Ousted Idaho Fire Supervisor Placed On Federal Court Probation

SALMON, Idaho (AP) -- A dismissed fire crew supervisor blamed for the deaths of two young firefighters battling an eastern Idaho blaze last year has been placed on 18 months probation under an agreement with the U.S. Attorney.

Alan Hackett could still face criminal charges if he fails to successfully comply with terms of the probation he accepted under a pretrial diversionary agreement, U.S. Attorney Tom Moss said.

Hackett, who lives in Salmon, is the first Forest Service employee sanctioned as a result of the criminal review of the July 2003 Cramer fire that claimed the lives of firefighters Jeff Allen, 24, of Salmon, and Shane Heath, 22, of Melba.

He was fired by the Salmon-Challis National Forest on Nov. 13, although neither the federal government nor his attorney would confirm that at the time. His attorney only said then that an agreement had been reached, and one of its conditions was Hackett leaving government employment.

A separate government inquiry into the Cramer Fire found that poor judgment by Hackett and other fire managers contributed to the deaths of Allen and Heath. The Forest Service claimed that other fire officials involved in the blaze have been disciplined, but representatives for the Salmon-Challis office and the regional Forest Service office have refused to provide details.

Hackett's attorney, Aaron Thompson, said the government's early consideration of charging Hackett with involuntary manslaughter was unjustified, considering the significantly lesser disciplinary actions taken against others involved in the Cramer Fire.

``It was unfair that criminal action was pursued or at least considered against Mr. Hackett at all,'' Thompson said on Wednesday. ``We did not believe the prosecution could present a case that would have found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt. I think they would acknowledge that they had a tough case.''

In his statement, Moss said Hackett was ``negligent in providing proper supervision and safety to the two firefighters who lost their lives.''

Moss blamed Hackett based on the findings of an investigation by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service.

``My heart goes out to the families of the two young men who lost their lives,'' Moss said. ``I can only hope that the accountability provided by this resolution will bring them some closure.''

Allen's father said he was satisfied with Moss's conclusion that ``mistakes were made and there was human error in the situation.'' But Bill Allen expressed disappointment that Hackett was not barred from future employment with the agency.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Breitsameter said the terms of Hackett's deal only precludes working for the Forest Service during his probation.

``But one would think, given the circumstances, he would not be the most qualified person as a candidate for a position with the Forest Service'' after that, Breitsameter said.

A review of other officials working on the Cramer Fire showed no basis for criminal prosecution against them, he said.

``We focused on who placed these two individuals at risk, who made the decisions that caused their fatalities,'' Breitsameter said. ``Really, the only person who had that responsibility was Alan Hackett.''

The two firefighters died on July 22, 2003, after being overrun by flames while trying to clear a helicopter landing spot. They had twice radioed for help, but the helicopter that was sent in was late, and by the time it arrived the smoke was too thick to locate the two.