In the aftermath of a deadly fire that took the lives of 19 firefighters almost exactly two years ago, the Arizona Forestry Division has settled a complaint filed against Arizona’s administrative agency for workplace safety, ADOSH.
ADOSH originally assessed $530,000 in fines against the Forestry Division, claiming that the Division showed more concern for protecting land than for preserving lives when they did not evacuate the firefighters. Judging by reports, it appears that the Forestry Division agreed to make internal changes that would improve firefighter training and otherwise better ensure the safety of the Division’s firefighters. The Division will also pay $10,000 to seven of the victims’ families.
Prior to the settlement, the Forestry Division disputed the fines, suggesting that the amount was excessive in light of the evidence. Among other things, investigations leading up to the fines attributed the tragedy either to lack of resources to fight the wildfire or to poor communication that nonetheless satisfied the procedures then in place.
Like any other employee, an employee of a government agency has the right to a reasonably safe work place. In situations where the employee is engaged in an inherently dangerous occupation, like firefighting, it means that the agency must assess a dangerous situation and, if necessary, pull workers away from it altogether in order to prevent a tragic workplace accident.
Also, like private sector occupations, government employees, or their surviving relatives, have the right to seek workers’ compensation on a no-fault basis in order to get assistance with medical bills, lost income and certain other expenses.
Source: Star Tribune, “Families accept settlement in lawsuit against Arizona stemming from 19 firefighter deaths,” Bob Christie, June 29, 2015