Washington Department Again Under Fire for Photos Showing Firefighters Without SCBAs

Photographs of a firefighter fighting a car fire without proper gear Aug. 10 led to the suspension of Friday Harbor Fire Chief Vern Long.

But it wasn't the first time firefighters fought a car fire without wearing their self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBAs.

A review of Journal photo files turned up previously unpublished photos of a car fire July 8, showing firefighters without SCBAs extinguishing Connie Auge's smoldering 2003 VW Golf, parked in front of her hair salon.

Town Administrator King Fitch, who reviewed the photos, did not comment but e-mailed to The Journal a copy of the town's standard operating procedure for fighting car fires. "The minimum level of protection for firefighters is full protective clothing breathing air from the SCBA," according to Policy 2.0A states.

Assistant Fire Chief Tom Eades said the incident was reviewed at a drill in July. Asked if SCBAs should have been worn, Eades said, "I would say yes ... I can't go back and rebuild the scene, but if the minimum standard says SCBAs should be worn, then SCBAs should have been worn."

Fire Capt. Tony Smith was first on the scene of the car fire, in front of Auge's salon on Spring and Mullis streets. Dressed in civilian clothes, he used the fire extinguisher from his command vehicle and then used water from a faucet to cool the area behind the dash. His command vehicle was equipped with an SCBA but he did not wear it.

Eades gave Smith credit for keeping the fire from spreading to the building.

Undersheriff Jon Zerby was next on the scene and used his fire extinguisher. A fire truck arrived 3-5 minutes later.

A firefighter looked inside the engine compartment; no smoke was visible and he did not wear an SCBA. But smoke or steam was visible when firefighters sprayed water onto the dash and into the engine compartment to fully extinguish the fire. They did not have their SCBAs on.

"If there's no toxic environment -- if it's totally clear, or it's been out or a while -- it's not necessary to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus," Eades said. As for the July 8 incident, "I can't say 100 percent, 'Yeah, they should have been wearing their SCBAs.' The safe thing to say is, 'Yes, you do.'"

Republished with permission of The Journal of the San Juans.

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