Lack of safety officer on scene possible factor in firefighters' deaths

Lack of safety officer on scene possible factor in firefighters' deaths
Toledo Fire Private Steve Machcinski (left) and Private Jamie Dickman (right)
Toledo Fire Private Steve Machcinski (left) and Private Jamie Dickman (right)
Ray Abou-Arab (Source: Lucas County Jail)
Ray Abou-Arab (Source: Lucas County Jail)

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - A federal report following an investigation of the fire that killed two Toledo Firefighters was released on Tuesday. In the report, the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, or NIOSH, outlines several factors it says contributed to the deaths of Privates Stephen Machcinski and Jamie Dickman.

Arson, not getting water on the fire in a timely manner and not coordinating the ventilation of the building were just a few issues NIOSH identified as problems during the January 26, 2014 fire on Magnolia Street in north Toledo.

Another major factor according to NIOSH is the fact that a safety officer was not on scene when firefighters entered the building that day.

Keeping fire crews safe and alive during an emergency is the job of a safety officer, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

In its report released Tuesday, NIOSH says a department the size of TFD should have a full time safety officer on staff. TFD did have a full time safety officer at the time, but that person was scheduled to work Monday through Friday. The fatal fire in question happened on a Sunday.

TFD says all officers in the department are trained to function as safety officers. A firefighter was assigned to be the safety officer for the Magnolia Street fire, but that officer arrived on scene at 2:59 p.m., more than 10 minutes after the first crews arrived. Just 4 minutes later, at 3:03 p.m., the first mayday call was broadcast.

The NIOSH report points out that since the safety officer was late arriving on the scene of this fire

"he was limited in his ability to assess the scene."

TFD says that in 2012 the department switched to a Monday through Friday safety officer with other officers being trained to work as safety officers. The department says it did this to protect firefighter safety, but Firefighters Union Local 92 disagreed.

In a letter obtained by WTOL 11, the union asked Fire Chief Louis Santiago to return dedicated safety officers to the staff around the clock. Local 92 says they were concerned for their union members' safety.

According to another document obtained by WTOL 11, the matter was also discussed at a safety committee meeting. At that meeting, members of the committee determined the position should be returned.

The Fire Chief has the managerial right to change these positions within his department.

Just one month after Machcinski and Dickman were killed, a vacancy notice was posted for the position of a Safety Officer at TFD.

TFD says months later, 3 officers were appointed and assigned to work around the clock, and report to fires as safety officers. A TFD spokesman would not say if that change was related to what happened on Magnolia Street on Jan. 26.

Toledo Fire Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld was able to provide information about the changes to the safety officer position. Hertzfeld however declined to comment on the NIOSH report, citing a gag order in the Ray Abou-Arab case.

Read more on Toledo's fallen heroes here.

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