Emergencies can bring out the best in people. The April 9 flood in Pullman serves as a good example, as 22 people were rescued from fast-moving flood waters by members of the Pullman Fire Department.
On that evening, the rapidly rising Missouri Flat Creek had stranded residents near businesses on Grand Avenue. Fire department personnel jumped into action and relocated them to safety.
We’ve all seen dramatic videos of victims rescued from raging floods. The rescuers use boats, helicopters, ATVs, random floatation devices — whatever is at hand — to help those in immediate need.
In Pullman, the first-responders used a front-end loader to remove people from the danger. Those rescued included an infant and a person with a diabetic emergency. No one was injured during the rescue.
According to Washington Department of Labor and Industries officials, however, the rescuers took a few shortcuts by using handy equipment instead of conducting the rescues “by the book,” thus placing themselves and those being rescued at unnecessary risk.
As punishment, and to prevent further such lapses of behavior, L&I levied $2,700 in fines for three cited violations by the city. The violations include: the department allowing a maintenance employee to operate the front-end loader with three firefighters in the bucket; the department had personnel in fire bunker gear and rubber boots while riding in the bucket of the loader without a personal flotation device or appropriate helmet; and the department did not require use of appropriate safety devices and safeguards and allowed an employee to ride unsecured in the front bucket.
The city has paid the money and will not appeal the decision. We suspect city officials felt there was little to gain from a dustup with L&I and wrote the incident off as an expensive lesson.
It can be argued the action was the proper response by the state. After all, the agency was doing its job. L&I has a history of holding offenders accountable and it’s a good thing to uphold the letter of the law.
What about the spirit of the law? Should the state have used the monetary sledge hammer to reinforce the fact city employees made a few quick decisions without the luxury of referencing a safety manual? We believe that answer is a resounding “no.”
Sure L&I could levy the fines, but it could have also forgiven them and let the lesson stand as learned.
L&I’s draconian handling of the incident caught the attention of Ninth District Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax.
“To me, this is just ludicrous,” he told the Daily News. “This is government run amok.”
Schmick said he has called L&I several times and will at some point speak with its director about his concerns. He also said the money should be refunded and an apology given.
Schmick has taken an admirable stand and it’s not often he’s this vocal on an issue.
His next logical move would be to take legislative action against the L&I policy. We look forward to it.
— Murf Raquet, for the editorial board