Bridgeport Prevails in Suit Over Warehouse Fire

The Connecticut Court of Appeals has rejected the claims of a building owner who sought to hold the Bridgeport Fire Department liable for a major warehouse fire in 2014 that resulted in a toxic waste cleanup costing the EPA over $2.3 million. 25 Grant Street LLC, filed suit in 2016 alleging the fire department’s failure to conduct state mandated inspections coupled with a decision to apply water to “a small fire” in a building containing drums of toxic chemicals, led to the damages.

Fairfield County Superior Court rejected the claims, prompting 25 Grant Street, LLC to appeal. As explained by the court of appeals:

  • On the evening of September 11, 2014, “someone contacted 911 to report that a small fire had broken out … at the [plaintiff’s] warehouse.”
  • To extinguish the fire, the fire department used only water and did not use foam.
  • The fire eventually “consum[ed] the entire warehouse; and caused the release of [at least] 1500… fifty-five gallon barrels of various chemicals into the soil, air, and water surrounding the property.”
  • In total, the fire resulted in the plaintiff “sustain[ing] a total loss of [its] warehouse; loss of use of the [25 Grant Street] property; loss of rents; stigma to [the plaintiff’s] business; the cost of an [Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] cleanup; the costs of [the plaintiff’s] own attempted cleanup; legal fees [and] costs; and the loss of future profits on the appreciation of its value and/or continued rental of the property.”
  • [The] defendant [was] also negligent in one or more of the following ways:
  • (1) failure to have [the information about the warehouse’s contents] immediately available so first response by fire personnel would be appropriate to [the] chemicals present;
  • (2) inexcusable delay in ascertaining [the] proper address [of the warehouse] to obtain [the information about the warehouse’s contents];
  • (3) inexcusable delay in obtaining [the] information [about the warehouse’s contents]; (4) failure to access chemicals likely present and [the information about the warehouse’s contents] from website of [Rowayton];
  • (5) failure to implement and utilize Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) developed by the US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and designed to help first responders and emergency planners respond to and plan for chemical accidents, including fires involving chemicals;
  • (6) failure to implement and utilize CAMEO Response Information Data Sheets (RIDS), a database of over 4000 chemicals and product trade names linked to chemical-specific information on fire, explosive and health hazards, firefighting techniques, cleanup procedures and protective clothing, developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and designed to help first responders and emergency planners respond to and plan for chemical accidents, including fires involving chemicals;
  • (7) failure to implement an Integrated Command Structure (ICS) early enough; resultant disorganization caused issues with information management that could have potentially put lives at risk;
  • (8) failure to extinguish fire from chemicals in accordance with [prescribed] methods [contained in the information about the warehouse’s contents];
  • (9) failure to use [prescribed] foam created seepage into Yellow Mill River and Long Island Sound (foam would have prevented or mitigated amount of chemical seepage);
  • (10) failure to abide by [the] proscription for those media unsuitable to extinguish a fire for certain chemicals [stated in the information about the warehouse’s contents];
  • (11) failure properly to ensure that members of the fire department, including first responders, have sufficient training in hazardous material response;
  • (12) failure to [develop a plan] [for extinguishing a potential fire] with the [plaintiff’s] tenant [who] stored and used chemicals [in the warehouse and, thus] would have identified specific concerns for the [warehouse] and opportunities to prepare effectively for those concerns, or to reduce existing risks.

The Superior Court granted summary judgment to the city based upon governmental immunity. The court concluded 25 Grant Street LLC failed to establish an exception to government immunity, namely that the fire department’s “failure to conduct an inspection for fire code violations” was “reckless.”

In a ruling that addressed more procedural matters than substantive law, the Court of Appeals upheld the Superior Court. Here is a copy of the ruling:

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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