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Pleonast
12-08-2006, 10:44 AM
From today's column, Deck the halls with balls of fire (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/061208.html)The fire is the wrong place for other holiday detritus as well der Tannenbaum, for example. My assistant Una had an Uncle Bob, a manly man who felt throwing the Christmas tree away was a waste of good firewood. So he tossed it in the fireplace gave him a nice warm glow. Unfortunately what was glowing was the roof, presumably ignited by embers. Fortunately the fire was small and anybody with a hose could have put it out. Unfortunately the hose was frozen solid and the fire department had trouble getting the nearest hydrant to work. Fortunately the firefighters were able to throw a ladder up against the house and put out the fire with a chemical extinguisher. They then hacked off a small hunk of charred roof with axes, peered into the crawl space, and declared the fire out. Unfortunately, having by now found an operational hydrant, the firemen declared they needed to hose down the roof "as policy," sending a torrent of water through the hole and collapsing the living room ceiling. Really unfortunately, the house that all this happened in belonged not to Uncle Bob but his in-laws. Bob bought them an RV and matters were pronounced square, but it was a lesson he won't soon forget, and neither should you.Did the homeowner have the right to refuse service? Specifically, the hosing down of the roof with a hole.

I could understand that in some circumstances, public policy would require being certain the fire was out. Any where wildfire is a danger, or in highly developed areas, where uncontrolled fires can rapidly spread.

But, in general, if the fire department declares a fire out, can the homeowner tell the firefighters to leave? What are the legalities here? Does the initial call for help allow the fire dept to stay and act as it sees best?

I assume the homeowner would not have any ability to sue the fire department. Although wanton water spraying does not seem to match with the duty to preserve property.

(I realize this is a comment on Cecil's column, but since the question is rather tangential, I'm putting it here. Mod opinion may differ, as is their wont.)

VunderBob
12-08-2006, 11:31 AM
From today's column, Deck the halls with balls of fire (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/061208.html)Did the homeowner have the right to refuse service? Specifically, the hosing down of the roof with a hole.

I could understand that in some circumstances, public policy would require being certain the fire was out. Any where wildfire is a danger, or in highly developed areas, where uncontrolled fires can rapidly spread.

But, in general, if the fire department declares a fire out, can the homeowner tell the firefighters to leave? What are the legalities here? Does the initial call for help allow the fire dept to stay and act as it sees best?

I assume the homeowner would not have any ability to sue the fire department. Although wanton water spraying does not seem to match with the duty to preserve property.

(I realize this is a comment on Cecil's column, but since the question is rather tangential, I'm putting it here. Mod opinion may differ, as is their wont.)

Beats the hell out of me, and I'm volunteer firefighter.

One of the things beat into us is that we do our jobs inflicting the least amount of damage possible. If we come up on a raging inferno, of course all the 2 and a halfs are coming out and we hose everything down with impunity.

Just because the chimney is on fire doesn't give us the leeway to break out the windows at the other end of the house to wet down those bedrooms.

Also, we can't just up and leave if we suspect the fire to be of suspicious origin. We remain at the scene until the fire marshall releases us.

Regarding the story, The Perfect Master has never been known to let the facts get in the way of a good tall tale. A typical pumper carries 1000 gallons of water, which would have been sufficient to handle a small roof fire without tying into a water supply, and there would have been multiple engines at the house. Lacking evidence to the contrary, the responders would have had enough water with them to put out the described blaze.

The hole in the roof is a standard tactic, BTW. However, a good layer of Class A foam would have also done the trick as far as 'policy' is concerned, and not have caused all the secondary damage.

We do have a responsibility to put the fire out when called, but there's also a little bit of leeway. An inhabited structure means we make sure it's out, period. Likewise for a barn or detached garage. A trash pile, we put it out, but we're not going to spent 2 hours fighting hotspots, either, unless other property is in danger.

Did I answer your question? Probably not.

I also don't doubt that Una has an Uncle Bob who got in trouble with a Christmas tree, but I smell a rat when the story gets down to details like finding a working hydrant when the call is handled with an extinguisher, and Unca Bob makes good by buying them an RV... :dubious:

Gfactor
12-08-2006, 12:28 PM
We touched on some of these issues here: Firefighters and the Law (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=319162)

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
12-08-2006, 12:41 PM
Fire isn't just a threat to the household with the fire---fire spreads.

So the fire Department has a darn ggod reason to ensure that the fire is O*U*T* out!

Fir na tine
12-08-2006, 01:33 PM
In general, public policy does require being certain the fire is out. In my State, once I have arrived at the fire, your building and property belongs to me. I may do almost anything conceivable to stop the fire from spreading. If necessary I can demolish your building to save the neighbors buildings. If you try and interfere, I may have you arrested for interference.

As VunderBob already said, we all try to do our jobs with the least amount of damage possible. If we rip open a roof or a wall, it's because we're trying to confirm that there is nothing smoldering out of sight. There is nothing more embarrassing for a fire dept than being called back to extinguish a fire, again.! Thermal imagery is a blessing for homeowners because I can now see better inside the walls and ceilings without quite so much damage.

In my state, if I see anything suspicious about the fire itself, I can have a State Fire Marshall investigate it. So long as I remain there he can enter without warrants, it's still MY house. If I leave and turn control back to you, you have to either allow him to enter or he has to get a search warrant if you denied him entry.

Once I am satisfied the fire is out and my tools are picked up, I turn the building back over to your control. If I saw anything that looked illegal in a major sense (meth lab, large pot farms, hundreds of child porn photos lying around) I'd tell the Police and let them do whatever was legal. Out of my area of expertise. If I saw a couple of joints lying around, I'm going to close my eyes when I walk by, while I may think it's stupid, it's none of my business.

Pleonast
12-08-2006, 01:54 PM
Thanks for the replies, everyone!

So, even if the fire dept says the fire is out, as long as they're still on site, they can continue to take measures to reduce the chances of it coming back (through hidden embers or whatnot).

What about "malpractice" lawsuits against the fire department; possible or not?

Fir na tine
12-08-2006, 02:13 PM
Thanks for the replies, everyone!

So, even if the fire dept says the fire is out, as long as they're still on site, they can continue to take measures to reduce the chances of it coming back (through hidden embers or whatnot).

What about "malpractice" lawsuits against the fire department; possible or not?

That depends on the laws of your particular State. In my State it's almost impossible to sue. There are some very narrow exceptions but in general, we are protected.

Gfactor
12-08-2006, 02:14 PM
What about "malpractice" lawsuits against the fire department; possible or not?

I covered this in the thread that I linked before. Lots of variations between jurisdictions. This case reviews some of the caselaw:

In that regard, section 155(6) of the Act grants immunity from liability to the State and political subdivisions thereof for loss resulting from the method of providing fire protection, and we find only one Oklahoma decision construing 155(6).9 In that case, plaintiffs sought recovery against City for destruction of their home by fire when City's efforts to fight the fire were thwarted by an empty fire hydrant. While initially recognizing the general rule holding a municipality immune from tort liability "while engaged in fire protection and prevention,"10 the Oklahoma Supreme Court specifically found City immune from liability under 155(6), holding fire hydrants constitute an integral part of the physical structure of the fire department and incidental to the operation of the fire department's overall scheme of providing fire protection.11

7 In the present case, Kish alleged negligence of City and one of its firefighters in utilizing and operating a malfunctioning, ill-equipped reserve fire truck and allowing the truck to lurch forward, crushing two vehicles and Kish, thus stating a tort claim againstCity. The burden then shifted to City to establish immunity under one or more of the exceptions provided by the Act, 12 and City alleged immunity under the exception to liability contained in 155(6), affording governmental units/subdivisions immunity from tort liability where the loss or claim results from "the failure to provide, or the methodof providing police, law enforcement or fire protection." 13

8 Such statutory exceptions should be strictly construed to the end that the exception does not "devour" the general policy which the law, in this case the Act, embodies.14 While the Oklahoma Supreme Court held 155(6) immunized City from liability for loss resulting from an empty fire hydrant,15 other jurisdictions have refused to apply this exception where loss resulted from, e.g., fire trucks colliding en route to a fire,16 failure of police officers to arrest a drunk driver,17 and specific negligence in providing or technique of providing fire fighting.18 Still other jurisdictions recognize limited governmental liability for loss arising from the method of providing fire protection.19

* * * *

10 In the present case, and as noted, Kish alleged City used a reserve fire truck which City knew was ill-equipped and malfunctioning, and that a firefighter was operating the truck when its pump disengaged, causing the truck to slip into gear and lurch forward, with resulting injuries to Kish.City answered, claiming in addition to the raised exception, cause of the injury attributable to manufacturer's product's defect or breach of warranty. However, in City's answer to interrogatories, City denied any mechanical difficulties with or previous malfunctions by the truck in question.

11 Viewing the pleadings in the light most favorable to Kish, we cannot say, at this point in the litigation, that beyond doubt Kish can prove no set of facts in support of her claim entitling her to relief. Stated otherwise, from the limited record tendered for our review, we refuse at this juncture in the proceedings to hold as a matterof law that City's claimed exception to liability under the Act for its "method of providing fire protection" stands as a complete bar to Kish's action. We therefore hold the Trial Court erred in dismissing Kish's causeof action with prejudice.

http://wyomcases.courts.state.wy.us/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=15932

Pleonast
12-08-2006, 03:04 PM
I read the thread you linked to, but not your plentiful links. Legal verbiage takes too much brainpower for me to understand. Can you translate into "yes", "no", "sometimes"?

Gfactor
12-08-2006, 03:19 PM
I read the thread you linked to, but not your plentiful links. Legal verbiage takes too much brainpower for me to understand. Can you translate into "yes", "no", "sometimes"?

It depends on the state and the specific kind of conduct claimed. It also depends on whether it is a rural fire department, volunteer fire department, municipal fire department, private fire department, or some other kind of fire department. It probably depends on other stuff too.

ouryL
12-08-2006, 06:47 PM
Our city is kinda liberal. If you make a claim, they will more than not pay your claim if they deem it reasonable. Hell, they have been known to pay for pot-hole damage.

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