Hawaii Firefighter Sues Over 2021 Burn Injuries

A volunteer firefighter with the Hawaii County Fire Department who was burned at a wildland fire in 2021, has filed suit against the department and three fire officers. Elizabeth Stabo filed suit last week in Hawaii’s Third Circuit Court, which covers Hawaii County.

Stabo was seriously burned when she fell into a pit where an underground fire had reportedly been burning for several months. As explained in the complaint:

  • In 2021, STABO had been a volunteer firefighter in Nāʻālehu on the Island of Hawai’i for about ten (10) years.
  • A brush fire in Ka’u was first ignited in or about April 2021.
  • The Ka’u brush fire’s flames had gone underground.
  • Defendants knew that the Ka’u brush fire continued to burn underground where it could not be easily seen.
  • Stabo responded to the Ka’u brush fire on her birthday, September 3, 2021.
  • It was the third fire STABO had responded to after returning from the mainland a couple of months prior.
  • STABO was unaware and was never informed by DEFENDANTS, although they knew of the serious risk and danger, that the Ka’u brush fire was burning underground in the area she was responding to on her birthday.
  • STABO described the blaze as a small brush fire.
  • Upon seeing a flare-up STABO, along with County of Hawaii Fire Department Captain – DEFENDANT [started] to head out to the flare-up with their fire hoses.
  • Upon walking to the flare-up, STABO fell in a pit of burning fire, waist deep, where the Ka’u brush fire had been burning underground.
  • With the fire burning the vegetation underground, there was nothing to support the walking surface.
  • STABO experienced extreme pain and sustained severe burn injuries before she was pulled from the fire pit by DEFENDANT [Captain].
  • DEFENDANTS Chief of the County of Hawaii Fire Department and the Deputy Chief of the County of Hawai’i Fire Department, respectively, knew about the danger of the underground fires’ burning in Ka’u where STABO responded to the brush fire.
  • None of the DEFENDANTS informed or notified STABO of the known and substantial danger of the Ka’u underground fire and fire pits.
  • Prior to STABO falling in the underground fire pit, there were reports of at least three to four (3-4) burn injuries suffered by members of the public in this area due to the underground fires that DEFENDANTS were aware of.

The suit alleges negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and willful wanton conduct. Here is a copy of the complaint:

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.

Check Also

Captain Loses Suit Against LA County Over Kobe Bryant Crash Scene Photos

A lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles County fire captain caught up in the photo-taking scandal surrounding the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, has been dismissed. Captain Brian Jordan sued the county to recoup the legal fees he incurred defending his actions when he was sued by the families of those killed in the crash.

LA County Settles Shooting of Fire Captain in Firehouse for $2.6 Million

Los Angeles County has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a fire captain who was shot by a firefighter in 2021. The settlement calls for a payment of $2.6 million to Captain Arnoldo V. Sandoval, who suffered serious injuries in the incident that occurred at Station 81.