JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF OWLS HEAD AND ITS FIREFIGHTERS
August 19, 2016
Edward R. Benjamin, Jr., a member of the firm's Trial Services Group, successfully defended the Town of Owls Head, The Owls Head Volunteer Fire Company, and Fire Chief Frank Ross in a lawsuit filed by the owner of a commercial garage that was destroyed by fire in 2013. On August 18, 2016 the Knox County Superior Court granted the summary judgment motion filed by Attorney Benjamin on behalf of all defendants.
The lawsuit claimed that Chief Ross's decisions and actions on the day of the fire had prevented firefighters from saving the building which housed Frankie's Garage, a commercial auto repair facility on Rt. 73 in Owls Head. Because there is no public water supply in the area, firefighters were forced to shuttle water by tanker truck from fire hydrants some distance from the fire. Low water pressure in the hydrants that were nearest to the fire, which are served by a WW II era 6" water main, forced the trucks to travel nearly to Rockland to fill up. At one point approximately 30 minutes into the firefighting effort the delays caused by the need to shuttle water from that distance caused the firefighters to run out of water for 20 minutes. By the time this happened, however, efforts to fight the fire from inside the structure had already been abandoned after flames burst through the roof and the structural integrity of the building was deemed too compromised to allow firefighters to remain inside. The structure was of open bay construction, and filled with flammable materials associated with automobiles and automobile repairs, such as petroleum products. The fire was deemed to have started in a waste oil furnace used to heat the building. The lawsuit further alleged that Chief Ross unnecessarily destroyed some contents of the building when he had an excavator tear down a wall and move debris so the fire could be fully extinguished.
In its ruling granting summary judgment to the town, its volunteer fire company and its fire chief, the court found that all three were entitled to immunity under the Maine Tort Claims Act. All actions of Chief Ross were deemed to be within the discretion he enjoyed in that position, and therefore he was entitled to discretionary function immunity. The court further ruled that no exception to the general grant of immunity provided by the Act to Maine municipalities applied to firefighting efforts, and held the town and volunteer fire company were entitled to immunity as well. The court rejected Plaintiff's argument that the use of fire trucks and the excavator brought this case within the exception to immunity for a municipality's use of motor vehicles or special machinery, ruling that exception was meant to address uses of such vehicles and equipment that resulted in collisions with other vehicles, and not the manner in which they were used to fight this fire.
Media Coverage August 19, 2016, Bangor Daily News, "Judge extinguishes lawsuit against Owls Head Fire Department". To read article, please click here.