By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to send its findings to the Harbor Rural Fire Protection District, according to a report Chief Bob Larson gave at the district’s board of commissioners meeting Jan. 8.

OSHA began an investigation into safety issues at the fire station in December after receiving an anonymous complaint.

Board Chair Rex Peterson and Commissioner Jaime Silva said Harbor Fire needed to respond to the investigation or what they characterized as “an attack” on the district by a member of the community.

Commissioner Peter Flanderka also said Harbor Fire had to respond but said the person who submitted the complaint to OSHA was likely a “former firefighter.”

Larson said OSHA investigators had visited Harbor Fire’s facilities three times for interviews and site inspections, and said the district would receive certified letters documenting any citations and would then have 14 days to make corrections and respond. Fines could also be imposed.

Larson told the board he and volunteers are working on six new policies to ensure they are in compliance with OSHA guidelines.

“We are trying to get fully into compliance ahead of any letters we might receive,” he said.

On the last visit by OSHA Jan. 4, Harbor Fire had already tested its compressor and sent the test kit for certification, according to Larson, and he noted the hose-drying tower, ladder and safety cage were found to be in compliance.

The compressor, used to fill air tanks for firefighters, had been certified in 2017, according to Larson, but the test kit had not been sent in last year, probably due to the command transitions at the district after Chief John Brazil’s death.

Other issues in the complaint having to do with chemical storage were unfounded as well, he said, because OSHA investigators did not find stored muriatic acid in the facility or gas cans containing diesel fuel.

Larson predicted work to address any issues presented by OSHA would be completed in a month.

OSHA officials would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Response to the port

During the chief’s report, Peterson said the board needed to address “this port nonsense.”

At the Port of Brookings Harbor (POBH) commissioners meeting Dec. 18, Commissioner Wesley Ferraccioli recommended the port decline a contract with Harbor Fire for $15,000 saying Harbor Fire would respond to fires at the port without a contract and claiming that paying Harbor Fire for training was a waste of money. The port board voted to reject the contract.

The port is not within Harbor Fire’s district, but Larson agreed it would respond to the port even without the contract.

Harbor Fire commissioners said the trainings listed in this year’s proposed contract between Harbor Fire and the port — which the port rejected — amounted to a bonus, saying the invoice or proposal was for fire protection.

The fire board said there was confusion as to how the contract was presented, why it contained training provisions and how it differed from invoices the port paid in the past. Harbor Fire staff were unable to find an itemized invoice or contract for fire protection or other services offered to the port.

Peterson said the invoices and contract were for fire protection because the port was not in Harbor Fire’s district, and although Harbor Fire would respond to a fire at the port, it could bill the port, port businesses or their insurance companies for the operation. The cost of a major operation would well exceed $15,000, he said.

Larson said the port, without a contract, was “hanging their customers out to dry.”

Harbor Fire’s policy is not to charge operations costs to those who have a contract with the fire district, according to Larson. There are numerous properties within the Harbor areas outside fire district boundaries due to the ways in which the boundaries were drawn and exclusions made for agricultural properties. Many of those properties are now under contract for fire protection.

“We need to have good relations with the port, and we need to work through this,” Larson said.

Peterson said it was imperative to move forward and asked what an insurance agent would think of the port not having fire protection.

“Someone should ask David Allen – a local insurance agent whose office is near the port – what he thinks,” he said.

Allen said he was shocked by the port’s rejection of the contract.

They do not have fire protection within their district, he said, and based on national cost tables, one major incident would likely break the port.

“We need the port and Harbor Fire to work together as they have in the past,” Allen said. They need to move forward for the good of the community.”

He said the lack of a fire protection agreement could create problems with some insurance companies offering coverage and could raise customers’ rates if they are insured without fire protection.

The fire board agreed to arrange a meeting with POBH Board President Roy Davis, Port Manager Gary Dehlinger, fire board member Ken Hall and Larson to discuss the contract.

According to Larson, the group met Friday afternoon, and he characterized the meeting as a very positive.

“There is no bad blood between the boards,” he said, “and we will work together to find a way forward.”

Any further progress will come after action from the board, he added.

Dehlinger also said the meeting went well.

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