An MSNBC.com investigation was a call to action today for John Kerry, as he called for an investigation with “hours of the story’s publication.” The MSNBC investigation and story is, “based on federal investigative reports, documents made public under the Freedom of Information Act and extensive interviews, revealed that 15 firefighters have died since 1998 in fires where a PASS, or Personal Alert Safety System, either didn’t sound or was so quiet that rescuers weren’t given a chance to find the firefighter quickly.”
Nine of those deaths came after the federal government blocked the investigation by its own expert into possible failures of PASS alarms and other firefighting equipment, the documents show.
Kerry sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking that they “investigate “deeply troubling” information in an MSNBC.com special report indicating that the federal unit charged with probing firefighter deaths ignored a warning in 2000 that personal alarms used at fire scenes might be failing.”
“It is completely unacceptable that our first responders don’t have the proper safety equipment, and if these allegations prove true, it’s unfathomable that the CDC would cover up something so detrimental to our firefighters’ safety,” Kerry told MSNBC.com. “I have asked the Department of Health and Human Services to launch a full investigation into these allegations. Nearly 1 million brave men and women risk their lives every day; we owe it to them and to the families of the deceased firefighters to get answers and hold the negligent parties accountable.”
Bill Dedman, MSNBC investigative reporter noted in his story that “Donald White, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office at HHS, said the office would review Kerry’s request over the next several weeks, after which “it will get assigned to the proper component within the office of IG for further investigation as warranted.””
“Over the next several weeks?” “Investigation as warranted?” Where the heck are the priorities of these fools? MSNBC.com’s special report indicated that “the CDC’s firefighter fatality unit had ignored a warning from its own fire safety engineer in 2000 that the alarms, known as PASS devices, appeared to have failed in two separate incidents in which firefighters died.” This is the best response they can give this now? “Over the next several weeks?” “Investigation as warranted?”
The original MSNBC report that spurred Kerry into action is here: “Flaws found in firefighters’ last line of defense, U.S. waited 5 years to heed expert’s warning on ‘man down’ alarms.”
Chalk up another failure for the Bush administration. Add it, to the very long list of screw-up, failures and cover-ups for the worst administration in history.
The text of the letter from John Kerry to Inspector General Daniel Levinson, is as follows:
February 5, 2007
The Honorable Daniel Levinson
Department of Health and Human Services
Room 5541 Cohen Building
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Inspector General Levinson:
I write regarding an investigative report airing tonight on MSNBC that accuses officials with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of blocking an investigation into the deaths of six firefighters whose personal safety equipment failed between 1998 and 2000 and failing to take action until nine more firefighters died under similar circumstances. These allegations are deeply troubling and should be followed up immediately with a federal investigation.
The MSNBC report cites fifteen fatalities between 1998 and 2005 in which the firefighter’s Personal Alert Notification System (PASS) devices, which sound a high-pitched alarm when a firefighter remains stationary too long, failed or did not work properly. Specifically, the report quotes the CDC’s former chief fire investigator, Eric Schmidt, as saying that CDC officials told him to “minimize [your] fact gathering during investigations” and that he was instructed to “omit critical facts” regarding the performance of the PASS devices. According to MSNBC, the CDC was indifferent to Mr. Schmidt’s evidence and did not want him to differ with its final reports on the fatalities.
The CDC fired Mr. Schmidt in 2000 for “marginal” performance in his investigative duties despite evidence he gathered that suggested a link between faulty PASS devices and these tragic deaths. Subsequent testing of these devices by an independent laboratory showed that they do not work properly in several conditions common in firefighting.
The allegations made by MSNBC are disturbing and warrant an exhaustive federal review. We owe it to the families of the deceased firefighters as well as the nearly 1 million firefighters who still use PASS devices to get answers and hold the negligent parties to account. Therefore, I request that you initiate an investigation into the CDC’s handling of its investigations and determine the veracity of these allegations.