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Jamboree report released





March 7, 2006 12:50 am




Contractors with a now-defunct Virginia tent company said they never solicited help from four Boy Scout leaders electrocuted while setting up a large dining tent on the opening day of last summer's National Scout Jamboree, according to a report released yesterday.


This contradicts a statement issued during the jamboree by officials from the Western Alaska Council, in which they said the contractors asked some of the leaders to help raise the tent.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's report also states that the federal agency would have issued a citation to the Boy Scouts of America for exposing employees to an "unsafe condition" if the leaders had been paid by the organization.


"Regardless of their volunteer status, their safety should not be compromised," the report says.


But Charles T. Pope, area director in OSHA's Norfolk office, said officials didn't intend to accuse the Boy Scouts of America of any wrongdoing.


"We didn't do an inspection of them," he said.


The Scout leaders were killed July 25 at Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County when a 28-foot, 8-inch aluminum center pole for a large dining tent they were erecting struck a 7,200-volt power line 28 feet, 4 inches above ground, according to OSHA. The OSHA report also states that the contractor said setup of the tent was 70 percent to 80 percent complete when the Scout leaders "insisted on helping." Tents and Events employees told OSHA that a Scout leader also was going to allow some of the boys to help, but the contractor would not permit it.


The men had been helping two contractors from Tents and Events Inc., which recently paid OSHA a $3,000 reduced fine for two "serious violations." OSHA's report says the company did not provide adequate training.


The company, a division of Rent Quick.com, closed because it could no longer fulfill customer orders, the report says. However, the company will continue to pay worker's compensation benefits for its two former employees who were injured at the jamboree.


Out of respect for the victims' families, officials with RentQuick.com never publicly refuted statements posted on the Western Alaska Council's Web site, said their lawyer Michael Harman of Richmond.


"We have not seen any point in trying to get in any kind of contest over who said what given the horrible nature of this tragedy," he said yesterday.


A secretary for the Alaska Council referred questions to the Boy Scouts of America's national office in Irving, Texas. A spokesman in the national office declined to comment on how the Scout leaders got involved in raising the tent.


Kenneth G. Schoolcraft, an Anchorage attorney and spokesman for the family of one of the victims, said he requested a copy of the case file but hasn't yet received it.


In gathering information for their case file, OSHA representatives interviewed a variety of people associated with the jamboree, including officials with the Boy Scouts of America and Fort A.P. Hill. The report doesn't include any names.


One contractor from Tents and Events was interviewed at the Medical College of Virginia's burn unit, where he was recovering from third-degree burns, a concussion and a chipped vertebra. At the time, he didn't remember any details of the incident but recollected it in a later interview.


One contractor told OSHA officials he felt pressured to let the Scout leaders help because they repeatedly asked him, "When are you going to get the tent up?"


"I felt they wouldn't have listened if I told them no," he told OSHA officials, adding that he regrets not being more forceful. "They would have helped anyway."


The Scout leaders told the contractors where to place the tent, the report says. They chose a spot on a downward slope, which concerned the contractors more than the overhead power lines, the report says.


Earlier in the day, the contractors had erected a tent under power lines on flat land, the report says. The men had a booklet by the tent's manufacturer that indicated potential hazards, including overhead and underground utilities.


The accident occurred when the contractors and six Scout leaders were raising the pole. The base of the pole was secured in a handcart, which one of the Scout leaders was pushing down a slope, the report says.


"It is the action of pushing the handcart which directs the pole to a fully vertical position," OSHA's report says.


It was during this process that the pole hit the power line, the report states. Most of the leaders were holding the pole. One was holding onto a nylon strap attached to the cart and was not injured.


The incident happened because "just too many people" were trying to push the pole into position, one of the contractors told OSHA investigators.


"He said he felt they just pushed too hard, and since they were moving downward on the slope, they accidentally pushed the pole onto the line," the report says.


After the 2001 jamboree, a task force said the Boy Scouts did not have "an adequate number of safety personnel" to address and resolve safety issues. That task force made recommendations for the 2005 Jamboree that OSHA says were not fully implemented.


Gregg Shields, the Boy Scouts' national spokesman, said he did not know which task force suggestions were not implemented.


However, the task force report specifically mentioned "dig permits."


The OSHA investigation revealed that nobody requested "dig permits" to drive the tents' stakes in the ground. These permits are requested by the Boy Scouts of America's Jamboree division, Shields said.


The permit applications are reviewed by Fort A.P. Hill's Department of Public Works, the report states. Upon approval, the department mails the Boy Scouts of America a diagram of the area, with all utilities marked, including overhead power lines.


The department issued 400 "dig permits" for the jamboree, but never received 14 others that were required, according to OSHA.


Shields said he's not sure why the BSA never requested a dig permit for the Alaskan troop.


To reach JEFF BRANSCOME:540/374-5402

Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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