Baltimore Settles Live Burn LODD Case for $200,000

The City of Baltimore has reached settlement in the wrongful death case of a trainee killed during a live-fire training exercise in a vacant building in 2007.

Racheal M. Wilson, age 29 and the mother of two, died on February 9, 2007 from asphyxiation and burns suffered at a live burn exercise conducted in an acquired structure. Investigations of the incident revealed numerous safety violations that led to the termination of three members of the training academy staff.  All three were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The NIOSH fatality report listed 11 recommendations, including the need to comply with NFPA 1403, ensure instructors are trained to NFPA 1041, provide training divisions with adequate resources, and properly screen the physical and psychological suitability of candidates. The report indicated that Wilson was permitted to participate in the live fire training despite the documented fact that she suffered from mask phobia, and had in previous exercises removed her mask at inappropriate times.

Other reports on the incident indicate that despite the fact that Wilson was known to be unable to control the backpressure from an operating nozzle, she was assigned to the nozzle position on the third floor of the fire building with active fire on the second floor. She was assigned to the third floor with two other trainees who were performing ventilation. When the fire began rapidly extending she attempted to use the nozzle and was knocked backward by the force of the water. As conditions worsened instructors tried to rescue Wilson but she had already suffered fatal injuries including burns to her face and respiratory injuries.

Wilson’s family originally filed suit in state circuit court back in 2010 seeking $35 million in damages. The complaint alleged that Wilson’s death "was part of an official culture of ignorance and indifference to safety" within the Fire Department that "shocks the conscience." Besides state law wrongful death and negligence counts, the complaint went further and alleged Constitutional due process violations under Section 1983.

The due process allegations predictably led the case to be removed to US District Court. In due course the federal claims were dismissed, with the court concluding that even “deliberate indifference” in an employment context does not arise to the level of a due process violation.

The case was then returned back to state circuit court where the parties reached an agreement to end the six year ordeal with a $200,000 settlement. The city council was scheduled to approve the settlement yesterday (July 3, 2013) but as of yet there has been no confirmation that the council has acted.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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