March 13, 2019

KEY LARGO — The Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department has filed required compliance paperwork with the Division of State Fire Marshal addressing safety deficiencies.

The safety lapses were identified last June as part of the state’s follow up to a Key Largo firefighter falling unconscious and being hospitalized in early 2017 after entering an enclosed stormwater trench where three road project contractors quickly died due to a build-up of toxic gases inside.

Firefighters will now enter such confined spaces only after it is determined to be a viable living victim rescue as noted in the department’s Confined Space Rescue manual.

The state allowed the department 120 days from September to develop and submit a Firefighter Employer Safety and Health Compliance Plan in response to the safety violations it identified.

Chief Don Bock, who heads the fire department and its affiliated Key Largo Ambulance Corps, previously told the Free Press that the department had a safety plan in place and that it was merely a matter of submitting it in writing to the state.

Bock provided the Free Press with five submitted documents in response to a public records request.

“This safety program is a written expression of my commitment and is a standard of practice for this department,” Bock wrote in his plan.

The department will comply with the safety program, report unsafe conditions, not perform tasks considered unsafe and correct unsafe conditions as outlined in the program’s Standard Operating Procedure.

“The primary responsibility for the coordination, implementation and maintenance of our workplace safety program has been assigned to: The Safety Committee,” Bock states in his response.

The Safety Committee includes six staffers who meet every two months. The committee’s duties include identifying root causes of safety violations and methods for future prevention, determining compliance with existing safety protocols and meeting Florida statutory requirements as outlined in the department’s Safety Committee Injury & Illness Investigations as filed with the state.

Bock also filed the department’s Monthly Fire Station Safety Inspection Checklist and Confined Space Rescue-Emergency Operations, a 14-page document that designates the first arriving officer to assume command of the incident like the one that almost claimed the life of one of his firefighters and to size up the situation.

Bock has previously stated that Key Largo firefighters were not to enter such confined spaces and that Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s HAZMAT team responds to such incidences through a mutual aid agreement with the department.

He echoed that policy in the submitted confined-space rescue procedures.

“If incident will be extended or there are insufficient Operational Level trained personnel to mitigate the incident, mutual aid shall be requested from Miami Dade Fire Rescue,” the document states.

“It must be determined if this will be a rescue operation or a recovery operation based on the survivability profile of the victim(s) which include factors such as the location and condition of the victim(s), and elapsed time since the accident occurred. At no time shall any member of the Key Largo Fire Department enter a confined space unless it has been determined to be a viable victim rescue.”

Fire and EMS services are provided by the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department and affiliated Key Largo Volunteer Ambulance Corps through a contract with the Key Largo Fire-Rescue and Emergency Medical Services District, which is mostly funded by property taxes.

Alecia Collins, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Financial Services, which oversees the state fire marshal, did not respond to Free Press inquiries before press time