What happens when an officer directs an FDNY engine company chauffeur to stop his rig in a bad spot — say, just over a rise on the Cross Bronx Expressway — and a firefighter is struck by a passing car while getting out of the rig? Or if, contrary to internal rules, one member of the fire department points a water cannon at a spot where others are operating, causing another member to fall off a roof and sustain injury? Is the fire department liable for the resulting personal injuries? Generally, the answer is no. Municipalities and their agencies are usually immune from liability for errors of judgment. In addition, when it comes to firefighters, their employers are further protected from liability by the “fireman’s rule.” Simply put, if the performance of a firefighter’s duties heightened the risk of the accident happening, he or she cannot sue for personal injuries. The only exception to that is where the alleged negligence of the employer or a co-employee violated an immutable rule. So, if there were a fire department rule prohibiting members from firing a water cannon until they got an all-clear from the chief in charge of a fire scene — and that rule was never to be breached, no matter what the circumstances, and everybody knew it — then the firefighter in the example above would have a case, if that rule was not followed.
If you are injured in the line of duty or in training as a result of internal fire department mistakes and you want to know what your rights are, make sure to consult with attorneys who know this area of the law.