Survey: Firefighters may decline wildland duties after Wash. manslaughter charges

Survey: Firefighters may decline wildlandduties after Wash. manslaughter charges

22 February 2007

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Washington, USA — More than one-third of firefighterswill try to avoid being assigned to wildland fires because of manslaughtercharges filed against an incident commander, according to a survey.

Ellreese Daniels was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter andseven counts of making false statements at the end of January.

It followed the Thirtymile fire in north-central Washington that claimed thelives of four U.S. Forest Service firefighters in July 2001.

A survey conducted by the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF)showed that 36 percent of the  3,362 full-time wildland firefighters polledwill make themselves less available to be assigned to wildland fires as a directresult of the manslaughter charges.

“We conducted this survey to collect objective information about theimpacts to wildland fire personnel and their organizations that are caused bythe Thirtymile Fire legal proceedings,” IAWF President Chuck Bushey said.

“We are providing this data to the land management agencies and otherfire organizations so that they can determine if they need to mitigate anyadverse impacts that may be identified.”

The IAWF conducted the online survey between January 28 and February 15.

Of the full-time survey respondents surveyed, 6 percent said that because ofthe possibility of criminal charges they will no longer accept any fireassignments, and 23 percent said they will not serve as an incident commander.

In addition, 93 percent said that firefighters being charged with involuntarymanslaughter due to incidents on a wildland fire was either “bad” or”very bad” for wildland fire.

Respondents added various comments in their online replies.

“Firefighting is a risky business, with decisions having to be made inwhat can be very dynamic situations,” said one. “Do we chargestructural fire captains with manslaughter when a firefighter falls in the lineof duty?”

Another said, “This is precedent setting and could wreak havoc ingetting anyone to take supervisory or command positions where human life is atrisk for fear of being sued by attorneys who will have months to critique asplit-second decision of someone under fire.”

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