Opponent attacks Senate candidate over fire department lawsuit

GavelWe don’t write about politics here on Wildfire Today unless there is a direct tie-in to wildland fire, and the lawsuit that Congressman Dennis Rehberg of Montana filed against the Billings Fire Department qualifies. Now that Congressman Rehberg is running for a Senate seat as a Republican, he is being criticized by his opponent and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for that lawsuit.

The Congressman attempted to obtain money from the City of Billings for some vegetation that burned on undeveloped land owned by the Congressman and his wife during an 1,100-acre wildfire in 2008.

Rep Dennis Rehberg
Rep. Dennis Rehberg

In 2011 he threw his wife under the bus by claiming it was she that filed the lawsuit, and then later tried to minimize the damage to his campaign by saying “It’s not about the money”. He explained that he was doing it for the good of the fire department so they could learn from their mistake. Eventually, in November, 2011, he dropped the lawsuit.

Here is the text of the above video:

(Narrator):Wildfires … they destroy homes and lives. Firefighters put themselves on the line every day. But instead of thanking them, Congressman Dennis Rehberg filed a lawsuit against the fire department blaming firefighters for damage on his property.

(Voice of news reporter:) Attorneys for the City of Billings say it cost nearly $21,000 to defend the Magic City against a lawsuit filed by Congressman Dennis Rehberg.

(Narrator:) Dennis Rehberg. He’s for himself. Not us.


UPDATE, October 6, 2012:

More videos uncovered about a US Representative’s lawsuit against the Billings Fire Department

We have found two more videos along the same lines, one by Majoritypac, and the one below that features a person identified as Tim Bergstrom, a retired Billings firefighter.

Thanks go out to Dick

City spent over $20,000 defending against Congressman Rehberg’s suit about a wildfire

The Billings Gazette is reporting that the city of Billings, Montana spent $20,761 in defending against the lawsuit filed by Representative Denny Rehberg, R-Montana. The congressman sought a monetary award from the city to compensate him and his wife for a 2008 wildfire that burned undeveloped property owned by the couple. He alleged that the fire department was negligent in allowing the fire to flare up 2 days after it was contained.

The city hired a lawyer and after much back and forth between attorneys on both sides, the city refused offers to settle. Congressman Rehberg, who is running for the Senate seat occupied by Senator John Tester, dropped the suit in November, 2011.

The newspaper reports that the city was billed for 151.8 hours of the attorney’s time, for a total of $20,638.50, plus $123.10 in costs.

An attorney for Representative Rehberg contacted at least two retired wildland firefighters  inquiring if they would be interested in working as expert witnesses for the lawsuit, but they refused.

We have written previously about Representative Rehberg’s lawsuit.

Congressman Rehberg drops his lawsuit against Billings Fire Department

U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg has dropped his lawsuit against the city of Billings, Montana and their fire department. The congressman initially sought a monetary award from the city to compensate him and his wife for a 2008 wildfire that burned undeveloped property owned by the couple. He alleged that the fire department was negligent in allowing a fire to flare up 2 days after it was contained.

An attorney for Representative Rehberg contacted at least two retired wildland firefighters over the last several months inquiring if they would be interested in working as expert witnesses for the lawsuit. Those two turned the Rehberg team down.

A trial had been scheduled for December 3, 2012, but in October the Rehbergs said they would settle the lawsuit if the fire department would adopt “specific wildland firefighting standards”.

Earlier this week the city of Billings, through their attorney Michele Braukmann, refused to settle, saying:

The City is rightfully proud of what it was able to accomplish in very adverse firefighting conditions, and it believes that defending its firefighters from the unfounded accusations your client has made is of utmost importance.

I would hope that, if your clients actually take the time to review the documents that I have provided you, including the incident report forms, the detailed timelines, the dispatch records, and the other documentation they will — rather than condemning the firefighters — congratulate them for a job well done. I hope that I will be in receipt of dismissal paperwork for this lawsuit, and that I can let our firefighters know they can get back to the most important job they have — that of saving lives.

Rehberg, a Republican U.S. Representative since 2001, is giving up his seat to run against Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester in the November, 2012 election. The Tester campaign commented on the lawsuit:

Suing firefighters who helped put out your wildfire is one of the most out-of-touch and self-serving things a person in public office could do.

Rehberg’s attorney, Cliff Edwards, released a statement on Thursday:

Despite our firm’s belief this case has merit, and damages from the city are warranted for our clients, the Rehbergs have directed their case be dismissed, as politics have now been so injected into the case that the true substance of the matter can never be sorted out.

HERE is a link to other articles on Wildfire Today about Congressman Rehberg’s lawsuit against the Billings Fire Department.
Thanks go out to Dick

Rehbergs on suit against fire department: “It’s not about the money”

lawThere has been a new development in the lawsuit that U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg is bringing against the Billings Montana Fire Department. Rehberg and his wife have been attempting to obtain money from the fire department to compensate them for a 2008 fire that burned some undeveloped land that they own. In the lawsuit that was filed July 2, 2010, he accused the fire department of not having firefighters on the fire long enough, which allowed the fire to flare up again and burn additional acres.

The Billings Gazette is reporting that Rehberg and his wife have offered to settle the lawsuit “without monetary compensation” if the city will adopt “specific wildland firefighting standards” that may prevent future property loss or damage, according to a letter provided to The Billings Gazette by Jan Rehberg. Ms. Rehberg was quoted as saying:

It’s not about the money. It’s about recognizing wildland fires can cause significant damage, and that’s why we’re interested in making sure it doesn’t happen again.

In a written response to the seven-page letter that Rehberg’s attorney sent to Michele Braukmann, the city’s attorney, in which the settlement offer with the demands was made, Braukmann wrote in part:

..Suffice it to say, I will not waste my client and the taxpayer’s resources by responding to the letter’s many inaccurate, self-serving, and unsubstantiated assertions. I likewise will not respond in kind to the public comments you made in last week’s Billings Gazette article, in essence calling me a “liar”. I do not now, nor will I ever in my practice, litigate by name-calling or making disparaging comments about or to opposing parties and attorneys.

The trial for the lawsuit is scheduled for December 3, 2012, one month after the election in which Denny Rehberg is a candidate for the Senatorial seat occupied by Jon Tester. Representative Rehberg is giving up his seat to challenge Tester. A pending trial against the fire department might adversely affect Rehberg’s chances in the election.

Fire-management-policy-by-lawsuit is never a pleasant thought.

Other articles on Wildfire Today about Rehberg’s lawsuit.

Montana Congressman blames wife for lawsuit against fire department

Rep Denny Rehberg
Rep. Denny Rehberg

Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg appears to be trying to distance himself from the lawsuit he filed against the Billings Fire Department for the way they handled a wildfire that burned some undeveloped land that he and his wife own. His lawsuit calls for the City to pay for damages on his property to “trees and ground cover” that occurred during the 1,100-acre fire in 2008.

Rehberg has announced that he is running for the Senate seat currently occupied by Senator Jon Tester.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Billings Gazette:

Rehberg said in an interview Thursday that his wife runs the business and decided to file the lawsuit because the city would not extend the deadline for an insurance claim for the 1,200 scorched acres. He said the lawsuit is not against firefighters as his opponents claim, but rather challenges the decisions of city managers.

“It was never intended to be anything more than trying to protect her business, our business,” Rehberg said. “We are not blaming the firefighters in any way, shape or form.”

Tester’s campaign said Rehberg, if he wins the “frivolous lawsuit,” will reap a settlement paid for by Billings taxpayers. Tester told The Associated Press in an interview Friday that the lawsuit illustrated Rehberg’s self-interest.

“I think it fundamentally speaks to who he is: Somebody who is looking after himself,” Tester said.

Here is a list of articles at Wildfire Today that have previously covered this lawsuit.


Top wildland fire stories of 2010 – with poll

Vote on the most significant wildland fire stories of 2010

As we documented earlier this month, the 2010 wildland fire season, when measured by the acres burned in the 49 states outside Alaska, was the slowest since 2004. But in spite of that, there has been significant news about wildland fire. In fact, we posted over 670 articles this year.

In 2009 we listed some of the top stories and invited you to vote on the ones that you considered to be the most significant.

Continuing that tradition, below we have listed the top stories of 2010. The line of duty fatalities are not listed unless there was an unusual spin-off story associated with the fatality. Below the list, there is a poll where YOU can let us know which stories you feel are the most significant of 2010.

Top wildfire stories of 2010

Jan. 8: The National Park Service released the report on the August, 2009 Big Meadow escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park. The fire blackened 7,425 acres before being controlled by 1,300 firefighters at a cost over $15 million. It became the eighth largest fire in California in 2009.

Jan. 11: One of the five Type 1 Incident Management Teams in California was disbanded. Bill Molumby, who had been the team’s Incident Commander for several years, retired in November, 2009 and apparently they were not able to replace him.

Jan. 21: Federal wildland firefighter bill introduced in Congress. The “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act” would affect the pay, retirement age, and fireline liability of federal wildland firefighters.

Feb. 1: Fire contractor sentenced to 10 months in prison for forging wildfire training certificates and task books.

Apr. 23: NIOSH to study long-term health effects of working as structural firefighter, but not as a wildland firefighter. In a follow-up a few days later, Brian Sharkey of the USFS’ Missoula Technology and Development Center downplays lung cancer risks for firefighters. NWCG later responds to our article.

Apr. 30: The International Association of Fire Chiefs, an organization that concentrates on structural fire, received at least $13.2 million from the U.S. Forest Service and DHS-FEMA over a seven-year period, reportedly for wildfire-related purposes. The IAFC became furious at Wildfire Today for exposing the information.

Jul. 5: Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, sues the Billings Fire Department over the loss of “trees and ground cover” on his property during an 1,100-acre fire in 2008.

Aug. 2: Hundreds of wildfires in Russia claimed more than 50 lives, left more than 3,500 people homeless, and caused massive air quality issues in Moscow and other areas.

Aug. 2: A BAe-146 jet airliner was converted to an air tanker and was tested in Missoula. The Interagency Air Tanker Board failed to certify it due to inadequate ground coverage of retardant.

Aug. 24: The 100th anniversary of the fires of 1910 and Ranger Pulaski’s incident are commemorated at several events in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Aug. 26: In spite of weather forecasts that would have alarmed most fire managers, the Helena National Forest in Montana ignited the Davis prescribed fire during a near record heat wave. The fire escaped and burned 2,800 acres. The report was released in November. The Forest Supervisor said the report did not point out “something clearly that we did wrong, done incorrectly or that we’re going to make big changes on”.

Sep. 6: The Fourmile Canyon fire burned 6,200 acres and 169 homes a few miles west of Boulder, Colorado. The fire was devastating to local fire districts within the burned perimeter in several ways, including the facts that a firefighter’s burn pile escaped and started the fire, the homes of 12 firefighters burned, and one fire station and an engine inside it burned.

Sep. 21: The Commander of the Utah Army National Guard assumed responsibility and apologized for the Machine Gun fire that burned 4,346 acres and three homes near Herriman, Utah. The fire started during target practice with a machine gun at a National Guard base.

Sep. 24: The Australian state of Victoria tested the U.S.-built DC-10 very large air tanker and concluded that it did not perform adequately and would not be suitable for use in their wildland-urban interface areas.

Oct. 13: The US Forest Service’s response to the 2009 Station fire is criticized, and Congress holds hearing in Pasadena, CA about the management of the fire, which burned 160,000 acres near Los Angeles.

Oct. 26: “Dirty Jobs” TV show features prescribed burning in a Florida wildlife refuge. Video footage captures some activities that are criticized by some viewers.

Dec. 2: A fire in Israel kills 43 prison guards and firefighters. Air tankers from the United States respond.

Dec. 7: NTSB holds a meeting about the helicopter crash on the Iron Complex fire in northern California in which nine firefighters and crew members died. Much of the blame was attributed to falsified helicopter performance documents supplied by Carson Helicopters when they applied for a contract with the U.S. Forest Service. Carson and the surviving co-pilot dispute that conclusion.


Honorable mention stories (not exactly top stories, but interesting; they are not part of the poll).

Feb. 24: Wood piles were burned on frozen Lake Pactola in South Dakota.

Mar. 29: Washington D.C. Metro train drives through wildfire, and stops in the middle of it. And on July 25 we posted a very impressive video that was shot from a Greyhound bus that drove past a large bushfire during the night in Queensland, Australia.

May 11: NWCG outlaws the use of some terms, including “appropriate management response” and “wildland fire use”.

Jun. 20: It was not a wildland fire, but every firefighter can relate to some of the problems encountered when a kinked fire hose and improper procedures delayed the rescue of IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro from her burning race car which crashed at Texas Motor Speedway.



Choose three of the wildfire stories you consider the most significant of 2010.

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Feel free to leave a comment (or “response”) explaining your choices, or to discuss other news items that did not make the list.