HFD cited by state for death of firefighter during water rescue training

The Honolulu Fire Department has received two separate citations in connection with a training incident that led to the death of a firefighter in June.

Sixty-three-year-old Cliff Rigsbee died in June after being injured during training in rough surf at Suicides near Diamond Head. HFD tells us Rigsbee was on a sled being towed by a rescue watercraft. When the operator of the watercraft looked back, he saw Rigsbee floating in the water, unconscious.

The Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division issued the citations, and HFD says one of the citations has already been closed and corrected.

The first safety citation that was handed down by the state said the safety officer on staff for the training exercise didn’t have a clear view of the surf where the exercise was taking place. HFD says it’s taking steps to keep this from happening again.

The next citation handed down by HIOSH has to do with a wrist lanyard on the watercraft that was used in that day’s exercise.

In a press release, the state said that:

The employer did not replace or take out of service a Yamaha WaveRunner floating wrist lanyard which showed signs of corrosion. This lanyard subsequently broke, during a critical ocean rescue event involving an unconscious firefighter. This wrist lanyard is connected to the engine kill switch of the personal rescue watercraft and is meant to stop the watercraft when the operator falls or jumps off the watercraft, keeping it close by. An unmanned watercraft moving at idling speed in the surf zone, exposed the employee to a struck by hazard with the potential to sustain serious bodily injuries.

In total, HFD was fined $ 15,400 by HIOSH. As for the existing watercraft, the department says it’s already checked all of its watercraft for faulty lanyards and replaced them if necessary.

But HFD says that’s not what caused Rigsbee’s injuries.

The union that represents firefighters said Friday it still holds that watercraft should be fazed out of use by the Honolulu Fire Department “because we don’t have the level of training the ocean safety people get, so at a minimum, until Ocean Safety can take over the service, firefighters need to reevaluate what they can or cannot do.”

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