A Firehouse Kitchen Conversation

It could have been a kitchen-table conversation in any firehouse in America. There were strongly held (and expressed) views on controversial issues, humor, "war stories" about incidents in the firehouse and while out on calls, and much more. It was the...


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In almost every jurisdiction, the department (or more likely the local government itself) will have a lawyer on staff or on retainer. However, as Fischler noted, the job of these attorneys is to represent the city or the department; the chief is not the lawyer's client. There are cases when volunteer and career chiefs find that their legal interests are not exactly the same as the departments'. In such a situation, the attorney will represent the department, not the chief. Thus, Fischler argued that chiefs need their own attorneys. They cannot be assured of legal protection from their employers in every instance.

This was illustrated in a case in which a fire chief was personally named in a wrongful-death lawsuit involving a woman who died in an apartment fire. The chief prohibited the woman's common-law husband from re-entering the burning building to rescue the woman, then ignored the man's exhortation to breach a particular wall to gain access to the woman. The course of the litigation has been complicated, but a critical issue has been whether the chief acted reasonably and within the scope of his training and responsibility. If the answer is "yes," then the chief is not liable, but the department may be. If the answer is "no," then the chief is liable, but the department is not.

Another example involved the hazing of a rookie firefighter. The incident led to legal action against the department, the chief and officers who were involved. Officers who participated and/or knew of the practice were held liable, as was the department. The chief was dismissed as a defendant from the lawsuit only because there was a policy prohibiting harassment and he was not aware of the incident. As an aside, Fischler condemned such harassment. Not only can it lead to severe legal consequences, but it is totally inappropriate in today's fire service.


Steve Blackistone, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an attorney and a member of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, MD.