Fire Department Uses Excavator To Fight Fire - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Fire Department Uses Excavator To Fight Fire

Updated: Nov 13, 2012 06:33 PM CST

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. 

"It's not a fire-fighting piece of equipment, it doesn't belong to you," Julie Sundholm, office manager of G&H Construction says, but this excavator was used to fight a fire anyway. 

Sundholm, who helps run her family's construction business, says when they found out what was happening, her brother raced to the scene. 

"[We were] absolutely surprised and appalled that someone would actually break into a machine that was locked and start it up and proceed to use it, without knowing anything about the machine," she says. 

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." 

Now it's up to the courts to decide who's responsible here.  

"If someone uses your personal private property, than you are responsible for any damages incurred while you are using it," Sundholm says. 

The case has been referred to the LeClaire city attorney who did not return our calls, and we could not get a hold of the fire chief for comment. The construction company is covered by insurance, but we're told their rates may go up if they file a claim.

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