Fire District Sues US Forest Service Over Right To Use Road To Respond

For the second time in 3 years a volunteer fire department in Washington state has taken on the US Forest Service over the use of a rural road across Federal property to respond to emergencies.

The Kittitas County Fire District No. 8 claims that the US Forest Service’s refusal to allow use of approximately 1500 feet of Stampede Pass Road, adds as much as 30 minutes to its responses to parts of its first due district.

The problem is primarily limited to the winter months when snow blocks the road. It is at that time of the year that snowmobilers, dog sledders, and cross country skiers use the road, creating a situation that the Forest Service considers to be unsafe if vehicular traffic was to be permitted.

Kittitas sued in 2009 over the same issue, and an agreement was reached allowing the firefighters to use the road. However, according to the fire district’s complaint, the agreement became unworkable in part because snow plowing was prohibited in 2009 and all vehicular traffic was prohibited in 2010.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction and temporary restraining order allowing the fire district to plow and use the Forest Service’s section of Stampede Pass Road all year. From a legal perspective, the theory of the fire district’s case is that the Forest Service is violating federal law by prohibiting emergency vehicles from using the roadway, and its interpretations of law are “irrational, arbitrary, capricious, vindictive, and sought to treat the Fire District in a manner differently than all other emergency response agencies”.

Here is the complaint. KittitasCOMPLAINT

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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