November 7, 2018

KEY LARGO — The state has ordered the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department to develop an employee safety plan to help avoid a repeat of an incident that could have claimed the life of a firefighter in early 2017.

The department, and its affiliated Key Largo Ambulance Corps, are contractors for the Key Largo Fire-Rescue and Emergency Medical Services District.

The Division of State Fire Marshal issued a letter to the department requiring a safety compliance inspection following a Jan. 16, 2017, incident when a firefighter fell unconscious after descending a stormwater trench where three road project contractors died due to a build-up of toxic gases inside.

Leo Moreno, an eight-year volunteer with the department, was unresponsive for five minutes after his attempt to save the contractors. Moreno was released after five days in the hospital.

The inspection, which was delayed due to Hurricane Irma, found deficiencies that must be addressed. The inspection was performed in June.

“The department has 120 days from receipt (Sept. 25) of this documentation to develop a Firefighter Employer Safety and Health Compliance Plan,” Susan T. Schell, the state Fire Marshal Office’s Safety Programs Manager, stated in the letter.

An overview of the deficiencies noted the Key Largo fire department’s lack of procedures for alarms requiring skilled support personnel, a failure to meet training requirements and a failure of its safety committee to meet regularly and provide feedback to the chief.

The fire department’s training programs don’t occur often enough to ensure satisfactory, safe performance commensurate with assigned duties, nor does the department identify hazards in training, according to the letter.

Chief Don Bock, who heads the fire department and ambulance corps, told the Free Press last Thursday that these deficiencies have already been addressed. Regarding the state’s lack of training findings, Bock said the department had actually been compliant, and that it’s merely a matter of documenting or reformatting existing training programs.

According to Alecia Collins, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Financial Services, which oversees the state fire marshal, if the firefighter employer fails to submit a timely plan to the state, if the plan isn’t approved after one re-submission, or if deficiencies are not timely corrected in accordance with the approved plan, the firefighter employer shall be subject to penalties.

“The division shall conduct a re-inspection at a mutually agreeable time, but in no case longer than one year from the date of plan approval,” she wrote in an email to the Free Press.

A re-inspection has not yet been scheduled.

tjava@keysnews.com