Georgia Fire Department Sued For Wrongful Death

The estate of a woman killed in a fire at a retirement center in 2015 has filed suit against the Columbia County Fire Rescue and several firefighters alleging wrongful death. At the center of the suit was a decision to have residents of the building shelter in place.

The suit was filed by Barbara Ellington, the daughter and executrix of Dorothy Carpenter who died in the June 2, 2015 fire at the Marshall Square Retirement Community. Carpenter was 91 at the time, and her mobility was limited. She was the only resident killed in the fire.

Ellington’s suit is the third that I am aware of over the fire. Besides the fire department and firefighters, it names the Marshall Square retirement community’s parent company Resorts Lifestyle Communities Inc.; facility builder Cameron General Contractors Inc.; Goodman Co. LP; as well as property manager Chris Bryde and night concierge Zackery Freehof. The earlier suits did not include the fire department or firefighters. Coverage of the earlier suits.

According to news reports about the suit, it alleges that “Freehof and Bryde failed to notify the fire department 17 minutes after the fire started in the billiard room on the third floor, silenced the alarm five times and told residents to stay in their rooms ‘as they downplayed and minimized the danger of the fire that was rapidly spreading throughout Marshall Square complex.’” In addition, questions were raised about whether Carpenter and others whose mobility was limited, should have been required to move to a facility with a higher degree of fire protection where sheltering in place would be a more reasonable option.

In terms of the fire departments role, the suit claims proper guidelines for primary searches, evacuations, and other policies were not followed, and crews failed to call for additional resources soon enough. Named in the suit are Fire Marshal Brian Clark, Battalion Chief Jimmie Paschal, Special Operations Chief Danny Kuhlmann, Captain Gary Griffith and Lieutenant Jamie Champion.

If I can obtain a copy of the complaint, I will post it here.

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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