A federal appeals court has dismissed a suit against the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, ruling that Christie Whitman can not be held liable for giving the false information that the air was safe to breathe following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Many firefighters, including those working on the Incident Management Teams at the scene, were affected by the contaminated air while working on the recovery and clean-up in New York City.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that Mrs. Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, was forced to balance competing interests after the attack. The court found that complying with instructions from the White House to hasten the return of financial workers to Wall Street as soon as possible after the World Trade Center was destroyed conflicted with Mrs. Whitman’s obligation to highlight the health risks facing people who lived, worked or went to school in Lower Manhattan.
“Whether or not Whitman’s resolution of such competing considerations was wise,” the court said, “she has not engaged in conduct that ‘shocks the conscience’ in the sense necessary to create constitutional liability for damages to thousands of people.”
In February 2006, Judge Deborah A. Batts of Federal District Court in Manhattan refused to dismiss a range of charges brought by residents against Mrs. Whitman in 2004. Judge Batts found that Mrs. Whitman made statements about safety that were so misleading that they were “conscience-shocking.”
The plaintiffs alleged that Mrs. Whitman and the environmental agency she led had deliberately misrepresented the health risks of the dust from the collapsed trade towers that clouded the air in Lower Manhattan.
In their lawsuit, they argued that Mrs. Whitman should have been obligated to pay for the cleanup of homes, schools and offices in Lower Manhattan.
In her defense, Mrs. Whitman argued that as a public official she was entitled to immunity because her conduct had not violated anyone’s constitutional rights.
I was reading a story online about a vegetation fire in Scotland that destroyed 5,000… and I was thinking… ACRES? In Scotland? But no, it destroyed 5,000 small trees on 10 acres. The fire occurred a year ago on land managed by the Woodland Trust, the story said, but recently six small fires have been started intentionally in the Carnmoney Hill area northeast of Belfast.
“No doubt those starting the fires consider it some sort of joke. The grim reality is that they’re actually putting people’s lives, including their own, at risk,” said Gregor Fulton, Woodland Officer with the Trust.
“A forest fire can cause total devastation to nature, resulting in the loss of trees, plants and animals. We’re appealing to those responsible to stop and think about the consequences of their actions,” he added.
Ellreese Daniels was the Crew Boss and Type 3 Incident Commander on the Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop, Washington in 2001 on which four members of his crew were overrun by fire and died. On January 30, 2007 the U.S. Attorney in Spokane, Washington charged him with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven counts of making false statements.
Now the trial schedule has been established by the court:
THIS MATTER is scheduled for trial beginning May 5, 2008 and ending July 2, 2008. Counsel shall meet with the Court in chambers at 8:30 a.m. on the first day of trial. Jury Selection will begin at 10:00 a.m. Trial will be held each day from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. excluding the following days: May 9, May 16, May 22, May 23, May 26, June 5, June 6, June 20, and June 23 -27.
I hope that there will be some people attending the trial as spectators who will be recognizable as firefighters. But since it appears that the trial could go on for 2 months, that’s going to be difficult to do on a continuing basis.
We covered this issue earlier, here, here, and here.
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced legislation that would promote compliance with consensus safety standards to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the bill’s cosponsor.
While the National Fire Protection Association and other groups have developed industry safety standards, they are voluntary and often ignored by fire departments, Brown said. Brown’s bill would encourage the adoption of national consensus firefighter-safety standards and promote fire department compliance with such standards.
“We shouldn’t have to think twice about bolstering the safety of our firefighters,” Brown said. “Our first responders put their lives at risk daily. We should take this opportunity to prevent fire fighter injury and death.”
Brown’s legislation, the Firefighter Fatality Reduction Act, would require the Department of Homeland Security to determine the rate of fire department compliance with standards for safe operations, staffing, training and fitness among career, volunteer and combination fire departments. It would create a task force to explore the adoption of safety standards by fire departments and provide recommendations to Congress, states, and localities on how to increase fire department compliance with safety standards. This bill would not mandate federal oversight of local fire departments, but instead would explore how the federal government could best promote firefighter-safety standards and assist fire departments with compliance.
Brown also is the sponsor of the Fire Fighter Higher Education Incentive Act of 2007 which would help federal, state, city, and county fire districts recruit highly educated fire fighters by forgiving student loans taken out by firefighters under the federal Perkins Loan program. All employees in fire protection would be eligible for the benefit, including fire fighters, paramedics, EMTs, rescue workers, ambulance personnel, and hazardous materials workers. Under current law, Perkins debt for teachers, nurses, military and law enforcement officers can be forgiven.
“Loan forgiveness is both well deserved and an effective recruitment tool,” Brown said.
Earlier we posted information (including a map) about the funeral arrangements for Gert “Jerry” Marais who was the pilot of the air tanker that crashed on the fire near Fort Carson in Colorado on April 15. Any fire personnel that wish to officially participate or who will have apparatus at the funeral should contact Fort Benton, Montana Fire Chief Pat Hultin at 622-5822 (work) or 788-0721 (cell).
Condolences can be sent to Mrs. Esme Marais, PO Box 1291, Fort Benton, MT 59422.
Photo of single engine air tanker on the Alabaugh fire, South Dakota, July 7, 2007 by Bill Gabbert.
The city of Ventura, California, recently sent 1,252 homeowners who live near brush-covered areas bills for $99 . The fee, which is not a tax, city officials claim, is to cover the cost of inspections to ensure they are in compliance with weed-abatement laws. The fire marshal said this is an attempt to recover the cost of hundreds of person-hours to do the inspections.
This is the first I have heard of fees to do weed-abatement inspections.