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  1. #1
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    Default Could this happen to you?

    Jury finds Lafourche fire department at fault after man's home burns down

    03:21 PM CST on Friday, January 28, 2005


    Liz Hackenburg / Daily Comet



    THIBODAUX -- Fire districts can be held accountable for fire losses, according to a decision handed down by a Thibodaux jury this week.


    The 12-person panel found Fire District No. 9 in Central Lafourche Parish responsible for the loss of a Gheens familyís home in a fire several years ago.


    The civil trial, which lasted three days, was presided over by District Court Judge F. Hugh "Buddy" Larose.


    Brian Rivet sued the Vacherie-Gheens Volunteer Fire Department after his home on South Leon Drive burned in May 1998. The house was destroyed despite the efforts of volunteer firefighters to save it. Rivet claimed his house was lost because the firefighters who first arrived on scene didnít have the training necessary to extinguish the blaze.


    Rivet was awarded $40,000 for the house, $23,000 for the homeís contents, $20,000 for the mental anguish that he and his wife, Brenda, suffered and $3,800 for hauling away the ruins.


    The fire department plans to appeal. If the decision is upheld by the higher court, VFIS, the fire departmentís insurance company, must pay Rivet $86,000.


    Timothy Schafer, a New Orleans-based lawyer, represented the fire department.


    "Weíre very disappointed with the verdict. Ö Usually jurors recognize that there are some volunteers that are very well trained and some that are not. Is that individual to do nothing or is he to try? And if he tries and makes a minor mistake does that render the fire district liable," he asked. "This is the type of case where youíre damned if you do and youíre damned if you donít."


    David Ardoin, Rivetís lawyer, said it was unfortunate that a volunteer organization shouldered the blame for the tragedy but the departmentís failure to provide adequate training was an inexcusable oversight.


    "Weíre very lucky to live in Lafourche Parish because we have some of the best, if not the best, volunteer fire departments. They train, theyíre prepared and they know what to do when they respond," said the lawyer, who lives in Thibodaux. "The problem with these firefighters is that they werenít trained. There was a lot of testimony that indicated the chief didnít have enough volunteers" or the time to train them.


    In this case, the fireman who was first to respond did not know how to start the fire truck, the lawyer said. When he did arrive at the Rivetsí home shortly after the fire started, "the hose didnít even reach the house, it was 10-15 feet short of the house," and huge amounts of water were wasted.


    The Lockport Volunteer Fire Department was next to respond, but the water from the hydrant was already down to a trickle, Ardoin said.


    Fire Chief Spence Cressionie, who lives down the street from the former site of the Rivet home, said, "We tried our best, we did what we could, we offered him stuff -- everybody loses when thereís a fire. Itís a tragedy."


  2. #2
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    but the departmentís failure to provide adequate training was an inexcusable oversight.

    Damn Skippy!

    It doesn't matter if a FD is from the Bronx or from a rural La. Parish, it is the responsibility of the Chief to provide adequate training. Fires are just as hot and just as dangerous in Rural America as they are in Urban Americia.

    Every FD in the US should take a lesson from this.
    Last edited by GeorgeWendtCFI; 01-31-2005 at 06:03 AM.

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    i'll second that, george.

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    Default Reserving Judgement

    Does anyone have information on what "Mistakes" were made at this fire? I read in the post that one Firefighter had trouble starting the engine(poor training I will agree). Next it states that the hose was too short to reach the house? What were the conditions that caused this, were ground conditions on the scene a factor in this or did they just not know or have extra lengths of hose to add to the pre-connect to make the reach. 3rd they talk about hydrant's this may or may not be a training issue as we all know hydrants in rural areas may not always be the best sources of water at times. I will agree that it sounds like some training issues were a factor but would like to see more info. I am afraid that after I read more of the facts, if they are out there that it will show a major training issue. It goes to show that we in the fire service are held accountable for our actions, but I would like to see more info on this case before I render my judgement.
    A "Good" fire is not measured by how big it is, but by the fact that everyone is going home safe, and that we possibly learned something new about firefighting. Member:IACOJ

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    I believe something like this is happening in my County....about 2 years ago an FD showed up to a house fire......with an empty tank of water.....and the result was an early county parade....I believe its still in litigation....
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    Well to me this sounds like a staffing issue as much as a training issue, we almost always have someone there right away, or really soon that can get the truck started. Did they roll the first truck with just a single person? We have 2 in every unit before we go out the doot. Has this unit had problems before with starting? Questions to look into. I like to hear the whole story, this is just one part. It makes it interesting though, of what could happen in our area and around the country.

  7. #7
    Forum Member Dave1983's Avatar
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    To answer the question, in my departments case, no. Not for lack of training anyway. But a lawyer could try and go after lots of things (and this goes for a lot of departments). Things like staffing, tactics, equipment, response times, fire prevention/code enforcement, just to name a few. Our biggest concern is prevention/code enforcement. Lets just say our prevention people are not "on top of things"
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Could this happen to you?

    Originally posted by VolunteerFFEMT
    "Weíre very disappointed with the verdict. Ö Usually jurors recognize that there are some volunteers that are very well trained and some that are not. Is that individual to do nothing or is he to try? And if he tries and makes a minor mistake does that render the fire district liable," he asked. "This is the type of case where youíre damned if you do and youíre damned if you donít."
    ...
    In this case, the fireman who was first to respond did not know how to start the fire truck, the lawyer said. When he did arrive at the Rivetsí home shortly after the fire started, "the hose didnít even reach the house, it was 10-15 feet short of the house," and huge amounts of water were wasted
    ...
    The Lockport Volunteer Fire Department was next to respond, but the water from the hydrant was already down to a trickle, Ardoin said.
    geez, what a load of crap. the first part gives the excuse of "we are only volunteers, we can only do so much." bull, even volunteers need proper training, and thosre departments that don't send their firefighters for training are liable.

    if the first firemen to respond didn't know how to start the truck, then why did they respond? don't you need a qualified driver to drive the truck the the scene? and if your department is stupid enough to have the truck respond without a qualified driver adn pump operator, then you are liable for their screw ups.

    and how did the hydrant go dry? when the Lockport FD arrived, "the hydrant was already down to a trickle"? how does this happen? how is this the FD's fault?

    just for kicks, what's the training required to put out the fire? FF1? FF2? FF3? in house training daily? weekly? bi-monthly? no one can answer, that's for a jury to decide.
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    SO, the department will go out of business, then everyone will b**** about there being no fd.
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  10. #10
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    Hard to know what to think on this, no more info than we have. A couple points:

    First, I would echo what George says. We are our own worst enemy when we make excuses for incompetence, whether or not that was truly the case here or just some underinsured homeowner's excuse.

    But second, there are a lot of factors beyond our control that make it harder to extinguish fires. Balloon construction, presence of accelerants or hazardous materials, poor road access, delayed detection/notification, unsecure-able utilities, and on and on. Buildings burn down in Brooklyn. Buildings burn down in Silver City, Oklahoma. Buildings burn down in Seattle, in Juneau, in Brisbane, in Phnom Penh...Go to any city or rural area, and you will find that their FD has had a building or two burn to the ground. We all hate it, if we're worth a crap, but there is only so much we can do. Yes, we can inspect and pre-plan, but so much crap is grandfathered in that we can only be totally sure of what happens from the nozzle back.

    So the question in this case, in the absence of first-hand knowledge, is which of these two scenarios applies. If the department was under-trained and just plain incompetent, then they are liable for the loss (although the precedent and the ramifications for the area's fire protection future worry me; howzabout a judgement of state-supervised training in lieu of monetary damages?). But if they were facing an impossible battle like the examples I cite above, this is truly unfair.

    Tough situation any way you slice it. If the FD did screw up, at least this could serve as a heckuva wakeup call.
    Last edited by EastKyFF; 01-31-2005 at 03:53 PM.
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    I think that some of you are not seeing the forest for the trees.

    The lesson here is bigger than this particluar case. The lesson here is that this CAN happen to your FD. It is up to the FD to make sure that it doesn't.

    Is there an excuse to have poorly trained people responding on your first due apparatus? Is there an excuse to exercise poor tactics at a seemingly (I hate this word) routine house fire? Is there an excuse that your FD does not have an adequate number of trained operators?

    We're only volunteer?-Nope

    We have nobody else? Not quite?

    There are too many standards and rules?-Not even close

    We're only volunteer?-You already tried that one.

    Suppose you wanted to fix cars. You opened a shop, but you had no training in fixing cars and did not know how to do it right. But you are the only car repair ship in your small little town. One day, you fix a car and, because you did it wrong, the car crashed. Should the courts not allow you to be sued because you might go out of business and there would be no car repari shop in town? Of course not.

    It is up to you to learn how to do it right. If you don't know how to do it right, don't do it. If you really care, contract with someone else who DOES know how to do it right. There is no in-between.

    And BTW, if this FD has liability insurance, it probably won't go out of business. If it didn't have liability insurance, too bad for them.

  12. #12
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    Originally posted by GeorgeWendtCFI
    but the departmentís failure to provide adequate training was an inexcusable oversight.

    Damn Skippy!

    It doesn't matter if a FD is from the Bronx or from a rural La. Parish, it is the responsibility of the Chief to provide adequate training. Fires are just as hot and just as dangerous in Rural America as they are in Urban Americia.

    Every FD in the US should take a lesson from this.
    I'll third that motion!

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    Default has the owner of the house ever

    donated/voulenteered or helped in any way the Fire Dept.?

    you get what you paye for, if he has given nothing to the FD what does he expect. He got more than nothing which is more than he desesved or should have expected. Most vol. have to get buy with very little money or help!

    IMHO

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    if he has given nothing to the FD what does he expect
    further proof that we are our own worst enemy and our own biggest problem.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    Default Re: has the owner of the house ever

    Originally posted by fireflymedic
    donated/voulenteered or helped in any way the Fire Dept.?

    you get what you paye for, if he has given nothing to the FD what does he expect. He got more than nothing which is more than he desesved or should have expected. Most vol. have to get buy with very little money or help!

    IMHO
    I agree. If a person does not donate time or money to the fire department, then he should not expect to receive the atop level of service.

    In fact, you could set up a tiered system.

    Full member-full service

    Over $1000 donation-full service

    Associate member-exterior fire fighting only

    $500 - 1000 donation-exterior fire fighting only

    If a person donates less than that, or if a person will not join the FD, then there will be no response. After all, what does he expect?

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    Exclamation There is no excuse

    There is no excuse for not having turnout gear for all personnel, SCBA for all on the firegound, radios for all on the fireground and at least FFII for all on the fireground. Tell the people to pay for it or go out of business.

    Don't give me any lame duck excuses. This is 2005 and people deserve a good fire department or none at all.

    Stay safe,

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    I was going to pass on this tread but Pete ... ya just fired me up.

    I don't know where you are from Pete but ya better be careful with blanket statements like "there is no excuse why ....."
    For your information, LaFouche is is a very poor and very rural area in south Louisiana. I doubt that department will ever have the money for radios for everyone and while I am sure there supply of SCBA is adequate, they probabaly don't have a bunch of extras lying around and I am sure they are not the newer models. As far as FirefighterII in a rural area located a good distance from the nearest (and only)state training facility and Louisiana does not do a real good job of out-of-facility training. As I have said before, beleive in adequate training, but you have to be realistic. The area being sparesley populated may explain the staffing issue. Volunteers have limited time and travelling distances for training makes things very difficult. And an underfunded state training system does not make the situation any easier. The reality is LaFouche is probably a fine department FOR THE AMOUNT OF FUNDING THAT IS AVAILABLE from the community. That is not an excuse, but simply is the economic reality of the area.
    If they acted in an unprofessional manner they deserve to have lost, but NONE of us know the FACTS in the case.

    However, I am wondering what the court did use as far as training standards though as Louisiana has no state training requirements for volunteers or career members .. departments set thier own standards and most volunteers don't even have FFI, due primarily to a poor and much underfunded statewide training system.

    As far as the hoses not reaching the house, that area is just barely above sea level and is very wet. It would not be inconceivable that they got the truck as close as they could without it sinking as it is not uncommon to have a great (and very damp) distance between the driveway and the house. if that was the case, the FD can be barely blamed for the delay (unless they made no effort to extend the line).
    Last edited by LaFireEducator; 01-31-2005 at 06:34 PM.

  18. #18
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    Well said, LaFireEducator.
    -----------
    From our very own State Fire Training facility- LSU FETI - http://feti.lsu.edu/archives/newsrelease.php?id=100
    In another report released recently by the National Fire Protection Association, Louisiana firefighters from rural communities were estimated to have the highest rate of firefighters lacking formal training in the nation.

    The report, titled "A Needs Assessment of the Fire Service in Louisiana," states that some 32 percent of Louisiana's firefighters are estimated to need formal training because they work in departments with responsibilities for structural firefighting and have not been so trained. In rural communities with populations less than 2,500, the percentage needing training was 53 percent, according to the report.

    -------------
    and if your department is stupid enough to have the truck respond without a qualified driver adn pump operator, then you are liable for their screw ups.
    I've mentioned this before in some of my other posts. When I've complained that it didn't make sense to have a driver respond with a truck he can't pump then I'm told that hopefully he will be met on scene by someone who knows how to get the pump in gear while he suits up and pulls the hose.
    just for kicks, what's the training required to put out the fire? FF1? FF2? FF3? in house training daily? weekly? bi-monthly?
    In this State there are no requirements. You can bunker up a monkey and send it in with a hose to do interior attack. Makes you feel safe doesn't it?
    Well to me this sounds like a staffing issue as much as a training issue, we almost always have someone there right away, or really soon that can get the truck started. Did they roll the first truck with just a single person? We have 2 in every unit before we go out the doot.
    Even if they sent one FF per truck like we do, 3 people on a short staffed day would equal 3 trucks. A pumper (1000 gal of water)and a couple of tankers (2000 gal each) would (probably) have plenty of water to knock down the fire or just protect exposures. Hydrants would not even be an issue. One guy operates the pumps and monitors water supply while the other 2 do defense with a couple of handlines. They may not save the original trailer but could keep it from spreading to other homes. If you aren't going inside and realise you can't depend on more manpower showing up then you still respond but take on only the tasks you can safely perform once you get there.
    Last edited by cellblock; 01-31-2005 at 10:56 PM.

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    Default Could this happen to you??

    A few good points were made here.

    To LaFireEducator I ask this: Are there LA state requirements set forth for Police Officers, or EMS standards??

    Once again, the good 'ol boy standards apply, and yup, someone SHOULD be held accountable.

    Like, say the state. Or if there are any state associations for Firefighters, why can't there be a standard of minimal requirements.
    Don't ya get sick of the "we'll just wing it" mentality??

    This is serious stuff. I hope we aint just playin fireman here.
    Yup-ya get what ya pay for, plain and simple.

    But if we ever, God forbid, develop national-minimal standards maybe we could prevent this from happening again.

    No one should ride the BRT, BYT, BWT, what ever color, and wear the lime strips with the funny helmet that can't do the job!!!

    Can't climb? no problem, George and Harry will be here any minute, just don't jump!!
    Can't wear SCBA? thats okay, you work enough bingos, just stay at the doorway and search from there. "Anybody in there??" Damn no one answered so'as I guess they are all out.
    I drive the tractor, so sure I can drive that 'ol fyre engine.

    WE NEED NATIONAL STANDARDS! Standards that can be enforced.
    Not "recommended guidelines"
    NJ this way, NY that way, FLA, CA, NC, it is all different. Why?
    We all want home rule. No ones gonna tell me how to run my Fire Department. No ones gonna tell me I can't participate cause I aint trained....all bs.

    BUT! The Govs. gotta come up with the cash!!!!Maybe we can borrow a few billion from law enforcement? Aint they used to gettin sued?

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    With all due respect nwfdlt26, when you start talking about national, or even state standards you better have all your ducks in a row, because it isn't going to be easy. In my 26 years, I have been in areas with more money and resources than god, and I have been in areas where departments fight to pay gas and utilities each month. Until you have been in one of those places brother, don't start talking about what SHOULD happen there. Most of these departments are hanging in there only because of the dedication of "good ole yahoos" who try to do a job with next to nothing (ok we'll have them give up thier bingo night and have them train on hydrants, though there isn't one for 50 miles) and now they'll have nothing to pay the gas and utilities with. Are they bad firefighters because they have 2 fires a year (one of which is a cellar by the time they get there because they cover 70 miles with one station) and are inexperienced, don't have access to state training because there is NO rural state training program and have to use a 30 year old truck which may or may not start or pump because thier town of 600 people can't come up with $150,000 for a new rig ? Hell no .. they are just doing what little they can with what they can scrape together to try you do a job.
    And this is not just Louisiana ... I have seen this in NY and VT and I am sure there are departments are all over the country that are struggling just to stay alive, both in terms of finances and manpower.

    Right now the Louisiana State Firefighters Association is working on a partial solution to the training issue. It is basically a Rural FF1. This course covers the basics of firefighting in a rural enviroment, and leaves out much of the stuff that a rural firefighter would never run into, and quite honestly will never need in the either because the community does not have those items (such as hydrants) or will never realistically use them (such as master streams). To me it's a wonderful solution and cuts out the unecessary training fat for small rural agencies, and does it in an effective and REALISTIC time period.

    And yes Louisiana does have standards for EMS (CPR card to drive, basic EMT in the back). As far as police, I beleive that is up to the local agency.

    There is still the problem of how it will be taught as the state does not provide nearly the funding the the LSU Fire School (the state fire academy & training agency) needs to teach off-campus programs. I suspect Louisina is not the only state with a tremendously underfunded training agency, which creates problem number 1 ... who is going to pay for all this mandated training and then all the mandated refreshers.

    I fully beleive in adequatly training your personnel FOR THE HAZARDS AND OPERATIONS THAT THE DEPARTMENT IS EXPECTED TO HANDLE DURING NORMAL OPERATIONS IN THIER COMMUNITY. Does that mean a full FF1 in a rural community of single-level homes and very small businesses. No. And it sure does not mean they need FF2 either. They need to be trained on interior ops (basic search and fire attack), water shuttles ops,driving and pump ops, BASIC ventilation, BASIC laddering, FFer safety and survival. They don't need 3 hours on hydrants if they ain't got none and probably don't need 3 hours on master streams if they don't own a device.

    My only point here is that there are communities in this country that will probably NEVER have enough turnout gear, and may NEVER have more than 10 SCBA or have more than a few portables (if any at all)and will never have trucks that are less than 20 years old because the funding isn't there and never will be.In a perfect world would they all have FF1 and all the modern tools and trucks, yes, but the reality is they will never be asked to perform more than 25% of the skills taught because their hazards and occupancies are so limited. Yes they should all be trained, but let's train them for what they are going to be doing in thier small, rural communties, not what some national cirriculum says they need to be because that's what they need to know in the cities of CA or NY or the suburbs of Jersey or Ohio.

    And by the way, ya can tell me how you are going to provide fire protection to MOST of this country when ya start weeding out the guys who may not be "perfect" fireman, because once ya start making all this training mandatory and expect everybody to be able to do everything, there are some chiefs in some places that will never have the money to hire anyone looking for answers.

    Sorry for ranting on here guys, but as you can tell I feel strongly about somebody in a large department (which may or may not be paid) telling us what it needed and what we SHOULD do in a volunteer rural agency with limited resources (in some cases EXTREMLY) and limited time.

    Just my thoughts.
    Last edited by LaFireEducator; 02-01-2005 at 09:23 AM.

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