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Fire dept. cited for "serious" safety violations

The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries intends to cite the Seattle Fire Department for “serious” workplace safety violations, including one finding that someone from the mayor’s office interfered with a safety investigation, The Seattle Times reported Friday.

The proposed citations stem from two investigations:

  • One arose from allegations that an unusually high number of people who worked at Station 31 in Northgate had developed cancer. Labor and Industries said the employer did not ensure that the safety officer was permitted to investigate a health incident without interference, in that the Seattle Fire Department management, acting under the direction of Mayor Greg Nickels' office, ordered the safety officer to stop his investigation.

  • The second involved a Sept. 28, 2003, training drill behind Station 25 on First Hill. Firefighters were ordered to perform exercises in full gear while humidity was high and temperatures exceeded 80 degrees. Lt. Luis Batayola suffered dehydration and was rushed to Harborview Medical Center.

    Labor and Industries said the city failed to enforce "an accident prevention program pertaining to warm-weather working conditions." The document also said the city did not take into account the effect of the firefighters' gear and the weather and did not provide a rest break.

    Representatives from the mayor's office, Fire Department and firefighters union declined to comment, saying they preferred to wait for formal, final citations, which are expected to be released next week.

    But a firefighter panel that reviews Labor and Industries' investigations believed the sanctions against the city should have been stronger.

    Labor and Industries did not look into the allegations of an unusually high rate of cancer among the workers. Those are being studied by a task force assigned by the city. Results are not expected for several months.

    The training that was the subject of the second citation was led by Battalion Chief Molly Douce, a 20-year department veteran, who was involved in a similar incident in June 2000. In that accident, recruit Kevin Locke fell from a ladder at least 30 feet. He cracked three vertebrae and other bones in the fall. Locke is suing the city for $12 million. His case is scheduled for trial in May.

    The most severe sanction handed down by Labor and Industries is a "willful" violation, which can carry fines ten times greater than those imposed with "serious" violations. For any single serious violation, Labor and Industries' maximum fine is $7,000.

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