Salisbury won't contest citations after Salisbury Millwork fire; pays $6,563 fines levied by OSHD

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
City Manager David Treme has informed the N.C. Department of Labor that Salisbury will not contest citations issued against the Fire Department in the March 7 Salisbury Millwork fire.
The city sent the state a check Tuesday for $6,563, the sum of fines levied by the Occupational Safety and Health Division.
Firefighters Victor Isler Sr., 40, and Justin Monroe, 19, died in the $2 million fire that consumed Salisbury Millwork March 7.
According to the citations, the city broke state rules four times by not ensuring that firefighters remained in visual or voice contact while they were in conditions deemed “immediately dangerous to life and health.”
Another violation charged the department with not ensuring that at least two firefighters remained outside the immediately dangerous to life and health atmosphere during the initial attack on the Salisbury Millwork fire.
The state also cited the Fire Department for not fit-testing face-piece respirators used with self-contained breathing apparatus. It added that the Fire Department’s respiratory protection program failed to include procedures “to ensure adequate air quality, quantity and flow of breathing air for atmosphere-supplying respirators.”
In response, the city has reinforced what it says have been standing policies regarding use of the buddy system and crew continuity.
The policy language stresses that “personnel will remain in pairs (two minimum) in all IDLH (immediately dangerous to life and health) environments.”
Policy also has been worded to address and stress two-in, two-out standards.
“Big box buildings are a firefighter’s nightmare,” says the city’s revised standard operating guidelines for big box and warehouse buildings.
“Many firefighters have been killed in this type of building when they become separated from their crew. It is imperative that companies remain together and close accountability is exercised. The incident commander should implement a RIC (Rapid Intervention Crew) group with several teams standing ready with an equipment cache suitable to the type of construction.
“This group should assess the exits and open up the building as needed.”
Officials have said when fire broke through firewalls in the Salisbury Millwork office and advanced into the warehouse/manufacturing part of the operation, it quickly overwhelmed and separated members of the hose team to which Monroe and Isler belonged.
Parnell said Monroe, for example, was sent to an exit door to inform command that his hose team, which had lost radio communication, was all right. Monroe was within sight and heading back inside the building when the fire broke through in an instant and separated the team members, according to the chief.
In addition, Salisbury has updated its respiratory protection policy to include annual fit-testing.
Treme and Parnell have said that Isler and Monroe were wearing masks fit-tested to their faces.In several instances, city officials said, the Fire Department practiced proper procedures March 7, but those procedures were not always reflected in the policies on record.
Treme enclosed a cover letter to Paul M. Sullivan, OSH compliance district supervisor, that accompanies various amended policies and procedures of the Fire Department.
“As you noted in your Aug. 6, 2008, letter to Chief (Bob) Parnell, the absolute highest priority of Chief Parnell and our entire department on March 7 was firefighter safety, as it is at every fire,” Treme wrote to Sullivan.
“Thus, while the city and Fire Department may disagree with the conclusions reached by NCOSHA or whether many of the events of March 7 occurred exactly as recited in the citations, we have determined that it is in the best interest of the Department, the city, its firefighters and its citizens to focus the efforts of the city and the Department on continuing to enhance firefighter safety under all circumstances, by improving our policies and practices so there can be little question about the application of our standards.”
Richard Kelly, the city’s risk manager, signed off on the necessary abatement forms with the state.
Treme said the annual fit-testing of all self-contained breathing apparatus started April 1 and ended Aug. 20, “but after April 1, no firefighter used an SCBA that had not been first fit-tested.”
The department already had testing procedures in place to ensure adequate air quality, quantity and flow, but now the amended safety policy reflects that, Treme said.The city provided four years worth of records showing it had followed such a testing program.
The Fire Department already followed procedures requiring personnel to remain in pairs at all times in dangerous environments, Treme said. But he told Sullivan the city has updated its Initial Company Operation procedures to clarify that all situations where air packs are used are considered dangerous areas.
Also the Initial Company Operation procedures have been updated to ensure establishment of a properly equipped rescue team prior to firefighters going into a dangerous area.
The state also made recommendations, but included no citations, on survival training, the proper use of mayday calls and portable radios.
Treme said the last firefighter self-survival training had been completed Sept. 17-19, 2007, for all firefighter personnel. The next firefighter mayday and survival training is scheduled for Oct. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15.
OSH had recommended that the Fire Department investigate and take action on “portable radio issues that hampered communication during the fire.”
The Fire Department has ordered 60 to 65 new front-line radios that Treme says are more rugged than the department’s current models. Salisbury City Council is expected to act on a budget amendment for those radios in September.
Treme says the Fire Department has adopted specific radio maintenance policies, too.”We are hopeful these changes will minimize or eliminate future radio issues,” he said.