Washington State OSHA Investigating Contaminants in Spokane Fire’s Air Supply

Investigators from Washington State Department of Labor and Industries have launched an investigation into contaminants found in SCBA cylinders in the Spokane Fire Department.

The investigation follows the discovery of lead, oil and other contaminants in air cylinders after firefighters complained about a foul smell in their breathing air. That prompted the department to place its three fill stations out of service, and borrow SCBA and air fill capability from neighboring fire departments.

According to Labor & Industries spokeswoman Elaine Fisher, the investigation will focus on whether the air compressors were being serviced in a timely manner. The investigation may take several months to conclude and may lead to a significant fine.

Ironically, the same day Labor & Industries received a complaint about the air contaminants, the Spokane City Council voted to deny Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer’s request for $192,000 to replace two of the three compressors. Council members are now claiming they did not understand the urgency of the matter

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, chair of the Public Safety and Community Health committee, was quoted by The Spokesman-Review this week as saying:

  • “Perhaps there wasn’t enough information provided and the urgency wasn’t communicated effectively.”
  • “Once we understand that, then of course that’s a priority. I think it was a miscommunication. I just think there were some council members who didn’t understand how urgent this was.”

The Spokesman-Review also quoted Council President Ben Stuckart as blaming the fire department administration for what he characterized as a “lack of planning.”

More on the story.

BTW – “It looks like we may have been under-funding the fire department, denying their legitimate requests for some pretty routine things….” said no elected official ever…

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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