Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Print Comment RSS

Firefighters use non-dept. excavator to battle fire

The owners of the excavator now say damage costs are not their responsibilty

by Lynnanne Nguyen

LECLAIRE, Iowa — Can your personal property be used to fight a fire, even without your permission? That is a question being asked as a local business is dealing with this right now.

In August G&H Construction was doing a job in LeClaire, breaking down an old barn. Afterwards, the homeowner tried to burn the debris from the job in a dug up hole in the ground, but there was a burn ban in place so the fire department came to put it out, taking control of the construction company's $300,000 excavator on site to dig up dirt and extinguish the fire.

Afterwards, there was $14,000 worth of damage. So who's responsible for it? It depends on who you ask.

Full story: Fire Department Uses Excavator To Fight Fire

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Russ Gregston Russ Gregston Friday, November 16, 2012 7:47:15 AM If there was a burn ban in place and the homeowner decided to burn it? I would say the homeowner would be responsible for the cost. But any way you look at it, it's a situation I would not like to be in.
Rusty SirWilliam Shaver Rusty SirWilliam Shaver Friday, November 16, 2012 9:29:36 AM I say homeowner.
Jennifer Joy Jennifer Joy Friday, November 16, 2012 9:38:09 AM Homeowner should be held responsible
Dave Matterness Dave Matterness Friday, November 16, 2012 9:38:48 AM I would say the Fire Chief did not have the right to commandeer private property(in this case), so he is responsible for the damage to the equipment. However, I would immediately turn around and fine the homeowner to pay for the damages. The whole incident was caused by the homeowner - and should pay for services rendered, including all damages.
Shay Murray Shay Murray Friday, November 16, 2012 9:52:59 AM The bill should go the chiefs or commanding officers.... That fire code states do whatever needs to b done to extinguish or rescue or save limb! Ther was no one in harms way... They prolly didn't wanna stay out ther all night putting water on that fire... They could have just called the company and got permission am sure they would have prolly said yes... U gotta do things the Right way to cover Ur butt.... But the chief was in the wrng in my book
Andrew Fox Andrew Fox Friday, November 16, 2012 10:11:13 AM Fire department should be responsible. They should have made contact first then proceeded after permission was given. However the homeowner should get fined for burning during a burn ban.
Deke McCoy Deke McCoy Friday, November 16, 2012 10:21:22 AM In my own opinion I think the homeowner should pay for the damages, but The company is also at fault for leaving keys in the machine. The firefighters was using the machine to put the fire out as quick as possible do to the fact there was a burn ban in effect.
Brian Nott Brian Nott Friday, November 16, 2012 10:29:15 AM With out knowing the whole story...... my opinion would have been that if this fire is contained to a hole in the ground, contact the local contractor that has the equipment on hand and hire him for his services for suppling a qualified operator to help the local fire department and inturn send the bill to the home owner along with the fine for burning during a burn ban.
Larry Wayne Hudson Larry Wayne Hudson Friday, November 16, 2012 11:04:12 AM I would of not used the excavator to put the fire out. For who is respondsible I believe the person who was in command should take the heat on it or whoever gave the order to use it.
Brad Oja Brad Oja Friday, November 16, 2012 11:26:10 AM I'm an Iowa firefighter, this summer was extremely dry to the point where the tiniest ember could have caught an entire field on fire. The homewner should be responsible for hiring during a ban, the contractor shouldn't have left the excavator unlocked with keys in it, and the fire department should have utilized that hole to help drown the fire in foam.
Jerry Kirsch Sr. Jerry Kirsch Sr. Friday, November 16, 2012 11:30:45 AM The Fire Dept. in my opinion is absolutely responsible for the damage to the machinery. And I hope the contractor takes the Fire dept. to court if they refuse to pay.
Frank Phelps Frank Phelps Friday, November 16, 2012 11:43:31 AM First of all, you only commandeer personal property if you don't have any or enough resources to contain the problem or extreme emergency where life, and property are in imminent danger. The fire department clearly overstepped their boundaries using somebody else equipment to control a fire they should have had resources to control anyway. Just because there is a burn ban in effect does not give you the right to commandeer equipment to control a fire that if I read correctly was burning in a pit and was nothing more than an old barn to start with. Couple tankers of water at the most shoud have been suffiecient enough to control the situation.
Bill Chadwick Bill Chadwick Saturday, November 17, 2012 3:43:28 AM I think the FD might want to pay up in a hurry, the old term for un-authorized use of PRIVATE PROPERTY is stealing. The contractor did nothing wrong according to this story. There are two criminal acts here illegal burn (pretty minor) and perhaps feloney grand theft? Pretty weird the Dept did not call and hire this contractor or some other one if needed. Heck our Dept has three members who own equipment we need from time to time. IMHO whoever was running this machine must have been pretty ham handed it this damage estimate is for real?
Gary McGinnis Gary McGinnis Saturday, November 17, 2012 6:05:10 AM If the FD commandeered the excavator and damaged it then I say they are responsible. If the construction company offered to help as a good samaritan, then I think the owner is responsible. The owner caused a threat to the community by negligently burning the barn during a ban. It sounds like the demolition costs got out of control so the owner took matters into his own hands.
Carl Burney Carl Burney Saturday, November 17, 2012 1:53:01 PM Personally, I believe the FD will ultimately be held liable for the damage. Not only did they not get authorization to use the machine but it also received extensive damage because of misuse. It is also very dangerous to dig without having the area cleared by the utility locating/marking service. The FD should have known better.
Rich Benkwitt Rich Benkwitt Sunday, November 18, 2012 7:25:52 PM Homeowners (insurance) will be responsible. Anything used to control a fire is covered by homeowners insurance. Of course if no insurance, then the contractor would need to bill/sue the homeowner. I can't believe so many FF want to put it on the FD. If you drove over the neighbors property to get water from a pond or pool, and create ruts...who pays? The answer is the homeowner who has the fire on his property and usually insurance covers it....and being that you weren't there, you don't know if it was a "controlled" burn as the embers could be flying and possible set other fires...of course the homeonwer can sue the FD but probably will lose unless there was gross negligence on the part of the FD. FD can commandeer whatever necessary to control a fire or explosion.
John Van Coillie John Van Coillie Sunday, November 18, 2012 11:07:14 PM If you read the complete article, it states that the excavator was locked. That means that they broke into it and used it. So I would say that the fd should be held liable. Lucky no one is prosecuted for it.
Rick Palmesi Rick Palmesi Monday, November 19, 2012 5:44:21 AM If they had to break into it, how did they start it with no key unless they new something about it? I'd love to see what was on that $14,000 bill.
Rich Benkwitt Rich Benkwitt Tuesday, November 20, 2012 5:54:00 PM Statements from firefighters on scene state they did not see any damage to the excavator after it was used, but the Sundholms' repair bills say otherwise. "There were some hydraulic hoses that were blistered, a lot of the seals and things around the connections had been melted," Sundholm says. All in all, over $14,000 for repairs and missed work each day the machine was out. Sundholm says the city cited this part of the state fire code to explain their actions. Section 102.2 of the code addresses authority in a fire, and says, "A fire chief or other authorized officer… may direct an operation as necessary to extinguish or control a fire, or perform a rescue operation." "This code allows fire officials to do certain things to extinguish a fire or save life and limb, but I don't know that that's a blank check to do anything and everything," State Fire Marshal Ray Reynolds says. He tells TV6 the law is supposed to give fire chiefs the authority to do things like close roads to get traffic away from a fire scene, or lay a fire hose across a street, but he's never heard of it being interpreted like this. "It's certainly unprecedented, I can tell you that," Reynolds says, "I think it's got to be pretty egregious, life or peril before you're going to make decisions on commandeering someone else's private property."

FireRescue1 Offers

Fire Department Management
Fire Department Management

Sponsored by

Connect with FireRescue1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+

Get the #1 Fire eNewsletter

Fire Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
Enter Email
See Sample