Suit: Firefighter rolled rig at airport to avoid plane

The lawsuit accuses officials of gross negligence, carelessness and failure to properly advise others of the time and location of the drill


San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. — A veteran Oakland firefighter rolled his fire truck at the Oakland International Airport last year because he was swerving to avoid a wayward airplane during a drill, according to a lawsuit he filed Wednesday.

Mitchell Ow, 56, says in the lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court that the Port of Oakland, which operates the airport, “allowed an aircraft to enter an area where a known fire-safety drill was taking place” on June 24, 2014.

As a result, Ow had to make an “sudden maneuver in order to avoid a collision with said aircraft,” the suit says. “In so doing, the vehicle he was in was caused to tip, thereby causing his severe personal injuries.”

Ow’s attorney, Steven Bell said the plane was a private jet whose pilot had not been told about the drill by the control tower.

The suit accuses port officials of “gross negligence, carelessness and failure to properly advise others of the time and location of the drill” and of creating an “imminent danger” to drill participants and passengers in the plane.

Keoni Wagner, an airport spokesman, said he could not comment on the suit.

Ow was alone in an aircraft rescue rig when it tipped over on a taxiway during a turn in front of the Oakland Maintenance Center, authorities said.

Oakland Fire Department officials said they believed the plane’s presence distracted Ow and may have led him to brake his special rig, which is designed to spray foam on aircraft during fires. In doing so, the weight of the firefighting foam and water his rig may have shifted, causing the truck to tip over, officials said.

Ow was taking part in a simulated red-alert drill to test emergency response time to airport incidents.

Ow, a 29-year veteran of the Oakland Fire Department, “is never going to work in any capacity” as a result of serious orthopedic injuries and a traumatic brain injury, Bell said.

Ow was assigned to Station 22 at the airport, where drills take place monthly.

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