Idaho Firefighting Group Reaches Deal With OSHA

Officials from an Idaho firefighting organization reached an agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over citations and fines levied after a 20-year-old firefighter was struck and killed by a falling tree while working on a wildfire last summer.

The Orofino-based Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protective Association has agreed to a $10,500 fine, down from the $14,000 fine that OSHA proposed in February for the death of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Anne Veseth of Moscow.

On Thursday, the Idaho Land Board authorized Howard Weeks, the protective association's chief fire warden, to sign the agreement, which also revised the citation, the Lewiston Tribune reported Friday (http://bit.ly/10rQ4zM).

Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said Thursday the original citation would have made it impossible for firefighters to do their jobs.

The Feb. 7 citation said the initial attack team violated eight of the 10 Standing Firefighting Orders and took no action to mitigate 11 of the 18 "Situations That Shout 'Watch Out'" listed in the Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations, including maintaining proper communications, being aware of weather conditions and ensuring escape routes and safety zones were properly identified.

Callihan says the original citation would have required firefighters to leave any fire where standard firefighting orders couldn't be followed or dangerous situations were present. OSHA realized the wording of its initial citation could prevent an initial attack on many fires, allowing them to grow and become more dangerous, Callahan said.

The Forest Service's own investigation, released in mid-February, found human error was not responsible for Veseth's death, but that the accident was a tragedy due to the risks inherent in firefighting.

Veseth was in her second season as a wildfire fighter and was part of a crew assigned to reinforce a fire line on one perimeter of the 43-acre Steep Corner Fire that burned near Orofino in August when she was struck by the tree and killed.

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: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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