The Important Fire Service Legal Stories of 2010

  The year 2010 has passed, leaving the fire service with a number of interesting and important cases ranging from ground-breaking U.S. Supreme Court decisions to social media nightmares that cost firefighters' their jobs. The following is a fire...


  The year 2010 has passed, leaving the fire service with a number of interesting and important cases ranging from ground-breaking U.S. Supreme Court decisions to social media nightmares that cost firefighters' their jobs. The following is a fire lawyer's assessment of the most interesting and...


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The year 2010 has passed, leaving the fire service with a number of interesting and important cases ranging from ground-breaking U.S. Supreme Court decisions to social media nightmares that cost firefighters' their jobs. The following is a fire lawyer's assessment of the most interesting and important fire service legal stories of 2010. The interesting cases are those that capture our attention, while the important cases are those that break new legal ground or impact hundreds if not thousands of firefighters.

The Five Most Interesting Cases of 2010:

Fifth: Feb. 23, 2010 — New York: Bronx Supreme Court Justice Margaret Clancy set aside the 2009 manslaughter conviction of Cesar Rios, the landlord of the apartment building where FDNY Lieutenant Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew were killed on Jan. 23, 2005, in the Black Sunday fire. Six firefighters were forced to jump from top-floor windows of the building, which had been illegally subdivided. As the basis for her ruling, the judge cited the lack of sufficient evidence to establish that Rios had actual knowledge that tenants made illegal subdivisions.

Fourth: Feb. 10, 2010 — South Carolina: Firefighter/Paramedic Jason Brown of Colleton County Fire Rescue posted an animated video on Facebook depicting an exchange between a firefighter and an emergency room doctor that some considered to be derogatory. He was terminated on Feb. 11 for "displaying poor judgment."

Third: July 17, 2010 — Georgia: Spalding County Firefighter/Paramedic Terrence Reid took a cell phone video of a deceased young woman at the scene of a fatal accident. He forwarded the video to others, who in turn forwarded it to others, and eventually the video was seen by the victim's parents. Reid was terminated in October and six other members of the department were disciplined for their roles in the incident. In speaking about the investigation, Spalding County Assistant County Manager Virginia Martin stated, "The report contains information, not just about the incident of July 17, but also about the culture and things in the fire department that may have created a situation where taking this video and releasing it seemed acceptable to the people involved."

Second: Jan. 12, 2010 — Pennsylvania: Penn Township EMT Jason Fait was found not guilty of vehicular homicide in Westmoreland County Superior Court in the Oct. 30, 2006, accident that killed a prison guard. Fait was driving an ambulance back from a hospital in the pre-dawn hours and ran a red light. The accident was captured on the ambulance's dash cam and the video was instrumental in proving to the jury that Fait simply missed seeing the red light, but was not driving recklessly. In other words — the dash cam proved it was an accident, not a crime.

First: Jan. 24, 2010 — Georgia: Dekalb County firefighters responded to a reported house fire, but apparently failed to fully investigate the situation before returning in service. Crews were called back to the scene a few hours later. By this time, the house was well involved and a female occupant, 74-year-old Ann Bartlett, had perished. Following an investigation, five firefighters were terminated, although three were later reinstated by hearing officers in favor of lesser penalties. The fire chief resigned under pressure from county managers and the family of the victim filed a civil lawsuit against the county and several of the firefighters.

The Five Most Important Cases of 2010:

Fifth: Jan. 5, 2010 — Connecticut: The Connecticut Supreme Court decided the case of Gerardi v. Bridgeport. The Bridgeport Fire Department installed global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices on some new fire prevention vehicles, and several Bridgeport fire inspectors were caught falsifying inspection records for buildings they never visited. The inspectors were terminated and filed suit to challenge the discipline based on a Connecticut law that requires employers to notify employees in writing before they are electronically monitored. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that while the fire department violated the law by not notifying the employees about the GPS tracking devices, the law does not give employees a cause of action to sue their employer nor require the exclusion of the electronic monitoring evidence at the disciplinary proceeding.

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