Friday, April 5, 2013

OSHA, Forest Service Debate Over Firefighter Death Still Not Resolved

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 10:42 AM

A spokeswoman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the agency still hasn't resolved its disagreement with the U.S. Forest Service over the events which lead to the death of a 20-year-old Moscow woman, who was killed in 2012 while battling a wildfire near Orofino.

Anne Veseth was killed by a falling tree which had been struck by another tree in a domino effect. The tragedy occurred while Veseth was battling the Streep Corner Fire on Aug. 12, 2012.

OSHA conducted an investigation, leading to citations and fines for the Forest Service and Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protection Agency. Among the several violations listed in OSHA's report were failure to keep crews informed of weather reports and not knowing what the fire was doing at all times. The report also pointed to "communication problems" and failure in "maintaining control of workforces."

In March, OSHA settled with the Orofino-based Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protective Association, with CPTPA agreeing to pay a $10,500 fine.

But this morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that the Forest Service is still at loggerheads with OSHA.

"We're continuing to have conversations with them about the citations," said Deanne Amaden, spokeswoman for OSHA. "It's not resolved yet and I can't provide any other details."

The Forest Service, in its own report, concluded that human error was not responsible for the accident. The report said Veseth died instantly when a green cedar that had been weakened by fire struck her in the head.

The report included a chilling narrative:

"With his fists and teeth clenched, [another firefighter] expects to be hit. He hears a tremendous sound as the trees crash downward and feels the whip of limbs on each side of him. He falls down, but upon realizing he is uninjured, quickly gets up and looks for [Veseth], who he thought had been right behind him. He finds her three or four strides uphill under the tree branches. After quickly clearing them away, he determines she did not survive."

The report adds that "numerous individuals at the accident scene performed admirably."

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