EVOC: Fire Chief Cars, Insurance & the Law

Recently, a volunteer fire chief from Long Island, NY, was followed to work in a fire-district-owned vehicle about 50 miles from the chief’s home and ambushed by a local reporter asking about his personal use of a department vehicle. On Long Island...


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It is important to make some recommendations based on the previously stated facts.

1. The authority having jurisdiction should provide vehicles for the fire chief and assistant chiefs. That does not mean the municipality should immediately go out and purchase three SUVs at $80,000 each. Many municipalities assign used police cars for use by fire chiefs until funding is available to provide newer vehicles. The important point here is that the municipality owns the vehicle and hence insures it, which may relieve the fire chief from incurring any costs due to an accident involving the vehicle.

2. If this is not feasible and you must use your personal vehicle as an emergency vehicle, you must compel the governing body (the fire district or the municipality) to purchase non-owned vehicle insurance. If the governing body does not purchase this insurance, you and your insurance carrier will be responsible for all liability, even if you respond as an emergency vehicle on the municipality’s behalf.

3. If you own a business, you could lose it in a lawsuit. Remember, your personal insurance is first. Once its limits are reached, then the non-owned vehicle insurance kicks in up to those limits if the authority having jurisdiction has provided such coverage. Finally, if the liability award exceeds both your personal insurance coverage and the municipal non-owned coverage, you will be responsible for whatever shortfall still exists. Having umbrella coverage will protect any assets that you have. Anyone using his or her personal vehicle as an emergency vehicle should have umbrella coverage, especially if you own a business.

4. Don’t turn your business vehicle into an emergency vehicle. It will become a mobile billboard that flashes the words “Sue me.” “Bill’s Plumbing & Heating” painted on the side of a pickup truck plus warning lights and a siren placed on top of the truck equal a potential disaster.

I have never met a firefighter who did not like being a firefighter, but the protection of your family and its assets must come first.

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I would like to thank the American Insurance Association for its help in the preparation of this column.