Curt Varone

Attorney & Counselor at Law

Licensed in Rhode Island and Maine

55 Azalea Avenue, Exeter RI 02822

Fire Law

There has always been an inescapable connection in my mind between the fire service and law.  Perhaps the connection is a result of the fact that firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and fire departments are engaged in a dangerous business where people are killed and injured, and property is damaged and destroyed. Like a doctor in a high-risk specialty such as obstetrics, anyone who engages in a profession where lives hang in the balance can become the target of a law suit by those who are unhappy with the outcome.

Perhaps the connection is a result of the fact that fire departments are created and governed by laws.  Laws give firefighters the authority to drive fire apparatus on the road with red lights and sirens, to enter into peoples’ homes and businesses, and to deliver emergency medical care. Many fire departments are responsible for enforcing laws, such as fire codes. Fire departments are also subject to a variety of laws, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, the Fair Labor Standards Act, HIPAA, HAZWOPPER, and Right-to-Know laws.

Perhaps it is the fact that cases involving firefighters and fire departments have helped to shape the legal landscape of our country, including cases  on constitutional law, employment discrimination, overtime compensation, drug testing, and a host of other important topics.

What ever the cause - it was the connection that drove me to write Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, and maintain Fire Law Blog. Both explore the relationship between fire and law, making full use of some of the most interesting cases you will ever read, such as the Welanski case that arose out of the Cocoanut Grove fire,[1] the Grogan case that arose out of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire,[2]  and the New York Times v. FDNY case that arose out of the World Trade Center attack on 9/11.[3]

Other cases relate to tragic incidents that many firefighters are familiar with from an operational perspective, including the Cherry Road fire in 1999, where two District of Columbia firefighters perished;[4] the Houston fire at a McDonald’s restaurant that killed two firefighters in 2000;[5] the Crest Apartment fire in Seattle that killed a firefighter in 1987 and contributed significantly to the concept we now know as accountability;[6] and the Worcester Cold Storage fire that killed six firefighters in 1999.[7]

Fire Law Blog covers cases as they happen - such as the largest fire service related jury award I have ever seen, $183 Million to the families of deceased FDNY firefighters as well as injured members who survived the Black Sunday Fire. Reading these cases will provide a new perspective into these incidents - and make the connection between fire and law in a way that no about of my explaining can do. 

Leaders in all walks of life face difficult challenges in today’s society, including legal challenges.  Legal challenges can quickly become leadership challenges – and without a firm grasp of the issues a leader's ability to make good decisions can be compromised. Given the close connection between fire and law, fire service leaders confront more legal challenges that leaders of other organizations. Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services can help!


[1] Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 397 (1944). See Chapter 5.
[2] Grogan v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 577 S.W.2d 4 ( Ky. , 1979). See Chapter 9.
[3] New York Times v. City of New York Fire Department, 4  N.Y.3d 477, 796 N.Y.S.2d 302 (NY. 2005). See Chapter 15.
[4] Estate of Phillips v. District of Columbia , 455 F. 3d 397 (D.C. Cir., 2006). See Chapter 12.
[5] Loredo v. State of Texas , 130 S.W.3d 275, (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] , 2004). See Chapter 5.
[6] State v. Leech, 114 Wn.2d 700, 790 P.2d 160 (WA, 1990). See Chapter 5.
[7] Commonwealth v. Levesque, 436 Mass. 443 (2002). See Chapter 5.