TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - A new safety report released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health regarding a north Toledo fire that killed two firefighters in January of 2014 indicates a strong need for the Toledo Fire Department to have a full-time dedicated safety officer.
That officer's job is to look for what could be a hazardous situation for firefighters, essentially making sure fire crews stay safe.
TFD use to have full-time around the clock safety officers, but when Chief Santiago took over those positions were eliminated, leaving all officers to act as safety officers.
At the time of the two firefighters' deaths one safety officer was still staffed, but only worked Monday through Friday and was off the Sunday of that fatal fire.
According to the NIOSH report the firefighter assigned as the safety office arrived at 2:59 p.m., over 10 minutes after the call for the fire went out. Then, just four minutes after the safety officer arrived, the first mayday call was broadcast at 3:03 p.m.
In 2012, Chief Santiago made the decision to change the Safety Officer position because he felt a dedicated officer was no longer needed since the department had one safety officer assigned to work during business hours and all officers were trained to act as a safety officer.
“That change in 2012, the chief saw as an enhancement in safety because we went from one safety officer per shift to all our officers being trained,” said Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld.
Local 92 President Jeff Romstadt disagrees and says he fought for two years through letters and meetings with the chief to get the full-time dedicated safety officer position reinstated.
“Chief Santiago refused to listen, he stated he enhanced our safety when really, as the NIOSH report says, he did not and we never felt safe once he eliminated the safety officer position,” said Romstadt.
In the report just released NIOSH recommends to TFD that a full-time safety officer is needed for a department of their size. The report reads, "A metropolitan sized fire department should consider one or more full-time dedicated safety officers who are on duty and can routinely respond to working fires."
Months after Steve Machcinski and Jamie Dickman were killed, three dedicated safety officers returned to TFD.
Lt. Hertzfeld says they went back to dedicated safety officers because of an influx of young recruits.
“There was a loss of experience. We hired almost 200 firefighters, so there was a need to focus in on the safety aspect with the training,” said Hertzfeld.
The union, however, believes it was because of the department's loss.
“I talked to Mayor Collins in March of 2014, after the deaths of our members, and we did not want to repeat that day ever again,” said Romstadt.
TFD could not comment if the return of the officers had anything to do with the fatal fire because of a gag order.
Lt. Hertzfeld says the department continues to change with the times.
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