Thursday, July 1, 2004
By HECTOR CASTRO, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
The battalion chief blamed by some for an accident that critically injured a Seattle fire recruit four years ago testified yesterday that she took pains to ensure the well-being of all the recruits.
Battalion Chief Molly Douce, testifying before a King County Superior Court jury, said she made sure there was water, extended lunch breaks and cut short one day of training when it appeared heat was getting to some of the recruits.
Kevin Locke, now a dispatcher for the Fire Department, was in the final day of his three-month recruit program June 29, 2000, when he fell off a ladder while more than 30 feet up.
He suffered broken bones that required months of rehabilitation. Earlier he testified that he has been unable to return to many of the physical activities he performed before the accident and cannot now be a firefighter. The state Department of Labor and Industries fined the Fire Department $25,500 as a result of Locke’s accident. In his lawsuit, Locke maintains that over three days of training at the Washington State Fire Academy in North Bend, instructors, including Douce, failed to ensure the recruits had adequate water and rest, despite the warm weather and strenuous work. The result, his suit contends, is that heat stress caused him to lose consciousness on the ladder and fall. Douce, who some in the department have criticized because she was in command of other incidents in which firefighters suffered from heat stress, testified yesterday that she was aware Locke was having problems on the first day of training at North Bend.
“I was told there was a recruit having a problem and that was Kevin Locke,” she said.
Douce said she asked other instructors to monitor Locke and let her know whether any action needed to be taken. According to earlier testimony, Locke passed out the next day during a drill and had to be pulled from a training building, doused with water and given oxygen. Other recruits have said Douce saw Locke and another recruit incapacitated by the heat and commented that she would have to tell her superiors that some recruits were not going to graduate, prompting at least one to make an attempt to get up and continue.
Douce said yesterday she never made such a comment.
“I don’t believe I said that, sir,” she replied, when Locke’s attorney, David Weick, asked her about the alleged statement. Rather, she said, she felt the recruits had “run out of steam” and, after a break for lunch, decided to cut training short.
“You want them to be successful, and there was one more day — had to cut it short,” she said.
The day of Locke’s accident, parts of which were caught on videotape, Douce was in charge of training the recruits. Locke was part of a team hoisting a 55-foot, 350-pound ladder against a building to retrieve a mannequin from the roof. Locke climbed up the ladder to get the mannequin when two other recruits were unable to do so. Douce said she saw him when he had the dummy in his arms and was trying to get down the ladder with it. Something about his situation, she said, prompted her to order another recruit to go up and help him.
The second recruit reached Locke.
“All of a sudden, I saw Kevin slip and his butt came out and right then, I knew we were in trouble,” Douce told the jurors.At the same time, two recruits on the roof shouted that Locke was losing his grip. “It was almost simultaneously we all started yelling, ‘Drop the dummy,’ ” Douce said. She said that when Locke fell, she and the other instructors ran to him.
“I think what I thought was I was going to catch him,” she said. She got to Locke when he was down on the ground and held his head in a way to apply traction. Locke was conscious and communicating, Douce said.