Injured Recruit Sues Nashville for $1.5 Million

A Nashville Fire Department recruit who was injured last summer in a training mishap, has filed a $1.5 million suit against the city. Jennifer Lockhart was injured on July 21, 2017 when she fell several feet while participating in a rescuing trapped firefighters exercise.

The exercise, often referred to as the Nance Drill, was named for Columbus, Ohio firefighter John Nance, who died on July 25, 1987. Nance fell through a floor into a basement and firefighters were unable to rescue him. Lockhart claims she requested to have a safety rope attached to her while participating, but her instructors refused.

After the incident Lockhart accused instructors of maliciously causing her injuries. An investigation found no evidence of maliciousness, but concluded one of the instructors, a district chief, used inappropriate language and was not candid during his interview. He was demoted back to captain for six months.

Lockhart and her husband filed suit today in Davis County Circuit Court alleging negligence, negligent supervision, negligent hiring, negligent training and negligent retention. From the complaint:

  • On July 21, 2017, Jennifer Lockhart’s training included a firefighter training exercise known as the “Nance Drill.”
  • The Nance Drill, named after a firefighter who died while fighting a building fire when he fell through a hole and into a burning basement, is intended to train firefighters how to lower a firefighter on ropes to a lower floor to rescue a trapped firefighter.
  • The Nance Drill is normally conducted after advanced rope training is completed, but Jennifer Lockhart and the other recruits had not yet been provided advanced rope training.
  • The Nance Drill required Jennifer Lockhart to be lowered by ropes from the second floor of the academy’s training tower to the first floor while dressed in full firefighting gear, including an oxygen tank on her back.
  • The Nance Drill in which Jennifer Lockhart participated on July 21 , 2017, was organized, supervised and conducted by Safety Chief Nelms and Fire Captain Wilette as part of their regular duties as employees of Defendant Metro’s Nashville Fire Department.
  • Prior to participating in the Nance Drill, Jennifer Lockhart made a request to Safety Chief Nelms and Fire Captain Wilette that she be attached to a safety line for her protection and to prevent her from falling and being injured in the event a failure occurred during the Nance Drill and she was dropped while being lowered from the second floor of the training tower.
  • Despite knowing the dangers and risk of injury involved in performing the Nance Drill, Safety Chief Nelms and Fire Captain Wilette, as well as other employees of Defendant Metro acting under their supervision, negligently failed to provide or equip Jennifer Lockhart with a safety line.
  • Due to the negligence of Safety Chief Nelms and Fire Captain Wilette while conducting, supervising and/or participating in the described Nance Drill, as well as other employees of Defendant Metro acting under their supervision, Jennifer Lockhart was dropped while being lowered from the second floor of the training tower.
  • Because she was not attached to the safety line she had requested, Jennifer Lockhart fell a substantial distance to the first floor of the training tower and landed on her back on the concrete floor.
  • As a result of that described fall, Jennifer Lockhart sustained and continues to suffer from severe, painful and permanent injuries.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Lockhart v Nashville

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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