Connecticut Fire Department Not Liable for Arson By Volunteer

A Connecticut jury has ruled in favor of the Mystic Fire District in a civil suit filed by the owner of a house that was set on fire in 2008 by a Mystic volunteer firefighter.

Gretchen Chipperini alleged that the negligence of the fire district’s leadership made the district liable for the actions of probationary firefighter William Celtruda who set the fire on July 25, 2008. The fire destroyed Chipperini’s house.

Chipperini alleged that Celtruda and other firefighters were allowed to drink in the fire station despite being under age. In addition, Celtruda was hazed by other members about his lack of firefighting experience and succumbed to pressure by setting the fire. The district also lacked procedures to screen applicants.

Celtruda was charged with setting three fires in Mystic. He confessed and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The jury ruled in the case yesterday in US District Court in Hartford. quoted Chipperini’s attorney as saying “There’s no question the behavior of the fire department that night was outrageous. But the jury ultimately felt Billy Celtruda acted on his own.” Mystic Fire Chief Frank Hilbert was quoted as saying “We’re thankful to Judge Michael Shea for conducting a fair trial. We’re also grateful for the vigorous defense presented by our counsel.”

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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