About Fire Law

Welcome to Fire Law

Curt Varone

Curt Varone

There has always been an inescapable connection in my mind between the fire service and law. Perhaps its because firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and fire departments are engaged in a dangerous business where people are killed and injured, and property is damaged and destroyed. Like a doctor in a high-risk specialty, anyone who engages in a profession where lives hang in the balance can become the target of a law suit by those who are unhappy with the outcome.

Perhaps it’s the fact that fire departments are created and governed by laws. Laws give firefighters the authority to drive fire apparatus on the road with red lights and sirens, to enter into peoples’ homes and businesses, and to deliver emergency medical care. Many fire departments are responsible for enforcing laws, such as fire codes. Fire departments are also subject to a variety of laws, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, the Fair Labor Standards Act, HIPAA, HAZWOPPER, and Right-to-Know laws.

Perhaps it is the fact that cases involving firefighters and fire departments have helped to shape the legal landscape of our country, including cases on constitutional law, employment discrimination, overtime compensation, drug testing, and a host of other important topics.

What ever the cause – the connection is evident when you look at the cases: the Welanski case that arose out of the Coconut Grove fire, the Grogan case that arose out of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, the New York Times v. FDNY case that arose out of the World Trade Center attack on 9/11, and countless others make the connection between fire and law in a way that no amount of my explaining can do.

It is my sincerest hope that this blog will provide the opportunity for you to learn about the connection between fire and law – and in turn we can share information on the emerging legal issues that confront the fire service.

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  • Mark

    Camden County, Georgia is considering staffing their rigs with inmates. I am curious what your thoughts are. Does staffing a structural response rig with inmates change a homeowners right (or lack) to “AMA” a fire response? Does the liability for the county change if they staff with inmates? On medical responses does a reasonable expectation of competency and ability (i.e. training and certification) exist (or any response for that matter)? Does any case law address using a mixed crew of medically trained/untrained personnel?

    • Allen

      You’ve GOT to be kidding!? Inmates?! That is an absolutely HORRIBLE idea. Men and women spend YEARS training intellectually and physically just to compete with hundreds of other candidates for just one prized firefighter position and you want to give it to someone who committed a crime!? That’s one of the things that gets you ELIMINATED from a hiring process.

    • Kent

      Years ago in IL, minimum security state prisoners actually were able to take EMT classes while incarcerated. Test scores averaged highest in state (nothing but time to study), skills tests also had high marks. Small rural county that covered prison actually started using them. (County employee EMT, prisoner EMT, occasional gaurd was crew). No reported problems I am aware of, but program cancelled after 3-5 years with change of elected county officers. Oh yeah, service was free to county residents….now no service at all in county.

    • Mark Tetreault

      We have used inmates from the county jail to do work around our station. Paint, clean, build etc… only a few glitches but it worked out very well for both sides.

  • Hector

    very interesting

  • I am really pleased to have come across this blog.

    I have something in common with the author as I was a fire officer in London UK and am now a barrister mainly working in criminal law including breaches of fire regulations and related health & safety matters.

    As for prison inmates working as fire fighters – that is such a bad idea.

  • Bill

    Incredible in this day and age that a politician would promote such an absurd idea. He should be called to account for this by the citizens he is empowered to protect.

  • Jay


    Have you run across any good cases involving breast feeding with regard to the fire/ems?  Thanks

  • ken

    Can a convicted felon (conviction was
    years ago) hold the position of firechief at a volunteer fire department?

  • Kay

    I am a firefighter/paramedic. I have established residency in the state and city that I work in. However because of the job my husband has his legal residency is in another state. I live in Iowa, the Mississippi river separates the state from both Wisconsin and Illinois with the distance of a few miles over a bridge.
    I spend time at both residences because I own a business with my husband at my second residence. I work there and spend time there on my days off. Recently because of some anonymous letters directed to the city manager whether I am meeting the cities residency rule has been questioned. The city manager directed my Chief to issue me a letter requesting that I keep a log for a month for the time I’m at my city residence. My attorney advised me not to do this. Then the city attorney advised my Chief to issue me another letter ordering me to turn in the log. This time also noting when I’m sleeping and eating at that residence. It states that me residency is being questioned because I own a property in Wisconsin and I spend my off time there. Can the city I work for dictate where I spend my time off? Other firefighters I work with have second jobs that take them out of the city and state. My attorney feels that the city has paid too much attention to letters that are anonymous. I am registered to vote at my city address, I list it at my permanent residence on my tax returns, and my drivers license reflects that address.

  • Joe East

    What recourse is there when the Fire Chief of a Volunteer Fire Dept recruits former members who have quit and blatantly circumvents the by laws by allowing those people to vote in the election of officers? This has thrown the department into chaos and has progressed into bitter in fighting resulting in an unsafe working environment.

    • CurtVarone

      Joe – you need to contact an attorney in your state to address your specific concerns. You should also not ask questions like this in a non-secure forum such as the internet where others can see your questions and the answers.