ranger District. Once a crew from the Corps of Engineers came through and spent some time at the camp. We use to kid them about making the STEEP hills flat. We told them we were tired of always having to hike uphill.

    • “BACK WOODS” Sounds like not much has changed since when I worked at Canyon Ranger Station in the early 70′s. Somehow the song “I’m my own grandpa” seemed to fit.

  3. $14,000? That’s it? They ignored every rule for safely engaging a fire. They mocked and ignored the rules of engagement when confronted by the Flathead IHC and this is all they get? I hope the family sues and gets a dollar amount that is large enough to create a change.

  4. As we have seen in the past, OSHA Compliance Officers are lacking in their knowledge of wildland fire safety and accidents.

  5. Hopefully John McClean will take an interest in this incident and can provide the american people with an account that considers human factors, the true environment that wildland firefighters work in, and humanize the firefighters who suffered pain and loss in this incident. OSHA’s report is off base, unrealistic, and erronious in thier so called “findings”. The OSHA report will not be of any service to anyone in providing an avenue for meaningful improvement in wildland firefighter safety.

      • Yes, John N McClean. Just as in Esperanza, the OSHA report would lead folks to believe that the management surrounding the Steep Corner Fire were the same the day of the accident as they were the day before, that the flathead account describes. This is simply not true. The OSHA report reflects conditions of the day prior to the accident. Not the following days. The issues that flathead hotshots presented, were not ignored by the Forest Service, but were taken seriously and addressed. Unfortunately this accident happened after the less than desirable initial approach, but the next day the fire was approached in a different manner. Of course humans are more interested in stories that are “shocking” and “negatively portray individuals”. Just watch the evening news any night of the week. Kudos for the flathead hotshots for standing up and voicing their concerns. They should be commended for doing so. Boo to the OSHA investigators who made quick work of an investigation, to quickly move on to the next. I imagine other reports will shed additional light on this tragedy that will provide lessons we all can learn from, without portraying our firefighters as reckless.

        • @Pugsley,
          Despite the fact that Maclean’s new publisher can’t spell his name correctly on the copyright page of his latest book, it’s really not that hard:

          JOHN MACLEAN.

          Not sure here, “pubsley” if you’re trying to diss Maclean or OSHA or the USFS or all three or what, but I think it’s possible Maclean is done with fire books. And FWIW I think OSHA has put some effort into wildland fire education with its personnel the last few years (due in no little part to Maclean’s 30Mile book, I’d say). The OSHA folks aren’t as stooopid as they used to be with wildland fire.

          Just sayin’®

        • Kelly. I have recently been dealing directly with OSHA in a wildland fire capacity. It is a correct assumption that they are not very well trained(stoopid as they used to be) in understanding firefighting. I have dealt with this particlar group out of Boise and they are incredibly inept. .

      • Kelly, I thank you kindly for correcting me on the misspelling of authorJohn Maclean’s name. He deserves better. I mention him because he has shown us that it is better to collect all the dots before connecting the dots. It is human nature to take the first reports of an event we hear of, accept them as true, anchor to those notions and adjust our beliefs from there. That is just how our minds work, contrary to how we would like to think that they do. Unfortunately, like most tragedies there is much, much more to the story than most of us will ever know. Steep Corner is no exception to this reality. No, I am not bagging on John Maclean. I greatly admire his efforts to tell the stories of tragedy fires, and help us understand that the victims of these tragedies are humans, our brothers and sisters, and should be treated with respect, not as ignorant lemmings that just walk off the cliff in the face of obvious danger. Mr. Maclean and his father have done unmeasurable good for the wildland fire community. I am not bagging on the USFS. The Forest Service has had its rough times during my 25 years of wildland fire service while employed with the agency, but the agency is making great strides in supporting their wild land firefighters and the challenges they face. Of course there is room to improve, as always is the case. Yes I am bagging on OSHA for their treatment of the Steep Corner Fatality. Their efforts in understanding the situation and what occurred was minimal at best. But OSHA is OSHA and they do not know much about the realities of wildland firefighting. Not their fault, as they must deal with an enormous workload and have little time to spend on finding understanding of events. This is the reality we live in I recon. I still stand firm in my beliefs, that citing wildland firefighters and their respective agencies, based on initial observations without seeking understanding, followed by lawsuits and persecution of individuals, will do NOTHING to improve safety for wildland firefighters. Nor do I think it does any good for the family of Anne Veseth, her friends and fellow firefighters, and honor the tragic loss of Anne.

        I am sure that there are spelling and grammatical errors within my post, but that is just me…. a ground pounding wildland firefighter who’s actions will be judged by others afar.

        Just saying

        • @Pugsley: No offense taken, I’m sure none intended. Everybody and their dog tries to misspell his name.

          I’m with you on the OSHA thing, though. Eons ago when they got involved with the South Canyon Fire, the huge gulf of wildland fire knowledge between the fed fire agencies and OSHA became obvious to anyone paying attention.

          The Sadler Fire and 30Mile and Cramer Fire and several others just amplified the gap between investigating agencies, fire agencies, and the people on the ground who knew WTF they were talking about. Add aviation into the mix and it gets worse.

          I have a special interest in the Steep Corner Fire because I happened to be filling in for Bill when he was off on assignment and it really yanked my chain for violation of the 10&18 and just NEVER SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED. The Flathead IHC stood up and did the right thing there, and little Anne shoulda not died …. if OSHA cites the USFS on this, they’d better darned well name names, and it will NOT be Flathead IHC guys ….

          ((and speakin’ of typos, I don’t want to see “10 Standing” anymore when people refer to “10 Standard Orders”…)) just sayin’®

          http://bit.ly/Zemj74

  6. I seriously doubt that any Forest Service or IDL/CPTPA Fire Fighters had not been to multiple trainings. With over 20 seasons with the Forest Service, attended multiple yearly trainings and saw many seasoned firefighters that forgot the Orders and Watchouts. I know of few areas where there isn’t some danger from above when fighting fires in the forest! Please note that more firefighers are killed or injured in vehicle accidents than from falling trees. I too commend the Hotshots for calling out the dangers – saving an acre or a thousand acres of timber isn’t worth the life of one person. Would suggest that the OSHA folks get into some nomex and spend time on the fireline! Not just a day or a week – ten seasons may not be enough to meet all the dangers one will encounter.

  7. Rather than criticizing OSHA…

    How about following this little gem

    Training+”relationship building”+ issuing a pair of Nomex= lack of ineptness

    Isn’t that what the fire world is all about??

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