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Many in the public and even in the fire service will look at this story and immediately say how ridiculous the Washington State is for citing the City of Camas for safety violations after two firefighters pulled a man out of a burning home on February 14. If you just look at the headlines, it’s a natural reaction. But when you read the entire story and apply some critical thinking you just might come to the conclusion neither the firefighters or the Washington State are the bad guys here. It’s actually the City of Camas.
Responding with a single two-person engine company to an automatic alarm, the firefighters discovered a working fire and heard cries coming from the garage. Firefighters rescued 76-year-old Arthur Nichols and two dogs. Nichols died eight days later.
According to KGW-TV, among the three violations cited by the Washington Department of Labor and Industry was a requirement for having three firefighters on the scene before entering the building. Yes, it seems silly to get such a safety violation when firefighters did what they were hired to do. But is that the real story here?
The fire chief and the City of Camas are doing their best to have you believe it’s the real story and to make the State of Washington look bad. Here’s an excerpt from the Camas press release:
The City of Camas intends to file an appeal of this safety violation at the earliest opportunity. The City is deeply concerned that L&I intends to punish our personnel for heroically saving the life of one of our citizens. This is a wide reaching and troubling stance by the state oversight agency. In effect they are stating that all fire departments in the State of Washington are hereafter prohibited from saving a life if they do not have at least 3 personnel on scene. This chilling order could cost Washington fire departments hundreds of millions of dollars and will cause citizens to lose their lives.
As part of the defense over this incident, Camas City Administrator Pete Capell previously pointed out that 85 percent of the calls the department responds to are EMS calls. Maybe a reporter will someday ask Mr. Capell a pretty obvious question about that statement. Something like, “Fifteen percent of your calls are for reports of a fire. Are your engine companies properly staffed – meeting state standards – to take immediate action when those fires occur?” Seems to me the answer is no.
Camas officials are also trying to frame the argument in a way that looks like the Washington State is coming down on two hero firefighters. But we know that’s not the case. The State is coming down on the City. In fact, firefighters and the union are the ones who made the complaint. Staffing has been an ongoing battle in Camas. As we all know, the Camas-Washougal Fire Department is far from unique in operating engine companies with a crew of two. It happens all over the United States.
Camas made these staffing decisions based on the money they were willing to commit to the fire department. Just because that’s all the money you have or care to spend doesn’t mean you are doing what’s best to keep your citizens and firefighters safe.
The Camas fire chief and other city officials are jumping through a lot of hoops trying to tell its citizens the State of Washington is wrong for having minimum safety standards. If Camas suddenly decides they don’t have enough money to properly train firefighters will they then try to convince us the training standards are the problem?
In this case Washington State is the child telling all of us the emperor has no clothes. Instead of attacking that child, either acknowledge the truth that you are actually naked and that’s the best you can do or buy the emperor some damn clothes.