Issue of “firefighters charged with manslaughter” discussed at Firehouse Expo has an interesting article that summarizes a presentation by Curt Varone about instances of firefighters being charged with manslaughter while performing their duties. Most of us are familiar with the Thirtymile fire, after which a crew boss was initially charged with felonies for the deaths of four entrapped firefighters, but there have been at least 11 other similar cases according to Varone. Here is an excerpt from the article.

Varone said he has found 12 such cases that have occurred since 2001, not counting intentional acts such as firefighter arson resulting in death. “We’re talking about accidental deaths,” he specified.

Varone noted that this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon, either. For example, a UK firefighter was recently charged for spooking cows during a response, resulting in the trampling death of a farmer. In another example, a UK fire official was indicted over a fire response in which several other firefighters – including his own son – were killed.


Another top discussion involved supervisors being charged with manslaughter as a result of their employees’ death.

Varone recounted the case of Alan G. Baird III of the Lairdsville (N.Y.) Fire Department, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter and convicted of criminally negligent homicide after the 2001 training death of a recruit.

He also highlighted the case of the Thirty Mile wildfire, in which four firefighters were killed in Washington in 2001, and their supervisor was charged with involuntary manslaughter in 2006 – partly as a result of the families’ ongoing lobbying.

“It took them five years but they finally got what they what they were looking for,” Varone said. He suggests that while the public tends to think of lawsuits as money-driven, the root of lawsuits like these are rage and grief.

In the end, Varone said there are some take-away lessons to be gleaned from these cases. For one, in the aftermath of such events, public uproar has to be expected. Does it matter what kind of person the responder is or was? Absolutely, Varone said. If they were known to be ethical, that can affect the public perception and outcome.

However, convictions were likelier in cases involving issues such as alcohol, drugs or horseplay.

“Some factors can make a case indefensible,” Varone said.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.