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Cal OSHA fines San Francisco FD for two in, two out & more in fire that killed two firefighters. Chief disputes findings.

Previous coverage of this story herehere & here

California's Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health has issued fines in connection with the fire that killed Lt. Vincent Perez, 48, and firefighter-paramedic Anthony Valerio, 53 on June 2. Both the agency and Chief Joanne Hayes-White say that the violations were not a direct cause of the firefighters' deaths. Fire officials go further and are disputing some of Cal OSHA's findings.

From Vic Lee at KGO-TV:

Cal OSHA issued four citations — three of them categorized as serious — and said personnel located outside the house did not maintain communications with the two crewmembers of Engine 26.

The fire department says it will appeal all the citations.

"We have documentation to prove that these citations are not based on what we think happened up there," said Asst. Dept. Chief Jose Velo.

From Jaxon Van Derbeken at

In recommending that the Fire Department be fined $21,000, the state investigators also said the department had violated state rules requiring that two firefighters be designated outside to assist any two firefighters who venture into a life-threatening environment.

The state also cited the Fire Department for an incident – evidently before the fatal flareup – in which an unidentified battalion chief ventured into the burning building alone, without keeping in contact with Perez and Valerio. That was also deemed a serious violation of safety rules.

"These are serious in that they had protocols in place, but they weren't following them," said Erika Monterroza, spokeswoman for the worker safety agency. "There's no question that a lack of communications was a big issue here. The investigator found there was a breakdown there.

Comments - Add Yours

  • NorCalMike

    As the Safety Officer for a large California fire department I have seen that,Cal OSHA has been aggressively enforcing workplace safety rules against fire departments for the last two years. Fire departments are no longer receiving the deference from Cal OSHA that they did in the past. Unfortunately, Cal OSHA has no one on staff with any expertise in fire department operations. The compliance officers have never been to a structure fire yet they are allowed to critique the performance of the fire department and issue citations.

  • Play4keeps

    1.  I was working with Fed OSHA in 1987 when the 1910.120 standard was requested to be written for confined spaces.  Many other interests, ie IAFF,  made the case to the Sec of the DOL Dole that the standard should be applicable to the fire service.  When I help draft the standard, along with an industrial hygenist and another fire service experienced OSHA director, I was later informed that it would become part of a "two-in, two-out rule" that would be utilized by OSHA CSHOs and made available to the NFPA in for their recommendations. 
    2.  It was uterly ridiculous that the standard should apply to the fire service of the US as a blanket rule with the great differences in staffing, SOPs, radio communication policy and technology and response assignments.  Nevertheless, the political case was made and there is still debatable safety and efficiency from the rule.  I will not argue either way, as this is a long debate, other than to say, if your organization DOES NOT have an "assumed vacant structure" policy and conducts an aggressive attack and search with the principle that there are possibly occupants within, the two out goes out the door, literally.
    3.   Suffice it to say, I've seen fires grown and people killed because 3 and 4  person crews waited for the 2-out.  However, in some places, I am certain a 2 out crew has saved the life of firefighters who were in trouble.  Also, do not confuse RIT with 2 out, nor confuse 2-out with a command presense, either mobile or stationary.  What I am saying, is the 2-out rule has certainly given pause to commitment of interior operations because of the rule and its subsequent enforcement – right, wrong, or indifferent.
    4.  From NorCalMike:  "Unfortunately, Cal OSHA has no one on staff with any expertise in fire department operations. The compliance officers have never been to a structure fire yet they are allowed to critique the performance of the fire department and issue citations."  Yep, that about sums it up regarding OSHA, Fed or State and NIOSH, for that matter.
    RIP the Brothers in San Fran

  • Captain Daddy

    The members recieved thermal injuries from being in a bad place.  It's hard to believe that any procedures in place outside would have saved the lives of these two men.  It is a dangerous job and the facts of this job made it especially difficult.  They were forced to descend to get to the fire.  Getting a good 360 was probably impossible due to the terrain.  I am not anti regulation but sometimes we have mistaken belief that we can protect our selves from everything. 

  • Jim

    In the article it sounded like SFFD rides with 3 man engines, is this correct? If that is true why isn't that brought up? I have no doubt in the skill and quality of SFFD firemen, but not having enough people can hamstring even the best efforts. 

  • Former Chief

    I'm not a big fan of 2 in / 2 out for the reasons Play4keeps posted.  Waiting for 2 out while the fire grows in intensity increases the risk in my opinion.  And how many structures can we honestly know are truly "unoccupied".  I also have mixed emotions on the monetary fines.  Unfortunately, that's the only way to get some jurisdictions attention, hit them in the bank account, but to me, it just minimizes the value of someone's life.  I'm more concerned that if there were mistakes, that SFFD does an honest evaluation of the incident and their protocols and make corrections if necessary to avert a similar tragedy.  I guess I can understand the Chief denying Cal OSHA's assessment, but I'm worried that while SFFD is circling their wagons, errors may go uncorrected.  The fire service in general needs to do a better job of learning from our tragedies.  RIP Lt. Perez and FFPM Valerio.

  • 30+ on the job

    How did you help write the standard when you do not even know its correct reference?  Take a look at 29CFR1910.146 for confined space.  29CFR1910.120 deals with hazmat and 29CFR1910.134 is respiratory protection.  134 is where two in/two out is laid out as the law along with the exceptions we all know about.
    Two in two out, in my opinion, is a very good thing when it comes to self preservation.

  • Play4keeps

    30+:  Thank you for your comment; you are correct by half.  The original rule was implemented on in the Spring of 1989 – 1910.120. It was a standard/regulation for hazardous waste on-site practices and emergency response, aka, HAZWOPER.  It was the origination of the 2-in/2-out.  It was further enhanced by the respiratory protection rules, 1910.134.  I believe there is language was that fires beyond the incipient stage are IDLH atmospheres and require 2-in/2-out.  This standard was implemented in 1998 (10 years after the first draft of 1910.120 which I helped draft. I left OSHA in the summer of 1991 to become a DCFD Fireman but I keenly remember the debate and politics of the issue.
    Incidently, when the OSHA hazardous materials rules were issued, 1910.120, they did not apply to public firefighters and departments in non-OSHA states.
    To circumvent this issue, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) repackaged the same rules as its hazardous materials operating rules. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 became 40 CFR 311. The EPA rules apply to all fire agencies, public or private, and regardless of the state position on OSHA. This double issuance of rules has not occurred in any other fire protection area to date. The mandates for the EPA are written broadly, without intending to infringe upon the federal issues raised by OSHA.

  • north chief

    One of the things that pushed the 2 in 2 out was the training fire in Boulder Colorado that killed to firefighters. All 3 members on scene went into the training fire with a booster line when a flashover occured. I realize this was training and now we have the NFPA live fire standard, but 2 in 2 out has certainly effected the way we operate and I agree not alway in the positive way.
    Waiting for the adequate number of personnel alows the fire to grow so by the time we get in its beyond the capbilities of the two guys inside. However I do remember the days when one or two guys would set the relief valve, pull a line and go in regardless of the status of the occupants. Im sure that is still standard procedure for a lot of US departments. The judgement of the firefighter on scene has been taken away by well meaning but un informed beaurucrats.
    If the first firefighter to arrive can see that the fire is contained to one room and the door is closed and the risk of the fire extending is low, why not allow them to advance the line and make a knock on it, in most areas by the time help arrives that fire will be in the attic and the walls and then we are in the defensive mode.

  • ukfbbuff

    My 2 cents from Calif.
    A.  The Tragedy that occured at the "Berkeley Way" Incident will affect the SFFD and the Fire Service in general for a very long time.
    1st. The Top News footage is on the "C" Side and the "FF Group Picture' is on the "A" Side of the fire.
    2nd. San Francisco is staffed 4.0 on an Engine and 5.0 on a Truck.
    3rd. "Nor Cal Mike"  While Cal OSHA doesn't have a Fire Service Orientated Compliance Officer, they can still Read what SFFD has in their SOP's as well as Contact the OSFM's Office. Clearly fire attack was begun Not following the "FIRESCOPE ICS 910 'FF Incident Safety and Accountability Guidelines, July 2008 ed., with the unfortunate results of the LODD's.
    If we in California are not going to follow the 910 Guidelines, then you have to ask:
    Why is everyone Updating their Training to Comply with the "New OSFM 'STEAC'" FF Survival, RIC Operations and Command and Control of the RIC Courses?
    It can't just simply to meet Cal OSHA's Requirements. The instructors have invested a lot of time and effort to develop and revise the Program even as the "Roll Out" has begun.

  • NorCalMike

    @Captain Daddy. Cal OSHA's job when investigating occupational injuries and deaths is not to determine what actually caused the injury. They only look to see if the employer violated any of the Industrial safety orders. We recently received a citation for a violation that had nothing to do with the cause of the accident that was investigated. The citation was for actions of our employees that occurred before the injured employee was even on scene.
    @ukfbbuff. As someone who had worked with Cal OSHA extensively, I have never once know them to actually contact OSFM for expertise.
    I am did not mean to imply that SFFD should not have been cited. I do not have all the information to make that assessment. My comments were to address what I see as a problem with Cal OSHA. They do not have fire service expertise. I have been told this by the Compliance officers. I have a good working relationship with our local Compliance officers, most of whom I know on a first name basis. Over the last year, we have had 4 injuries reviewed by Cal OSHA. In all cases, the department performed the investigation and provided it's findings to Cal OSHA. The compliance officer performed a couple of interviews after to verify the information in the reports. Twice received citations based on our own reports. The compliance officers at our local office know that we do a good job investigating our injuries and we take an honest look at our injuries to prevent further occurrances.

  • mark

    If I really wanted to stir up a hornet's nest, I could bring up how Congess has illegally abdicated its authority (yet again) by setting up agencies that are unconstitutional, such as EPA and OSHA.
    Popcorn anyone?

  • ukfbbuff

    1st. "Nor Cal Mike", my view of the LODD's is that they may have been preventable by following FIRESCOPE 910. Waiting for the second Engine or 1st due Truck would have allowed 2 In/2Out (aka "BUC Team" or "IRIC") to have been set up before they made entry. True the fire would have gotten larger but that is the "Trade Off. While I don't work for the SFFD, I do have friends that do and a couple are a bit "Upset" at what happened. The fines are just a "Slap on the Wrist".
    2nd. Mark. Are you a Firefighter? OSHA has its place in Industrial Safety whether at the State or Federal Level's both NMike and myself depend  upon Cal OSHA to enforce Worker Safety Rules when it comes to our PPE and SCBA in that it meet "8 Cal Admin Code". As far as the EPA goes, they have a job to do to reduce such polluters as Halliburton and Koch Industries.  So I don't think this is the forum to use if you want to complain about these two agencies.