City fined for April flood response

Fire department has minimal water safety provisions, chief says



A bystander watches the emergency response to the flood water running down the street on April 9 at the intersection of Stadium Way and Grand Avenue.

KHADIJAH BUTLER, Evergreen reporter

The City of Pullman was fined a total of $2,700 by the Labor and Industry Department (L&I) for violations the Pullman Fire Department committed during the flood rescue in April.

The official L&I report was finalized on Sept. 30 and the city received the report on Oct. 2. Mike Heston, Pullman fire chief, said they decided not to appeal the case or its fines.

The violations included using a front-end loader, intended to scoop and transport construction material such as gravel, to rescue people that were trapped. The driver of the loader was a public work’s employee who did not have water rescue training.

The second violation was due to a firefighter being unsecured on the outside of the bucket. He was also dressed in his fire gear, which can fill up with water and create extra weight, Heston said.

The last violation was a result of not wearing proper water safety equipment such as life vests and helmets.

Each fine was set at $900, but could have ranged up to $13,000 each, totaling up to $40,00 Heston said.

“The Labor and Industries is designed to protect employees,” he said.

Heston said he would have preferred to receive a warning instead of a violation, given how exceptional this case was. The L&I report did not include recommendations for the department to handle situations like the flood.

Congressman Joe Schmick said he was opposed to the report and how “poorly” the L&I handled it.

“This was an emergency and [the fire department] did the best they could,” Schmick said.

He said he applauds the fire fighters’ efforts and feels L&I should have offered training for the department to properly handle flood situations.

“[It] was a once in a lifetime event for Pullman,” Heston said.

The flood was completely unexpected, and it is unlikely for the department to be prepared for every situation, he said.

The department has minimal water safety provisions, such as life vests and ring buoys. But they do not have the funds to buy equipment that would rarely be needed or used, Heston said.

The team was dispatched out to control traffic but when reports came in about people trapped inside businesses the team began rescue missions, Heston said.

The city was also concerned about protecting the city’s water from being contaminated by the flood water, he said.

Heston said in hindsight, they could have prevented the violations but that his team did “what they could, as best as they could.” They rescued 22 people, including an infant and prevented a diabetic emergency from occurring inside the Chevron gas station.

Chief Heston said he was out of town when it flooded, but he was glad the troops were able to rescue everyone and that no one was injured during the process.

“I support what the troops did, and we’ll move on,” Heston said.