NM Family Sues For Delayed Response

A New Mexico family is suing the City of Rio Rancho, the Rio Rancho Fire Department and the Rio Rancho Police Department over the loss of their home in a 2011 fire.

Chris and Lisa Lopez’s house was destroyed by fire on May 14, 2011. They allege it took the fire department over 40 minutes to arrive on scene despite the fact that a fire station is located 2 minutes away, because firefighters were engaged in a demonstration at a nearby Home Depot.

The suit alleges that a police officer arrived on scene early into the incident at a point in time when the fire was small and confined to the garage. Ms. Lopez was attempting to extinguish the fire using a garden hose, along with a neighbor who also had a hose. The unnamed police officer ordered both of them to stop applying water, and the fire extended to the garage and ultimately the house.

According to the complaint, personnel from a the Placitas Fire Department outside of Rio Rancho were the first to arrive on scene, but they were unable to secure a water supply. The complaint continued “At least one of the responding Rio Rancho fire crews could not find the residence resulting in a lengthy delay”.

The suit was originally filed in 13th Judicial District Court with one count alleging negligence, and a second count alleging a due process violation.

The negligence count includes allegations of negligence in operating fire department equipment, negligence in allowing the apparatus to be used in a demonstration without adequate backup, negligent training, and negligent supervision.

The due process claim alleges that property was taken from the Lopez family without due process of law by virtue of the police officer’s order to stop applying water to the fire. Predictably, the case was removed to US District Court yesterday to address the due process claims.

Here is a copy of the complaint.Removal Complaint

More on the story.

Lawsuit claims Rio Rancho ‘negligent’

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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