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6 facing USFS discipline in fatal Cramer fire

by Webmaster |

The U.S. Forest Service could suspend or dismiss six employees for their handling of the forest fire that killed two firefighters near Salmon last summer.

Regional Forester Jack Troyer announced the proposed disciplinary actions in a letter to all Salmon-Challis National Forest employees.

Jeff Allen, 24, of Salmon and Shane Heath, 22, of Melba were killed July 22, 2003, near Cache Bar on the Salmon River after they were left by their bosses in the path of the Cramer Fire.

Family members of the two firefighters could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Neither Troyer nor Forest Service spokeswoman Erin O'Connor would release the names of the six employees targeted for discipline in connection with the deaths.

They also would not say how many of the group would likely be fired.

Earlier this month U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials cited the U.S. Forest Service for repeatedly and willfully violating safety standards on the Cramer Fire. Forest Service employees willfully violated all 10 "standard orders" and 14 of 18 "watch-out situations" listed in the Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations, according to OSHA.

OSHA also cited the Forest Service for not including safety and health program performances in its evaluations for fire managers, even after the agency was cited for the same violation in 2002 in response to a 2001 fire in Washington that killed four firefighters.

OSHA does not have the authority to issue fines to any federal agency.

All it can do is set deadlines for corrective action and monitor the Forest Service.

The official Forest Service investigation into the deaths of Allen and Heath was issued in January but omitted the names of fire officials involved, citing privacy concerns.

But some key managers cited in the investigation were identified from other documents.

Investigators concluded the incident commander on the Cramer Fire, Alan Hackett, violated all 10 standard orders to ensure firefighters operate safely, including posting lookouts, identifying escape routes, maintaining good communication and paying attention to weather and past fire behavior.

Upper management of the Salmon/Challis National Forest, including former Forest Supervisor George Matejko and North Fork/Middle Fork District Ranger Patty Bates, were cited for lack of oversight and direction of Hackett, according to the report.