Top 10 Fire Law Stories for 2013

Happy New Year everyone!!! Here are my top ten stories for 2013. The list is not all YCMTSU, and it certainly is not about major legal precedents… but it does represent the highlight of things that have been going on in the American Fire Service in 2013!!!!

February, 2013  – Macungie, PA

Rivalries and antagonism between different volunteer fire companies are legendary, but in Pennsylvania in 2013 we had a volunteer fire company file suit against… well… itself… Macungie Volunteer Fire Department v. Macungie Fire Company No. 1, in Lehigh County Court. Macungie Volunteer Fire Department sued the Macungie Fire Company No. 1, claiming the company owes the fire department nearly $17,000 for bills paid and repairs made at the fire hall where the two organizations are based. According to court documents the fire department tried unsuccessfully for months to collect from the fire company, which runs the social club and bar at the fire hall. The suit accuses the company of breach of contract.

February, 2013 – Strother, Oklahoma

Firefighter Harold Sims assaulted firefighter-Chaplain Dale Patterson in the fire station. Patterson later died from his injuries and Sims was charged with first degree manslaughter. Sims resigned from the department.

March 2013 – New York, NY

FDNY EMS Lieutenant Timothy Dluhos, whose Twitter name is The Bad Lieutenant, was confronted about his posts by NY Post reporters outside his Staten Island home. The posts included references to Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who is Jewish) as “King Heeb”,  black people as “coloreds”, and Asians as “chinks”. To add to the problem his profile picture was Adolf Hitler.

Lt. Dluhos reportedly broke down during the confrontation with reporters, reduced to tears saying “My life is ruined. Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.” In September, 2013, Dluhos and FDNY were sued by Teena Gamzon who claims that Dluhos posted a photo of her in a wheel chair on Twitter. Gamzon claims Dluhos Photoshopped a “wide load” sign on to the back of her wheelchair as a way of mocking her.

Dluhos' story was a precursor to a major scandal involving numerous EMS personnel from FDNY who had been casually posting photos and commentary about patients for years.

May, 2013 Cleveland, OH

13 Cleveland firefighters were indicted by a grand jury for paying firefighters to work their shifts. The 13 were considered to be the worst offenders who the department alleged engaged in the practice to the tune of over 2,000 hours each. The charges included felony theft in office and receiving improper compensation.

June 2013  Los Alamos County, NM

Los Alamos County Firefighter Jessie Noah filed suit against the department claiming that following a 2011 incident in which her captain allegedly attempted to secretly video her in the fire station bathroom (resulting in criminal charges and his resignation) she was verbally and physically harassed by others in the department, including friends of the captain who were upset with her for reporting the incident. “She had to endure a workplace that was better suited to the male-dominated firefighting houses of the 1940s than of the 21st century,” her attorney John Bienvenu said. “What happened to her is inexcusable and unacceptable.”

June 2013   Seattle, WA

The arsonist responsible for Mary Pang Building fire that killed 4 Seattle FFs in 1995, was accused of orchestrating an elaborate scam to steal money from firefighters, their families, police officers and witnesses in the case.

The FBI, state police and local police claim Martin Pang was using personal information including social security numbers gained during the course of his arson case in a conspiracy to steal money through identity theft. His plan was to place the funds in an overseas account that he could access once he is released from prison in 2018.

June 2013  San Francisco, CA

FF Michael Quinn, 43, was driving a ladder truck that struck a motocyclist and tossed him 75 feet causing severe injuries. Quinn was reportedly intoxicated at the time. According to coworkers, Quinn left the scene without permission and showed up back at his firehouse more than two hours later.  He was duly arrested.  Dispite his co-workers statements that they had no idea where Quinn went, an investigation uncovered security video showing several of Quinn’s coworkers accompanying him to a bar where he was observed guzzling pitchers of water. The coworkers are also being disciplined in what the newscasters referred to as a "coverup scandal". In September, the injured motorcyclist initiated civil proceedings against Quinn and the department.

June, 2013  Cleveland, OH

Cleveland Fire Chief Daryl McGinnis received a verbal reprimand for threatening to stab a firefighter in the neck for not wearing his fatigue shirt on duty, a dress code violation. When a second scandal broke shortly thereafter regarding his failure to meet recertification requirements, the chief announced his retirement. Two days after Chief McGinnis announced his retirement, a photo of the Chief was allegedly taken from the training academy and placed in urinals at two bars where recent recruits were celebrating their graduation from the fire academy. Apparently not content with that a captain, Roy Ziganti Jr., took a cellphone photo of Chief McGinnis' photo in the urinal and forwarded it to the female companion of a recruit with instructions for her to forward it to Chief McGinnis and a lieutenant. That YCMTSU moment prompted an investigation that led to the twelve members being disciplined.

September 2013 Columbus, OH

A woman who claims she suffered burns from an unknown chemical sprayed by a Columbus Fire Division ambulance has filed suit against the city. Maureen Koeppen claims she was riding in a convertible on August 6, 2013 when a Columbus FD ambulance pulled up next to her and began spraying a toxic chemical that caused burns and lesions. She claims the chemical led to her admission to a hospital on August 14 where she allegedly remains with a life threatening condition.

September, 2013   Milwaukee, WI

Eleven firefighters were accused of vandalizing a firehouse after they were involuntarily transferred by the fire chief. The transfers followed a change in command at the house that upset the firefighters.  The vandalism included  shattering televisions, smashing dishes, soiling firefighting equipment with bodily fluids, “relieving themselves throughout the building,” breaking kitchen equipment and hanging a dead mouse inside Engine 32 following their final shift. The group reportedly also left drawings of a “racial and sexual nature” in the building.

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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