Fire departments, through their insurance provider, frequently have legal actions brought against them at fatal, injury events or significant dollar loss incidents. These incidents are not restricted exclusively to fires. FireWise has been called to provide support as an expert witness to the legal system on several files that have involve water damage claims where the actions of a fire department are questioned.

As an expert witness, it is important for FireWise to remember that we are working for the Court, not for one side or the other.  As an expert witness we must be objective and not advocate for one side or the other.  Once a statement of claim is made, and the action is brought against an AHJ and the fire service, we are engaged to write an opinion based on agreed assumed facts.  If it is evident there were mistakes made, procedures not followed, or other problems, as an expert witness we are obliged to include that in our opinion, which could be introduced into a Court proceeding.  In many situations, cases go to mediation where professional reports from fire investigators, engineers and other expert witness opinions are presented.  Many cases are resolved in this manner, and the fire department is not aware of the outcome.

Actions brought against a fire department generally are concerned with the strategies and tactics a fire department employs in attacking a fire.  Other factors will be looked at, such as water supply.  Did the fire department have enough water, or was it interrupted for any reason? Were there enough resources sent to the fire? Was mutual aid called early in the incident?  Was the incident commander able to get the incident organized and maintain command and control?  Were the department OG’s followed?  Were the AHJ’s policies concerning response time and an effective response force sent for what was reported to the fire dispatch centre? The difference here is what was reported versus what was found.

Policies of Council are important.  It is rare to have a policy of Council successfully challenged, but if it was not followed, that could be a problem.  OG’s are also important, as is personal discipline.  Firefighters are used to reacting to solve a problem.  Reacting to a problem is not always the best tactic, especially if there is discretionary time to think things through.

The good news is unless you are grossly negligent or willfully cause injury or loss, a firefighter may be embarrassed, but it has not been our experience for them to have an action brought against them.

If your fire department would like to discuss how you can protect yourself should a legal action be commenced, please get in touch with us.

Glen Sanders
April 2020