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OSHA proposes $14,000 in fines over Idaho firefighter’s death

A fire management organization has been cited by OSHA and fined $14,000 for serious safety violations that inspectors say led to the death of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Anne Veseth last summer, the AP reports. Click below for the full report; the citation, dated Feb. 7, said the initial attack team of the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association on the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino last August violated eight of 10 standing firefighting orders on the fire.


OSHA proposes $14K in fines over firefighter death

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a citation to a fire management organization and proposed a $14,000 fine for serious safety violations inspectors say led to the death of a U.S. Forest Service firefighter last summer.

OSHA cited Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association, which was managing the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino last August when several trees fell. One of those falling trees killed Anne Veseth, 20, of Moscow.

The citation, dated Feb. 7, said the initial attack team violated eight of the 10 Standing Firefighting Orders, including maintaining proper communications, being aware of weather conditions and ensuring escape routes and safety zones were properly identified.

Federal inspectors also cited the Forest Service for unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Agency officials are still reviewing the findings. The Forest Service is conducting its own set of investigations and expects to release those findings soon.

“We're very concerned about doing everything we can to maximize safety for our firefighters,” said Phil Sammon, spokesman for the Forest Service regional office in Missoula, Mont.

Veseth, who was in her second season as a wildfire fighter, was part of a crew assigned to reinforce a fire line on one perimeter of the 43-acre blaze. Veseth was a Type 2 firefighter, one of the agency's thousands of seasonal employees dispatched to the nation's forests during the spring and summer fire seasons. The Forest Service said Veseth had completed the safety courses required of every person in her crew.

Howard Weeks, the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association's chief fire warden, did not immediately return telephone messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday.

The group is one of several across Idaho that were started by the Idaho Department of Lands to fight forest fires in the northern part of the state.

OSHA identified a variety of problems with the association's handling of the fire, including failure to properly communicate with crews about the status of the fire or post lookouts on potentially dangerous areas. OSHA inspectors also found that helicopter bucket drops were occurring without communicating to ground crews and that the incident commander was unaware of some activities taking place on the fire line, including large gaps left in areas around hazardous trees.

The CPTPA also came under criticism in the days after Veseth's death. An anonymous federal reporting system for wildland firefighters indicated that the Montana-based Flathead Hotshots firefighting team declined to join suppression efforts on the Steep Corner Fire the day before Veseth died, citing safety concerns.

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Information from: KLEW-TV, http://www.klewtv.com/


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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