Texas City Sues Fire Department

A Texas city has filed suit against its volunteer fire department seeking to obtain legal title to the department’s apparatus and equipment.

The City of Huntington is suing the Huntington Volunteer Fire Department seeking a declaratory judgment that the city is the legal owner of a 2007 tanker, vehicle extrication equipment, SCBAs and protective clothing. The suit also seeks punitive damages.

The department has been under fire since 2012 when it was disclosed that its ranks included convicted felons and at least one sex offender. At the time, fire chief Jerry LaSalle took the drastic step of terminating all members, reorganizing the department, and requiring everyone interested in returning to reapply. Apparently it was too little too late. Last year the city stopped funding the department as did the Angelina County Firefighter’s Association who took a vote of no confidence in HVFD.

In April, 2013, the city opted to create an all new fire department, the City of Huntington Volunteer Fire Department. A career firefighter from Jacksonville, Paul Hatch, was named as fire chief and a career paramedic from Beaumont EMS, Lance Dempsey, was named as assistant chief.

According to the City of Huntington’s attorney, Jimmy Cassels, the lawsuit “is the direct complication of having two fire departments and not knowing who owns what. … We have two fire departments down there, and the city is alleging ownership to the equipment. We are essentially asking the court to determine what they own and what we own.”

More on the story.

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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