Fire Victims Seek $1.86 Million from Fire Department

The owners of a landmark Maine restaurant that was destroyed by fire in December 2013, have filed suit against the fire department and ten individual firefighters claiming they either purposefully or negligently allowed the building to burn.

Robert and Judy Cousins, owners of Cap’n Nemo’s Restaurant, are suing the Tremont Fire Department pro se, which means they filed the suit by themselves without legal counsel. The suit also names the editor, the publisher and a reporter for the Mount Desert Islander (MDIslander), a local newspaper, accusing them of defamation.

The fire occurred on December 4, 2013, and ended up destroying the restaurant and an attached residence. Quoting from the complaint:

  • Upon the arrival of the Tremont VFD … in a four minute response, Defendant Capt. Heath Higgins entered the side door. Plaintiff Bob Cousins was coming down the stairs to get another fire extinguisher. Plaintiff told him, “I almost had it out, l just need another extinguisher”.
  • At that point it was just a small fire on the top floor of the lighthouse. Plaintiff was standing beside it until the extinguisher ran out. Defendant assured me that it would be put out, but that I had to leave. The Tremont Volunteer Fire Department assumed the duty and reneged by allowing the tower to burn for a full two hours to the restaurant level, and allowed it to burn the entire restaurant for three more hours.
  • Defendant Capt. Higgins sprayed a truck load of water off the fire never hitting it with any water whatsoever in abrogation of his duty
  • One honest firefighter left the scene stating “this is bullshit”.
  • Firefighter Sarah MacQuinn quit the fire department as a result, and was severely treated, demeaned, and ridiculed because she came to us to report the truth. Her life was threatened by Matthew Tetreault. She was defamed to fire departments from all around Mount Desert Island area by Defendant Chief Keith Higgins.
  • When the firefighters were donning their gear at the station, and before he had even seen the fire, Defendant Chief Keith Higgins reminded everyone that,” it would be a defensive attack and under no circumstances would anybody be allowed to go interior”.
  • Seven responding fire companies arrived in mutual aid, some in SCBA gear ready to go interior, and asking to do so were told to stand by down the street. In an hour they returned to see if they could help. They were ordered to retreat once again to the staging area. They left the fire scene to go home and go to bed 2 1/2 hours later carrying with them the precious water that was not forthcoming from local sources.
  • The tanker truck had broken down for the negligent lack of maintenance.
  • Defendant Chief Keith Higgins failed to establish command.
  • Tremont engine 6 hydraulic water pressure pump failed. Engine 6 was not inspected
  • Some drivers did not have the proper EVOC certification to drive the equipment.
  • Defendant firefighter’s Lindsley and Tetreault have admitted that they stole a sign from the fire scene in further egregious intentional infliction of emotional distress.
  • Our son’s $1800 Macbook was stolen by Matt Tetreault during the fire.
  • A 10 year firefighter Sarah MacQuinn met with defendant Chief Keith Higgins the next morning to retrieve forgotten gear. He stated, “we’ll have to find another way to run them out of town, they have too much support. They have $5000 in donations already.” Sarah MacQuinn quit the Department claiming,” I cannot unsee what I saw, and unhear what I heard.”

The suit seeks $1.86 million in damages and was filed in US District Court for the District of Maine. One challenge plaintiffs will have is establishing a federal cause of action. Paragraph 70 states:

  • “JURISDICTION This is an violation of our civil rights. I am a 100% disabled medic”

It goes on to allege claims under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, and the ADA without any additional detail beyond:

  • “(a 100% disabled Vietnam veteran purposefully made homeless, jobless, by the willful and wonton destruction, we can lawfully claim treble damages). The racketeering also imputes treble damages.”

According to Sarah MacQuinn the allegations about her are totally untrue and she is evaluating her options to sue the Plaintiffs for defamation.

Here is the original complaint: Cousins-v-tremont-lawsuit

Here is the amended complaint: Cousins-amended

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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