The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has agreed to reduce the fine and modify the citation they issued to the organization responsible for fire suppression on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino, Idaho. Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old U.S. Forest Service firefighter from Moscow, Idaho was killed by a falling tree August 12, 2012 while working on the fire. OSHA issued a citation to the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association (CPTPA) along with a “Notification of Penalty”, for 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.
On Thursday CPTPA Chief Fire Warden Howard Weeks signed an agreement with OSHA that reduced the fine to $10,500 and revised the citation. Originally OSHA accused CPTPA of not furnishing a place of employment that was free of “recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees”. OSHA said eight of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders and 11 of the 18 Watch Out Situations were present and not mitigated in the citation issued to the CPTPA and the Notice issued to the USFS.
Below is an excerpt from an article at Firehouse.com that originally appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:
Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said the original citation would have made it impossible for firefighters to do their jobs.
Callihan said the 10 and 18 are guidelines and not regulations, and the hazards they cover are present on nearly every fire. But, she said, the OSHA citation, as originally written, would have required firefighters to leave any fire where any of the 10 orders could not be followed or any of the 18 situations were present.
“What OSHA eventually recognized, is by removing firefighters from fires where any of those situations are present would result in not being able to respond with initial attack and keep fires small,” she said. “So it would have resulted in having fires get big and present more of a danger to firefighters and the public in the long run.”
The day before Ms. Veseth was killed, the Flathead Hotshots arrived at the fire. 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.