1. #1
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    Default Hidden trap damages Chief's vehicle - any thoughts?

    Get a load of this...

    My department had a call for mutual aid to the district south of us for a brush fire today. Our station was closer, so we ended up arriving on the scene before they did. The fire was at the end of a county road and the closest house MIGHT be 3/4 of a mile away. So, itís likely someone set it (happens a lot on brush fires around here) or mice were playing with matches again.

    Regardless, since we arrived first, our chief scouted out the fire to find the best access, exposures, etc in the Chiefís vehicle. The rest of us waited on the road since the fire wasn't endangering anything and was contained by the roadway on two sides. As the Chief came back to us, we noticed he had a flat on the left front. In the process of changing the tire, the left rear tire went flat, followed by the RIGHT front tire. Thinking that this was more that coincidence, one of our brush trucks retraced the route the chief took on his survey (the other department had arrived by now the fire was under control).

    They found a 2 foot by 4 foot metal plate with a couple dozen metal ďbladesĒ about 2-3 inches long welded vertical on it. It was obviously a home-made tire trap. This trap had not even begun to rust yet, so we figure it hasnít been there but a couple of weeks at the most.

    Now, the reason the chief was in there was to scout the fire, which we have the legal right to do. The reason he choose that particular location was because the gate was not locked. There were no ďNo TrespassingĒ signs up, and this trap was placed in a place where someone WOULD drive over it.

    Now, I doubt someone has it out for the fire department. This trap was likely set to keep hunters out or thereís a meth lab or marijuana field farther in. My question is--do we have any legal right to hold the landowner responsible for the replacement of the tires? We get flats from sharp rocks and whatnot, thatís normal. And itís not like we drove over a pile of scrap metal. This thing was set for the express purpose of destroying someoneís tires, and was intentionally placed in a hard-to-see place.

    Any thoughts?
    Last edited by SilverCity4; 04-04-2002 at 04:29 PM.
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

  2. #2
    Old Fric
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    Though I am no Lawyer I do watch Law and Order

    If the gate was open the owner could contend that someone just came in and dropped it on the ground without his knowledge. I am unsure how property owners in Oklahoma are treated but I do know that a neighboring department here was able to get a land owner to pay for damage to their truck because he had built a makeshift platform over a break in the road which the truck broke and fell about 3 feet.

    However in this case I think the owner would win outright. Of course if there is Marijuana or Meth he might have to pay much more than the price of a flat tire. Good luck!

  3. #3
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    I had the same thoughts about the landowner saying he doesn't know anything about it. He may truthfully not know anything about it.

    Sueing someone isn't the best method of PR for the FD, ya know?

    It's not like we were fighting a house fire and the floor collapsed under us...that type of thing happens (hopefully not, but you know what I mean). There are dangers and hazards that firefighters expose themselves to. If however, I fell through the floor of a burning house because the owner cut it there to foil intruders, might I not have a case?

    I don't know. It's not even up to me...I'm just a lowly firefighter...I just thought I'd bounce it around on here and see what you guys thought...
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

  4. #4
    Old Fric
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    Sueing someone isn't the best method of PR for the FD, ya know?
    No but what if he, the Chief, had been speeding down that path? Also was it something that could have hurt a firefighter had they walked across it?

    The things the brothers deal with daily!

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    Thumbs down

    What a crappy thing to do. I think the land owner should be liable. There's obvisouly a reason why the trap was set (and we can only assume that s/he set it). S/He probably had problems keeping people out -- leaving the gate open was a welcome invitation. Contact the dept. and the land owner's insurance companies for guidance. What if some kid had gotten hurt? That screams lawsuit especially if there are no signs posted......
    "When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for my having been there."
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    Default

    To further complicate the matter, it's out of our district. If we push the issue, our neighboring department will probably suffer for it as well.
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

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    I'm also not a legal professional, but I would offer the following opinions...

    1) The chief does have a right to be there. Most states have laws which state something to the effect of "...fire officers may enter dwellings or private property for the purposes of controlling a fire..."

    2) Many states have also adopted some form of "fireman's rule." Which prevents a property owner from being personally liable from an injury to a firefighter or damage to equipment... this scenario could be compared to an EMT who slips on ice in the driveway of patient's driveway. Insurance will help the injured EMT out, but in most states the EMT would be prevented from sueing the homeowner.

    Someone might want to double check this or correct this... like I said I'm not a legal professional.

    .Turk II

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    Turk

    That is the law in Ct? Just curious. I would like to read it.

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    Default another concern

    You stated that the fire was probably not accidental... I would agree.
    The land owner may or may not have been the one who set the fire, but there is a chance that whoever set the fire wanted to destroy fire department tires of some kind. I don't know the political situation in your area, but I would also not rule out another firefighter having done something like this. There are some sick folks out there who will do things to better themselves. I am not saying this is the case, just something to keep in mind.

    Anytime you have a suspicious fire, then find a 'booby trap' of anykind, it makes you assume several things.
    1. this may be an arson fire.
    2. this may be an illegal activity that went wrong, and has a safeguard to prevent discovery.
    3. the device may not be the only one in the area.


    Did you find a way to the fire other than the path that was 'trapped'?
    If you just used that entry, you may want to check other ways in, if there were any, and see if they were 'trapped' also.

    There are some sick individuals out there, and just because most people like firefighters doesn't mean they all do.


    be safe and keep your eyes and ears open.


    Scott Reasor
    Be safe brothers

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    Default

    Ultimately, I would say the firesetter is responsible for all costs. Good luck finding him/her.

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    This is the general statute of Connecticut.

    Sec. 7-313e. - Authority of fire officer during emergency.

    Notwithstanding any provision in the general statutes or a municipal ordinance to the contrary, the fire chief of the municipality, or any member serving in the capacity of fire officer-in-charge, shall, when any fire department or company is responding to or operating at a fire, service call, or other emergency, within such municipality, have the authority to: ... at any time of the day or night, enter any building, including a private dwelling, or upon any premises where a fire is in progress or near the scene of any fire, or where there is reasonable cause to believe a fire is in progress, for the purpose of extinguishing the fire or preventing its spread...
    Unfortuantely don't know where to find any laws or statutes for other states.

    - Turk II

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    Default Question?

    Why wouldn't we involve PD in this? I mean I'm not from the states and you guys probably have laws and stuff that will allow you do deal with the landowners, but I mean, if you think that 1- the fire was set and 2- it was booby trapped, then you should have PD involved and start and investigation.... Just a thought!?
    Joel

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    If you sent us to HELL, WE'D PUT IT OUT!!

    **And of course these are only my opinion and only mine. Don't take it out on anyone else but me.**

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    Ol Fric,

    Just caught your question--yes, it would have injuried one of us if we had stepped on it.

    kfd232,

    Knowing some of the types that live out here, I'd lean towards illegal activity going on rather than a firefighter. But it's an interesting thought, and one worth considering.

    I suspect there are other traps out there--why just set one on a 40 acre piece of land?

    Firelover,

    Two very valid points.

    Keep in mind I'm not speaking officially for the department here.

    1). We operate in an unincorporated rural community. Arson investigation is handled by the state fire marshall's office--we don't have our own investigators. The SFMO will happily send an officer out if we request one. If the fire involves a fatality, we'll get and investigator pretty quick--as in a few hours. If it's a structure with no fatality, you're looking at at least 12-24 hours. In this situation, with no property damaged (other than unimproved land, trees and rocks) they might come out in a couple of days (MAYBE). We have no evidence of arson, other than no obvious ignition source. The exception on wildland fires is if there is a huge rash of fires in a specific area that are suspected as arson. But let me tell you, grass/brush fires are happening all over the state right now, so again, we're at the bottom of the list.

    2). Law enforcement is handled by the county sheriff's office. They are located on the other side of the county, and rarely come out our way. Let's just say I don't have a lot of faith in our county sheriff's office.

    Anyway, after we got the Chief's tires aired up, he left the scene (as the responsible department's chief had arrived) to get the vehicle back to the station. In that time period, one of our crew's picked up the tire trap--thus, the evidence has been tampered with, as it's now our word against their's on whether the device was there in the first place.

    I can't say why things were handled the way they were--I was just there on a brush truck and got the majority of the info a little later.

    I can see this going either way before a judge. The more I think about it, the more I think our case would be flimsy at best. I thought it was an interesting situation worth sharing. I figure the best we can hope for is that the landowner (assuming he placed it to keep kids or hunters out) would feel guilty about the FD finding it and reinburse us for the tires.

    Thanks for the input guys.
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

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    Originally posted by Silver City 4
    Firelover,

    Two very valid points.

    Keep in mind I'm not speaking officially for the department here.

    1). We operate in an unincorporated rural community. Arson investigation is handled by the state fire marshall's office--we don't have our own investigators. The SFMO will happily send an officer out if we request one. If the fire involves a fatality, we'll get and investigator pretty quick--as in a few hours. If it's a structure with no fatality, you're looking at at least 12-24 hours. In this situation, with no property damaged (other than unimproved land, trees and rocks) they might come out in a couple of days (MAYBE). We have no evidence of arson, other than no obvious ignition source. The exception on wildland fires is if there is a huge rash of fires in a specific area that are suspected as arson. But let me tell you, grass/brush fires are happening all over the state right now, so again, we're at the bottom of the list.

    2). Law enforcement is handled by the county sheriff's office. They are located on the other side of the county, and rarely come out our way. Let's just say I don't have a lot of faith in our county sheriff's office.
    ...
    Thanks for kind of giving me an insight of how things work there! We work very close together to a point.... especially when it involves possible arson.
    Joel

    Lets never forget the events of 9-11

    If you sent us to HELL, WE'D PUT IT OUT!!

    **And of course these are only my opinion and only mine. Don't take it out on anyone else but me.**

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    ^You didn't necessarily tamper with the evidence. Youy picked it up why? Because it may have been moved or destroyed before LE got there? Because it posed a threat to public safety? You're fine with that. What did you do with it after is the question. Did you TOT it to the Sheriff so he could log it into evidence? Did you secure it in some other manner? You're still probably OK. As far as your word against the idiot, did you photo the item in place? If not, can the crew testify exactly how it was set up and how it was triggerred? Can your Chief help on this end? You're STILL probably OK.

    Unfortunately, alot of us get spoiled with our easy access to public services that others in rural America don't have. It sounds to me like you did the right thing.

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    Most departments have a lawyer on retainer. They should. Call the lawyer and ask the question

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    Unhappy

    Not a very good sign to find this type of device on a scene.
    I don't know if anyone else has seen them, but here in LP county,a lot of farmers used to booby trap their gates to fields with a shotgun shell rigged to discharge towards the latch side of the gate if opened without disabling it first. I first encountered one as a rookie(thank god the chief stopped me!!), and have seen several since then, some of them fairly recently.

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    Default a little more info...

    George:

    Thanks for to input. The evidence was taken with us back to the FD, where it remains, to the last of my knowledge. I do not know where the issue stands as far as an official investigation.

    TRK4:

    Yep, I believe that's been taken care of.
    --
    Turns out the nephew of the landowner showed up during the fire and spoke with my Chief, and was acting VERY nervous. This was AFTER the flat tires when the Chief made it back. He didn't mention anything about the tire traps.

    If the landowner had placed this device because he was having trouble with kids coming in a partying (an empty field or dead-end road is a primo party spot in the sticks for all you city folk!) or something of that nature, the nephew likely would have told us about them. Since the nephew didn't say anything about it, I'll still leaning towards illegal activity.

    Going on the illegal activity assumpsion, I'll bet if we (the FD) approach the landowner and mention what happened, that the landowner will pay for the tires to prevent us from contacting the Sheriff. If the landowner DOESN'T pay for the tires, he may not know what the nephew is up to, and won't care if we contact the sheriff.

    This is pure speculation on my part, of course. I sincerely wish we had looked around a little more while we were there.
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

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