Locke Fire Department cited for serious, non-serious violations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Shavonne Potts
The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division cited Locke Fire Department for two serious violations and one non-serious violation in the wake of the March fire that killed two Salisbury firefighters.
But because the department has made such significant progress addressing their findings, state officials significantly reduced their final recommended fines, Locke Fire Chief Rusty Alexander said Wednesday.
Reached while on vacation, Alexander said state officials inspected Locke closely after the fatal fire because three members of the department’s Rapid Response Team were injured while rescuing Salisbury Fire Capt. Rick Barkley.
Officials with Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the N.C. Department of Labor, issued the citations Wednesday after a state inspection process that lasted from March 7 to 17.
Alexander said he met with state safety officials Tuesday, who said his department has 30 working days or six weeks to correct the violations.
Firefighter physicals
The first citation concerned paid personnel completing yearly physicals. Alexander said he does not consider the violation major, although state officials classified it as serious.
Alexander said the department is in the process of getting physicals for all paid personnel.
Once the firefighters have completed those physicals, the department must report that to the Occupational Safety and Health Division.
“We have our physicals on a yearly basis, and that’s it,” Alexander said, but all the physicals weren’t completed at the time of the fire and resulting inspection.
Breathing equipment
The second serious violation relates to firefighters’ equipment.
The state requires firefighters be “fit-tested” for a face mask that is part of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) respirator. All paid personnel must be fitted with one of three sizes, Alexander explained.
The firefighters had not been fitted prior to the March fire.
“After the fire, they had been,” he said, and state officials know that violation has been rectified.
As part of that violation, state inspectors also questioned the department’s “written respiratory protection program.”
Alexander said the department had such a written document, but it was not written in the format required by the state.
“We are in the process of changing that document right now. Actually, all we have to do is send them a copy, let them see it worked the way they want it and it’s fine,” he said.
In fact, the department was given a 90 percent cost reduction in fines because, in Alexander’s opinion, “everything was pretty well completed,” he said.
The state report makes no explanation of the reduction in the fine.
Each fine started at $3,500 prior to the reduction, Alexander said. In the end, the department was not fined for two violations and assessed $350 for two others รณ the lack of physicals and the fitted masks.
Non-serious finding
The final violation, which was classified as Non-serious, involved completing and filing a form on the Occupational Safety and Health Division’s Web site.
Alexander acknowledges this form was not done. He said, in fact, many of the other county and rural fire chiefs were not aware of this form.
He said most likely if the state agency were to check, other departments would also be in violation for not having this form. The form requires a workplace hazard assessment for personal protective equipment.
The mandate was handed down following a Charleston, S.C. fire that killed nine firefighters, Alexander said.
“It’s new to the fire service. As far as me and other county fire chiefs, this is not a form that we knew about. It’s something that nobody knew about,” he said.
Basically, to rectify the problem, the department would have to fill in department information, download the form and place it in department’s records.
Once he returns from vacation, the form will be completed and in the department’s files on Friday, Alexander said.