Washington Fire Department Sued Over Tech Rescue Death

A Washington state fire department has been sued by the family of a man who died following a tree-related technical rescue incident. Forrest W. Moore died three days after he was injured while trapped 30-40 feet in a tree. His personal representative filed a wrongful death suit naming the Shoreline Fire Department as the sole defendant.

Moore and Robert Keeney were performing tree work for a customer in the City of Shoreline. Both were experienced tree service professionals. As explained in the complaint:

  • On June 16, 2018, Forrest W. Moore was in the tree, cutting the trunk.
  • A part of the trunk as it was cut collapsed in a way Forrest W. Moore could not escape.
  • That section of trunk, suspended by rope, swung around and caught him and his rigging, which put pressure on his climbing harness and left him dangling from the tree, approximately 30 to 40 feet above the ground, entangled in ropes and the tree trunk he had felled. In that position, he was trapped and unable to free himself.
  • At 12:33:50 (p.m.) on June 16, 2018, Gary Rood, who then resided at 1514 Northwest 190th Street, Shoreline, Washington, a neighbor to Shannon Markley, called 9-1-1. He reported that Forrest W. Moore was hanging in the tree, and gave the location of the incident.
  • The call was picked up by … the Northeast King County Regional Public Safety Communication Agency (“NORCOM”) and lasted approximately 18 seconds.
  • The call was recorded on the related Call for Service Detail Report as “Incident Type: Rescue – Rope” and “Problem: Rescue – Rope”, “Response Plan: SH-Tech Rescue”.
  • At 12:34:26, NORCOM dispatched SFD aid car A64
  • At 12:36:15, SFD engine unit E64 was dispatched
  • At 12:36:45, SFD command unit B61 was dispatched
  • At 12:37:05 (3-1/4 minutes after the initial 9-1-1 call), NORCOM recorded that Forrest W. Moore was stating that his “CHEST IS GETTING SQUISHED”.
  • At 12:37:55, NORCOM dispatched a ladder truck, SFD unit L61, to the scene
  • At 12:43:27, SFD command unit B61 requested a call to Seattle City Light to “SEE IF WE CAN GET A CHERRY PICKER”.
  • At 12:44:31 (more than 10 minutes after the initial 9-1-1 call), NORCOM dispatched engine truck E31 and medical unit M63
  • At 12:48:47, Seattle City Light reported to NORCOM that it had a “20 MIN ETA”.
  • Members of Defendant SFD were present at the scene and in direct conversation with both Forrest W. Moore and his assistant, Robert Keeney, among others.
  • In these communications, Members of Defendant SFD assured Mr. Moore and Mr. Keeney by acting as if SFD personnel were able to assess the situation and perform the rescue of Mr. Moore without the advice or guidance from Mr. Moore or Mr. Keeney.
  • One employee and/or agent of SFD also assured Mr. Keeney that if he continued to contribute his opinions to the SFD, he would be removed by the police.
  • These express assurances gave rise to justifiable reliance, on the part of Mr. Moore and others who might otherwise have taken alternate and more effective action to save him, that SFD was fully aware and would properly conduct the rescue operation, and that any action by Mr. Moore or Mr. Keeney to advise, otherwise participate, or take other action would be counterproductive to the rescue.
  • A member of the SFD specifically and intentionally ignored Mr. Keeney’s reasonable questions and guidance concerning the way in which the rescue operation was being conducted. Defendant SFD personnel cut the bottom of the dangling trunk section in an effort to lighten it, ostensibly so it would be easier to move or remove.
  • However, the cutting unnecessary to facilitate removal of Mr. Moore from the tree and endangered him further.
  • Moreover, the cutting was done in a manner contrary to Mr. Keeney’s specific advice and warning that cutting the log above a particular point would cause the section of hanging trunk to become top-heavy and flop over in such a way that it would crush Mr. Moore; a prediction that came true: Robert Keeney, observing the cutting activity, was concerned that cutting too much off the hanging trunk section would cause it to put more pressure on Mr. Moore.
  • Mr. Keeney expressed these concerns to a firefighter on the ground. That firefighter told Mr. Keeney that if he didn’t go away, the firefighter would have the police take him away. Mr. Keeney then approached an apparently senior firefighter, who was dressed in a white uniform and who appeared to have command authority.
  • To him, Mr. Keeney expressed that concern and identified a landmark knot on the trunk above which the firefighter with the chainsaw should not cut.
  • The senior firefighter instructed the firefighter with the chainsaw not to cut above the knot.
  • The cutting firefighter held his hand on the correct knot to acknowledge the location, and both Mr. Keeney and the senior firefighter told the firefighter with the saw, “Yes,” indicating that was the correct knot.
  • The sawing firefighter sawed below it, but thereafter – contrary to explicit instructions – made another cut several feet above it.
  • As he did so, the trunk settled back against Mr. Moore. Mr. Keeney muttered, “I think you just killed the man.”
  • Defendant SFD elected to rely on Seattle City Light to provide a bucket truck in order to rescue Forrest W. Moore but made no apparent effort to find a faster viable alternative.
  • When the Seattle City Light bucket truck finally arrived, it had two Seattle City Light workers on it.
  • They acted quickly. They had SFD remove the ladder truck, positioned the bucket truck, raised the bucket to Mr. Moore. One of the Seattle City Light workers loosened Mr. Moore’s waist rope.
  • They grabbed his harness at the back between the shoulder blades and lowered the bucket lift arm to bring him to the ground. They did not have to lower or remove the dangling trunk section.
  • SFD unit M63 transported Forrest W. Moore from the scene of the incident to Harborview Medical Center in non-emergency mode; leaving the scene at 13:41:07 and arriving at the hospital over 45 minutes later, at 14:36:33.
  • Orthopedic Injuries. In the course of the accident and/or rescue, Forrest W. Moore sustained fractured ribs, fractured right arm (radius and ulna) and a fractured right leg (lateral malleolus).
  • Internal Injuries. Due to the injuries suffered and/or exacerbated during the rescue, Forrest W. Moore developed brain injury, kidney injury, liver failure, and perforated ischemic colitis.
  • Death. The unduly long and severe physical pressure exerted on Forrest W. Moore because of Defendant SFD’s improperly executed rescue attempt on June 16, 2018 caused him to suffer and die from anoxic encephalopathy and compressional asphyxia.
  • Forrest W. Moore died on June 19, 2018.

The complaint alleges negligence, negligent supervision, negligent training, gross negligence, wilful and wonton misconduct. While not alleging race discrimination, the complaint states: “Whether conscious and/or unconscious racial bias on the part of SFD personnel played any role in Forrest W. Moore’s death is a question Plaintiffs seek to investigate through discovery in this action.”

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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