Fines against the Avra Valley Fire district have been dramatically reduced following negotiations with the state agency that levied the fines and a group of former firefighters.
The district’s governing board voted unanimously on Aug. 28 to accept $12,000 in safety-related fines. The Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health originally fined the district $366,000.
“We showed that we made the improvements, we addressed the issues brought up during their inspection that caused the fines, and I’m thinking that may be the reason why,” said District Chief Tom Nix.
The district will also pay $25,000 to each of the five former firefighters who raised the complaints in April 2007 over safety concerns in the district.
The complaints stemmed partially from an incident in March 2007 involving a chemical spill on Interstate 10.
Four AVFD firefighters, an ambulance driver and a Department of Public Safety officer were hospitalized following the March 14 cleanup.
In October 2007, the district was fined $366,000 after a joint ADOSH and Industrial Commission of Arizona investigation.
The fire district covers a more than 265-square-mile area west of Marana’s town boundaries.
As a result of the botched cleanup and financial trouble in the district, Chief Barry Gerber resigned in November 2007, rather than be fired by the district’s board. The district’s chairman and one of Gerber’s biggest supporters, Gary Perry, also resigned.
A third part of the settlement involves a $125,000 safety equipment upgrade to be paid over the next two years.
While it is not unusual to have fines reduced, the amount in which they were reduced in Avra Valley’s case doesn’t happen every day.
“A large part in recognition of the district’s financial predicament and the fact that we’d rather see any money go to benefit the firefighters rather than come to the state in the form of penalty payments,” said ADOSH Director Darin Perkins.
The settlement among the three parties covered all aspects of fallout from the cleanup.
“We came to an agreement that everyone thought was fair and reasonable,” Perkins said. “It provided a penalty for the violations, albeit a small penalty in comparison to the original that was issued. It provides for some compensation for those firefighters who were wrongfully discharged or discriminated against. And I think more importantly it provides a substantial amount of money to begin to upgrade firefighter safety equipment. So all in all it’s a good deal.”