NC Dept. Of Labor Investigating WS Fire Dept.

WINSTON SALEM, NC -- The Winston-Salem Fire Department is under investigation after allegations about workplace health and safety issues.

The state's Occupational Safety and Health Division notified the department last month that it had received a complaint detailing 16 allegations concerning firefighter's safety.

The claims range from non-NFPA compliant turnout gear and improperly stored chemicals to improperly trained employees for rescue operations.

"We haven't had an OSHA investigation in quite some time. We were certainly surprised. Obviously anytime the department is contacted by OSHA they see it as a serious event," Chief Antony Farmer said.

According to the letter from NCDOL, the department has some outdated turnout gears not in complaint with NFPA standards. Farmer says the department received a grant in 2010 and has since been in the process of updating turnout gear.

"If there was a gear that was in the stations that was not in compliance, we did not know. Our goal is to get it all out and that's what we've been making sure has happened," he said.

Since the investigation began, the department has also identified 92 hazardous material suits in Engine 17 that are out-of-date. There were communication issues with some emergency radios but the chief says they might have been due to "water exposure" and that "the water resistant microphones were replaced with submersible microphones."

The complaint to the state also lists mold at Station 18. Farmer says the building has been tested "several times for mold and no mold was found."

There were also allegations about outdated policies concerning respiratory protection and blood borne pathogens. Farmer, in a response to the complaint, told the state, that the policies are in fact up to date.

The chief also responded to the claim about improper rescue training by saying all personnel are certified, receive on-going education for each specialty and annual exercises.

Farmer added that in May the department transferred personnel. " to assign more individuals with certifications to stations that deliver trench, confined space, water rescue, and structural collapse."

Farmer says he's had one communication with the division since his response to the allegations and is waiting for any final comments on the responses and documents he's provided as proof.

"Nobody was injured as a result of those complaints, and naturally it doesn't look good for any department, but OSHA complaints do occur regardless of the reason the complainers, complain," Farmer said. "So we are answering those questions and our department is working hard on a regular basis for compliance and we feel that we are very good in terms of compliance right now."

The Department of Labor expects the investigation to be completed in 90 days.

This is the second time, on record, the fire department has been investigated according to OSHA.

Back in 1996, it was investigated for a non-serious violation concerning fire brigades but received no penalties.


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