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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Watchdog Report Exposes Safety Issues. . .

Editorial: Volunteer firefighting needs better state regulation

 (Pressconnects) - Some of our nation’s greatest heroes are firefighters. They selflessly toil to save our lives and our property in the worst of conditions.

They also die in the line of duty.

What is stunning is how many of the lost are volunteers — those whose only compensation for their time and sacrifice is the satisfaction of knowing they are serving their communities.

In the 10 years through 2013, volunteers accounted for about one of every two firefighters who died in connection with performing those duties, according to data from the U.S. Fire Administration, a government agency. That’s 548 volunteer heroes, or 42 last year alone.

Matthew Porcari was one of those heroes.

The 17-year member of the Owego Fire Department died in January 2013 after the floor of a burning home in Newark Valley collapsed under him and he plunged into the basement. Porcari’s father and grandfather also served the Owego volunteer force, which was founded in 1828. This fire wasn’t even in Owego, but the department was providing aid to another department, as departments do everywhere.

What makes Porcari’s death an even deeper tragedy is that it could have been prevented, according to facts disclosed in a state investigative report recently obtained by Press & Sun-Bulletin reporter David Robinson under a Freedom of Information Law request.

Robinson’s article on today’s front page quotes the Labor Department report as stating: “In this case, the accountability system experienced a complete breakdown.” Several commonly accepted standards for firefighting, including adequate training, weren’t observed by those fighting the fire, which posed no threat to a resident’s life, according to our story today.

Read more of the story here 

Watchdog Report: What went wrong in Newark Valley fatal fire

Records shed light on events leading up to Porcari's death

 (Pressconnects) - Volunteer firefighter Matthew Porcari spent more than 17 years serving the community he loved before losing his life battling a house fire.

The 34-year-old father to five children was a third-generation legacy in the Owego Fire Department. His funeral last year drew more than 1,000 people, including friends and fellow firefighters who gathered to mourn his tragic death.

But state records show Porcari, who was described as a selfless hero by those who knew him best, should have never been inside that burning Newark Valley home during an emergency response on a frigid night in January 2013.

Nearly two years earlier, a medical evaluation determined Porcari was unfit for interior firefighting duty, and the fire department failed to remove him from service in 2011, records show.

During that fateful night in 2013, the volunteer firefighters in command lacked sufficient training, records show, and they oversaw a frantic attempt to save a house from flames, while committing numerous violations of state and federal safety regulations. Residents had escaped before firefighters arrived.

In total, a November state Department of Labor investigation cited 11 safety violations, of which eight were designated as serious, in connection to the fire on Jan. 21, 2013, when Porcari fell into the basement after the one-story home’s floor collapsed. The Press & Sun-Bulletin obtained the report last week through a Freedom of Information Law request.

Local fire and law enforcement officials later determined a lighting apparatus in a small shed near the Chamberlain Road home caused the fire, which they ruled accidental.

The state investigation report and other local government records obtained through FOIL requests show firefighters, including Porcari, had been unnecessarily exposed to risks while performing an important but inherently dangerous community service.

“In this case the accountability system experienced a complete breakdown,” the state investigation report stated.

Read more of the story here 

(The usual disclaimers: I am not a journalist; This is a blog that expresses an outlook and is not conclusive in any shape or manner.)

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