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Monday, January 28, 2013 The Thatcher Fire Department just got burned by a seven-month-old fire.

On Jan. 10, the Industrial Commission of Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued two citations to the Thatcher Fire Department regarding a June 16 fire training mishap that caused injuries to firefighters. The notification listed one citation as serious and issued a $3,750 fine to the Fire Department.

During the live-fire training exercise, Fire Captain Rob Casillas suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands, head and portions of his upper and lower back when he found himself without water in a burning room where temperatures soared near 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The citation lists numerous subsections of the serious violation that attributed to firefighters being burned. The subsection violations include that the department's written Incident Command System procedure was not followed, and training fires were lit during a planned rehab period; a fire was lit with the purpose of setting the structure on fire instead of the planned type of fire for interior firefighter training meant to be confined to a specific area; a series of three fires were lit in sequence instead of one fire being lit and then extinguished, and firefighters were ordered to enter the structure without a safety monitor being posted to check and account for the firefighters entering and exiting the structure.

A second serious violation listed in the first citation deals with firefighters having the potential to be exposed to blood during rescue work without having a written Exposure Control Plan. The department was also issued various non-serious violations, including not being in accordance with OSHA guidelines regarding keeping injury and illness records, testing respirators and allowing the assistant fire chief to wear a respirator while having a beard, which is a violation because the facial hair comes between the sealing surface of the face piece and face, or interferes with the valve function.

Town Manager Terry Hinton said that, while the town is still reviewing the report while considering challenging the findings, all of the violations that were pointed out have already been remedied.

"We knew it was coming," Hinton said. "The things they mentioned have been taken care of."

Thatcher Fire Chief Mike Payne disagreed with the citation's analysis of the training exercise's plan but admitted the other violations were accurate and has been corrected.

"It's a wake-up call for us to try to do better," Payne said. "Our plan was very well laid out and everything; it's just that some things went wrong. Some things went bad when they weren't supposed to, and we ended up with an unfortunate situation. At this point, we take a look at it, see where we did wrong and what we can do better next time and, hopefully, move on."

Payne said there is a possibility that the fine could be reduced upon further review and that the department and Town Council are currently still poring over the findings.

The injury incident occurred at the last station in a series of training exercises involving a controlled structure burn of a house on the 3200 block of Church Street between Second and Third avenues.

According to Payne, a crew entered into the structure through the rear with the intent of putting out a room that was on fire.

Unbeknownst to the firefighters, their hose had burned and became useless when they attempted to drown the flames. As the men made their way out of the building on their hands and knees, two of them suffered blistering on their knees.

The crew became separated as they attempted to leave the residence due to low visibility caused by thick black smoke. Casillas was unaware the other men had followed the hose line through the back door, and he returned to the burning room. When he couldn't locate his crew, he began to make his exit and the room experienced a flashover. That’s when Casillas suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands, head and back, according to Payne. A flashover is the near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly exposed combustible material in an enclosed area.

Casillas was eventually transported to the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center in downtown Phoenix. He endured days of doctors scraping the injured areas in hopes new skin would grow in its place, according to statements Payne made to the TFD at a meeting shortly after the incident. Casillas is no longer a member of the Fire Department.

 Jon Johnson Photo, File/Eastern Arizona

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