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Legal Minute: Fire Department Legal Woes

Thu, 5 Jun 2014|

Attorney and former deputy fire chief John K. Murphy goes over some of the legal issues that frequently plague fire departments.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Welcome, to Fire Service Legal Minute. This is presented by John Murphy, retired Deputy Fire Chief, and Attorney at Law, on behalf of Fire Engineering, the [UNKNOWN] Corporation, I welcome you today. Today we are [UNKNOWN] talking about a few things dealing with legal issues affecting news, fire fighters and your bosses as fire chiefs and your fire departments in general. And so what we are going to be taking to look at over the next few minutes through the series are legal issues that gets you all jammed up and how to avoid some of those issues. Today we're gonna kinda do a little overview. So what we're gonna talk about is the most litigated items in the [UNKNOWN]. And most of them are dealing with people. So it's people issues. It's equipment issues. It's response issues. It's patient care issues. It's a vehicle extrication issues and driving and lots of other things. Well let us just narrow this down a little bit for you. And we'll take it kind backwards so let's talk about a vehicle accidents. We have a tendency to get in a lot of vehicle accidents especially on intersection collisions and rollovers. And most of it has to do with failure to use due care and caution. And excessive speech and a lack of seat values and so when we have equipment that's moving too fast especially through control or uncontrol intersections it's the duty of the driver to make sure that they are in control of their vehicles and it can stop. We are seeing a lot of vehicle roll overs especially water tankers or tenders. Depending on what part of the country you're from. And most of these are governed by young male drivers who have the need for speed in order to get to the scene as fast as they can. And so, what happens there is they go around corners, or they feel they lose control of their apparatus. And waterships. And the apparatus rolls over and a number of times, these poor unfortunate firefighters are thrown out. And so the easiest kind of lesson to learn out of here, and it's not a legal issue. But it's a big issue for the fire departments. It's to control your speed. Use due care and caution when approaching intersections. And make sure that when you get into your vehicles you're wearing your seatbelt. And finally that your drivers are well trained and the training certifications are well documented. The next item is termination issues. We do a horrible job at terminating our firefighters and mostly because we fail to follow our own policies, if we actually have one. Many departments don't have one. They just fire firefighters right off the cuff. Because the firefighter did something wrong, or abused a policy, which probably has never been enforced. And then there's a lack of due care, I'm sorry, due process towards the firefighter when they're doing the investigation, when they're doing their termination worksheets. The next one is hiring issues. We don't hire people very well. A lot of controversy across the country in Chicago New York City Austin, Texas where the federal government came in after a lawsuit was instituted by those who didn't get hired. And mostly in the minority classes. People of color and women. And so in our hiring process, which is a very complicated process, and we can talk about it for days. It's something fire departments need to do well and do it right the first time. We also have a tendency to get sued for promotional process. So if you look at a great case, Ricki D. Stefano in New Haven, Connecticut. It can outline those issues that city managers and city officials, elected officials, fire chiefs, should avoid. In any sort of challenges to your promotional process. There's a couple other ones. Whistleblower retaliation. You file wrongdoing against the government. Taking money, taking equipment, those sorts of things. And you're adversely affected by that. And your employment status. You have a, a whistleblower retaliation suit against your organization. On the other side of what we do in the fire service is emergency medical service delivery. And so that area is fraught with issues that create a large liability for an organization, especially in the medical malpractice area. So we failed to innovate correctly. You paramedics know what I'm talking about there. We failed to transport people, we leave people at home, or we fail to, transport in a timely fashion. If we've been reading the media lately, FDNY has paid a $100 million lawsuit that a young woman, that, was suffering apparently some sort of a cardiac arrest medical event. Failure to transport, failure to bring proper equipment up. In this case it occurred 16 years ago. So now they're just coming to [gut them on this]. So we have to be very careful about how we treat our patients. We get sued a lot for dropping patients, off of gurney's or down stairways. And then we have general medical malpractice. On the personnel side we have all kinds of complaints about harassment, hostile work environment, sexual harassment and, in general, violating individuals' civil rights. And, so, we need to be careful as firefighters and fire departments, fire officials. To remember a lot of the things that we do, appear to be of common sense but maybe common sense is not all that common. So for fire engine legal minute this is John Murphy. Be careful out there, and thank you very much.

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