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“Deeply Troubling” – Kerry Calls for Investigation of Firefighter Unit

by Pamela Leavey

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
Inspector General
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.


John Kerry

5 Responses to ““Deeply Troubling” – Kerry Calls for Investigation of Firefighter Unit”

  1. Thanks for the post. This is outrageous, and good that Senator Kerry has called for an investigation. If not him, then who?

  2. If not him – probably no one. Outrageous story.

  3. As a relative of firefighters-all of whom were New York City firefighters on September 11, 2001- I am outraged.

    While my relations all survived 9/11 I can say that in weeks and months that followed those brave souls could be found in one of three (and only those three) places

    1. At home

    2. At work (which usually meant Ground Zero)

    3. At a funeral for a loved one (usually a firefighter) who had perished on 9/11.

    The fact that CDC refused to investigate these reports in 2000 (or for that matter 2001) means that BOTH the Clinton and Bush Administrations failed miserably in protecting our first responders.

    That BushCo. was incompetent has been hashed out here ad naseum so I’ll just close with asking this

    Hillary, do you still want to run on Bill’s record-seeing how it has the blood of first responders on it’s hands?

  4. Outrage is right! Between this and the new missing VA data, I think my head might explode soon if we do not get all those idiots out of office and soon. How much more incompetence can one nation stand?

  5. This is another reason Rudy should be disqualified for his non effort in the 9/11 scenario. Further back to the ’93 bombing of the WTC, it was known there were radio problems. Ditto at Oklahoma and Columbine. I believe Rudy did a lot of campaigning for a radio system that was not good enough – except for his investments in the firm.

    Also on Rudy’s questionable leadership. He let the DEC tell the first responders, residents and clean up crews that the air was safe. I guess it was – as long as you didn’t breathe the particulates hanging in it with a pH of 12 or more. Not to mention the mercury, glass and asbestos particles.

    Nick, have any of your relatives started with respiratory problems or have coworkers who did?