Seattle Fire Dragged Into Drowning Suit

The Seattle Fire Department has been dragged into an unfortunate wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man who drown in a hotel swimming pool last summer.

Tesfaye Girma Deboch died on June 30, 2013 while swimming in a pool at a Quality Inn in Seattle. His friend, Pavan Dhanireddy, saw Deboch in distress and because he could not swim, ran to the hotel’s front desk. The desk clerk called 911 and Seattle firefighters arrived within 2½ minutes.

The problem was the pool water was not clear and personnel believed they could see the bottom when they could not. Firefighters reportedly searched the pool visually, used a rescue hook, and even used a thermal-imaging camera. They left the scene 17 minutes later, concluding that Deboch was missing but not in the pool.

An off-duty firefighter who was staying at the hotel and was helping Deboch’s friends search the pool found the body several hours later. Deboch was 27 years old and a doctoral student at Washington State University.

In January, Deboch’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the hotel’s owners, Seattle Hospitality, Inc. and Quality Inn & Suites. The suit alleges that the hotel’s failure to properly maintain the pool led to the murky conditions and contributed to the failure of the firefighters to find Deboch in a timely manner.

Last week the hotel owners filed a third-party complaint against the City of Seattle claiming the negligence of the firefighters was a contributing factor in Deboch’s death.

It is worth noting that following the incident, Seattle Fire reviewed its water rescue procedures and acknowledged that like most fire departments, it had no procedures or training for pool related rescues. The department also became aware that the murky water drowning problem is a relatively common occurrence, and developed an awareness level training program for all personnel.

More on the suit.

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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