National News

Friday, January 11, 2019

OSHA cites utility contractors for ’serious’ safety violations in 2018 Wisconsin explosion that killed firefighter

Two utility contractors faulted for contributing to an explosion that leveled part of downtown Sun Prairie and killed a volunteer firefighter in July have been fined for “serious” violations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In citation letters dated Jan. 4, OSHA said its inspectors found that Kansas-based Bear Communications and Michigan-based VC Tech failed to call a diggers hotline or utility owners to locate underground lines before starting work. The companies were each fined $12,934 for the “serious” violation, the maximum penalty allowed, said Scott Allen, an OSHA spokesman. Authorities said last month that no crime was committed following an investigation, but found that miscommunication between utility contractors and subcontractors resulted in a gas line being improperly marked before the July 10 blast. Cory Barr, a captain with the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department and owner of a tavern destroyed in the blast, was killed in the explosion. Two other volunteer firefighters were injured.
Wisconsin State Journal

Federal Wildland Firefighters Wait To Return To Duty During Shutdown

Winter is when the federal government starts spending dollars to prepare for the wildfire season, but the ongoing shutdown has put some of this preparation in limbo. Cutting underbrush and holding prescribed burns are critical to keeping firefighters safe and protecting towns near fire-prone areas. But there’s basically no prescribed burning going on right now according to the National Association of State Foresters. Penelope Morgan teaches fire ecology at the University of Idaho. “Any reduction in that proactive work could indeed lead to more concerns about fires in the future,” Morgan says. In addition, some training academies that prepare rookies and veterans for the upcoming season have been cancelled due to the shutdown. Casey Judd is president of the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association. He says many of his members are feeling demoralized. Judd says that could lead to state agencies, like CAL FIRE in California, poaching firefighters. “If they don’t have the support from their government, they’re going to go jump ship and agencies like CAL FIRE are ready to take them and ready to charge you, the taxpayer, a whole heck of a lot of money for doing the same thing,” he says.
Boise State Public Radio

Florida firefighter sues Fire Rescue over alleged disability discrimination

VIDEO: A Palm Beach County firefighter is suing Fire Rescue after he says a captain discriminated against his disability. Eduardo Mesa said others then joined in on the retaliation. Eduardo Mesa's lawsuit is at least the fourth lawsuit filed against the county or Fire Rescue regarding discrimination and retaliation since 2016. In this most recent case, Mesa claims some fire rescue staff discriminated against his disability, his religion, and his nationality. In the lawsuit filed this week, Mesa said that because of a condition/disability, he "experiences eye movements/twitches" that result in "unusual blinking/closing eyes for a few seconds at a time." Mesa said he was harassed for his blinking by a captain during recruit academy training and asked "whether he was sleeping or praying." Another lawsuit was filed in 2016 by Division Chief Joey Cooper, who has been with the department for 28 years. There's also a lawsuit filed by Sharon Wilson, who claimed she was discriminated against after injuring her wrist during the recruit academy. None of these lawsuits have been settled yet.
WPTV-TV NBC 5 West Palm Beach

Connecticut Fire District Reduces Commissioner Benefits

A local fire department is making changes after NBC Connecticut Investigates began looking at what some might consider generous perks for its commissioners. The bonuses went away after our first set of stories. Now commissioners have eliminated some of the last of the perks. They agreed to get rid of the weekly free tank of gas they are eligible to receive. They also announced they will no longer each be allowed to have a district credit card at their disposal, another topic of criticism. Instead, there will be just one credit card for all fire district purchases. Taxpayers who have complained about the perks fire commissioners have received in the past gave them equal credit for now eliminating most of them. Former Bloomfield mayor Joan Gamble told NBC Connecticut Investigates, “I think it's heading in the right direction. They didn't need to have some of these perks." Each fire commissioner still does receive a $5,000 annual stipend. While not unheard of in Connecticut, fire chiefs have told NBC Connecticut Investigates that amount is on the high end of the scale.
WVIT-TV NBC 30 West Hartford

Fire union repeats call for contract talks after Houston mayor asks for ’pay parity’ ideas

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday invited the Houston firefighters union to sit down with him to discuss “any ideas you have” about how to implement the pay parity measure passed by voters last November, but left it unclear whether negotiating pay raises through contract talks was an acceptable idea. Union President Marty Lancton declined to say whether he would meet with the mayor, instead issuing a response saying the union would not participate in “stage-managed, taxpayer-funded public ‘stakeholder’ forums.” “Proposition B is now law,” Lancton wrote. “The campaign is over, and it’s past time to implement the proposition.” Wednesday’s exchange came a week after Turner announced that he would like to meet with the union and others to discuss ways to implement the pay raises mandated under Proposition B, an amendment to the city’s charter requiring firefighters be paid the same as police of equal rank and seniority. Turner has said implementing the measure would cost the city $100 million a year and would require the layoffs of as many as 1,000 employees, including firefighters and police, as well as cuts in service.
Houston Chronicle

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Massachusetts firefighters lead push to ban carcinogenic chemicals

Mashpee Fire Lt. Nicole Stanley realized just how important banning harmful chemicals in flame retardants is when she was diagnosed with occupational cancer last summer. “Now that I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it’s an eye-opener to me. I thought I was protecting myself,” Stanley told the Herald. Doctors have attributed Stanley’s rare form of breast cancer to exposure of carcinogens in her 28 years of service on the Mashpee Fire Department, she said. Stanley urged Gov. Charlie Baker to sign a bill that bans the use of 11 toxic flame-retardant chemicals found in children’s products, residential furniture and household goods, as did Rep. Marjorie Decker, Sen. Cindy Creem, the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, Clean Water Action and MASSPIRG at a State House press conference Tuesday. The bill was among the final ones passed before the Legislature ended the last session. Baker must sign it before Friday or it is vetoed, according to Creem.
Boston Herald

FDNY firefighters to start training on how to safely pass gaps in bridges

The FDNY will start training firefighters on how to safely pass gaps in elevated bridges after one of New York’s bravest plunged to his death from a span in Brooklyn on Sunday, Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “We will try to ensure this never happens again in our city,” Nigro said outside the wake for Steven Pollard, 30, on Wednesday night. Pollard fell through a 3-foot gap dividing the eastbound and westbound lanes on a Belt Parkway overpass while responding to a car crash on Sunday night, authorities said. He plummeted 52 feet to the ground and died a short time later at Kings County Hospital. Nigro made his vow as mourners — including hundreds of FDNY firefighters and New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan — attended Pollard’s wake at the Marine Park Funeral Home.
New York Post

California Governor Proposes Wildfire Investments, 911 Fee

VIDEO: California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday pledged fresh investments to prevent, fight and escape wildfires, including millions to help local governments improve their communication during emergencies and a fee to fund an update for the state’s 911 system. At a fire station in the fire-prone Sierra Nevada foothills, Newsom outlined $105 million in new fire-related spending on top of $200 million approved by lawmakers last year. Clad in jeans and sneakers and surrounded by emergency responders and local leaders, Newsom said it was a symbolic and substantive choice to focus on wildfires on his first full day as governor. “I place no greater emphasis, energy and sense of urgency on the issue of public safety,” he said. Newsom said the budget will include tens of millions of dollars to make up for three years worth of property tax losses in Butte and Lake Counties, which have been hit by multiple fires in recent years. He’ll also put $10 million toward digitizing the state’s 911 system, which is still analog. But he said a full digitization will likely require a fee on consumers, something the Legislature tried and failed to pass last year.
CBS 13 Sacramento

New Jersey delays fire district consolidation over ‘poison pill’ provision

The consolidation of Hamilton’s big government fire service has been stalled and set back because of concerns voiced by the state Department of Community Affairs. The Democratic-led Hamilton Council last September voted 4-1 to introduce an ordinance calling for Hamilton Fire Districts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 to be “hereby dissolved and abolished effective Jan. 1, 2019, or such later date, conditioned upon Local Finance Board approval, Civil Service approval/readiness, and a fully executed and approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)/Collective Negotiations Agreement (CAN) between representatives unions and Township.” Fast forward to 2019, and DCA’s Division of Local Government Services last Friday put the brakes on Hamilton’s consolidation process due to the provision requiring a fully negotiated and settled labor agreement before the districts could be dissolved and merged into a municipal fire department, according to Hamilton Business Administrator Dave Kenny. It could potentially take one year before contract negotiations between Hamilton’s FMBA firefighter unions and the Yaede administration result in an agreement, according to Kenny, who said the Local Finance Board within DCA’s Division of Local Government Services is “concerned” that “a lot of things could change in that one-year period.”
The Trentonian

Florida county starts program to aid first responders struggling with traumatic Pulse nightclub memories

VIDEO: Orange County commissioners agreed this week to fund a mental-health training program intended to help first responders and others struggling to shake free of the horrors they saw at the Pulse nightclub massacre. “Forty-nine innocent people killed at one time,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who responded to Pulse as the county sheriff on June 12, 2016. “That’s something akin to what you might see on a battlefield in war.” The mass shooting at the LGBTQ club traumatized not only Pulse patrons but also Orlando-area police, firefighters and paramedics summoned to the crime scene and others whose duties brought them face-to-face with the aftermath. The training program, created and run by the St. Petersburg College Center for Public Safety Innovation, is intended to teach first responders how to care for themselves after crisis events and recognize peers who may need help coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The county awarded the college $244,000 from a federal anti-terrorism grant to pay for the program.
Orlando Sentinel

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