State regulators are moving to bar from working in California the private contractor that employed a bulldozer operator killed in the costliest wildfire in U.S. history.
The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) announced Wednesday that Czirban Concrete Construction violated three state regulations in connection with its work on the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County.
Czirban lied about whether it had employees, the board alleges, getting around a requirement that it offer workers’ compensation insurance. The company was not permitted to be involved in firefighting, according to CSLB. Its license was solely for concrete work, not bulldozing fire lines, the agency said. And the death of the bulldozer operator, Robert Reagan, constitutes a cause for disciplinary action, CSLB spokesman Rick Lopes said.
“This is the first step toward revoking the company’s license,” Lopes said in an interview.
The board’s announcement came a day after KQED reported that California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) handed down five citations to the Madera County firm that employed Reagan, who was killed on July 26, 2016, after the bulldozer he was driving near Big Sur tipped over and pinned him to the ground.
Cal/OSHA’s investigation laid blame on Czirban for not ensuring that Reagan wear a seat belt.
The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office is investigating Czirban as well.
“We’re investigating a possible workers’ comp insurance violation against Czirban,” said Berkley Brannon, the office’s chief assistant district attorney, in an interview Thursday.
Czirban could face criminal charges, Brannon said.
Reagan left behind a wife and two young children who could be hurt by the lack of workers’ compensation.
“The fact that there’s a potential that the family wouldn’t have remedy, that’s a very serious concern to us,” Brannon said.
In its defense the company is arguing that Reagan was an employee of Cal Fire, according to Brannon.
Czirban had its license suspended eight times by the CSLB in four years for a set of violations, many of them tied to workers’ comp problems.
“It’s particularly troubling that these people had been warned and actually been caught,” Lopes said. “That’s particularly disturbing.”
Czirban Concrete Construction has not responded to several requests for comment.
The Soberanes Fire burned more than 132,000 acres last summer and fall. Investigators say it was caused by an illegal campfire.
Employer of Worker Killed in Soberanes Fire Under Scrutiny
The Soberanes Fire burns near Big Sur on the night of July 23, 2016. (Cal Fire via Twitter)
By Ted Goldberg August 2, 2016
The construction company that employed a bulldozer operator killed last week in the massive Soberanes wildfire in Monterey County has had its license suspended eight times by state regulators in the last four years.
Robert Reagan, the 35-year-old Friant man who was working the fire when the bulldozer he was operating rolled over, was employed by Czirban Concrete Construction, said Julia Bernstein, a spokeswoman for California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA,) which is investigating his death.
The construction company, which is based in Coarsegold (Madera County), recently told the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) it had no employees and therefore did not need to provide worker’s compensation, board spokesman Rick Lopes said. ‘They’ve been going without a workers’ comp policy, telling us they’ve got no employees.’Rick Lopes, Contractors State License Board spokesman
Multiple calls for comment to Ian Czirban, the company’s owner, have yet to be returned.
Word of Reagan’s death and employment has prompted the license board to open a new investigation into the firm.
“They are on our radar now,” Lopes said in an interview. “They’ve been going without a workers’ comp policy, telling us they’ve got no employees.”
The license board learned about Reagan’s employment at Czirban from KQED, which asked questions about the company’s history after learning Cal/OSHA had launched its probe.
It’s Cal/OSHA’s first investigation into an incident related to Czirban, but not the license board’s first probe. The company has gotten into trouble repeatedly over how much workers’ comp it offers its workers and its payments to its employees and suppliers.
In July 2012, CSLB investigators found that a crew employed by the company was not covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Czirban was then cited and fined $3,500.
The company did not pay that fine right away, so its contractors license was suspended. The firm agreed to a payment plan with the agency to pay the fine — but it failed to make a payment and its license was suspended again.
The company’s license was then suspended several other times because its subcontractors and material suppliers were not paid, Lopes said.
“The fact is whenever they’ve gotten into a situation where they’ve had to pay some sort of fines or pay back a bond, they’ve really dragged their feet and it’s forced the contractors board to suspend their license and turn up the heat on them.”
The current investigation could lead the agency to pull Czirban’s license again.
If the company had no workers’ compensation insurance, it could be harder for Reagan’s relatives to collect money because of his death.
Czirban Concrete is one of a number of companies Cal Fire has contracted with on the Soberanes Fire — a practice the agency employs on large fires.
“We have many companies that we contract with throughout the state and they can be utilized in any area,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said. “The only time they are hired is for emergency incidents. We do not use these contracts for day-to-day projects.”
In an email, Cal Fire confirmed its Madera-Mariposa-Merced unit has a “call when needed” vendor contract with Czirban, and that the vendor has responded to 10 fires in the last 10 years, nine of those times with a bulldozer.
Cal Fire also emphasized that it requires vendors to have workers’ compensation insurance, and that vendors must sign an agreement to that effect under penalty of perjury.
Cal Fire’s Serious Accident Investigation Team is looking into the circumstances surrounding Reagan’s death, but few details have been released about it.
Cal Fire says he died sometime between last Tuesday night and the following Wednesday morning.
Reagan was not in the middle of a firefight at the time, according to U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Paula Martinez.
“He was just coming on shift so it wasn’t like he was actively engaged in fire suppression at the time of the accident,” Martinez said, adding that the incident took place in the Palo Colorado Canyon area.