Garage owner notifies Owls Head he plans to sue over inadequate fire response

Posted Aug. 16, 2013, at 10:03 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 16, 2013, at 10:59 a.m.

OWLS HEAD, Maine — The town’s fire chief said he hopes the town’s insurance company will not pay out on a claim filed by the owner of a commercial garage that was destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Chief Frank Ross responded Thursday to a notice of intent to sue filed last week by Cecil Fogg, owner of Frankie’s Garage. Fogg claims the town fire department did not adequately respond to the Feb. 10 fire that destroyed the business located on Route 73.

Fogg has since rebuilt the garage.

The claim puts the town on notice that Fogg is seeking damages in excess of $400,000.

Fogg attended an Owls Head Board of Selectmen meeting on June 17, claiming the fire chief did not take the proper steps to douse the blaze. He said the town should consider whether Ross was the right person to continue to lead the department.

Ross has been chief of the town’s volunteer fire department for 35 years. The department is quasi-independent and overseen by a seven-member board of directors that includes the three members of the town’s board of selectmen.

Ross maintains the claim by Fogg has no validity. He said the fire was responded to properly and he has previously referred to criticism of the response as “Monday-morning quarterbacking.” He said the building was a large, open one with considerable fuel inside.

“I hope the insurance company does not settle. There is a principle to uphold here,” Ross said.

He said it would set a terrible precedent if people could sue town fire departments whenever there was damage from a fire.

Fogg, an Owls Head resident, claims that the fire was confined to an oil burner when the department arrived on the scene but the actions of Ross and other town responders allowed the fire to grow. Fogg claims that statements by Ross made during and after the fire support the claim that Ross’ actions during the fire were negligent.

There were vehicles in the garage including classic and antique cars and motorcycles that were destroyed along with the building and equipment.

State law requires that notices of intent to sue be filed before individuals can file a lawsuit in court. No lawsuit has yet been filed.

A telephone message left for Fogg Thursday was not immediately returned.

The selectmen requested a review of the fire department’s safety measures and practices by the Maine Department of Labor which was conducted last month. The report has not been released yet, but town officials who went along during the audit said no significant deficiencies were found during the inspection.

Selectmen also included a warrant article for the Aug. 26 annual town meeting to hire an independent firm to conduct an audit of the department. The selectmen are recommending voters approve $3,800 in the proposed 2013-2014 budget to pay for the review. This review will be more comprehensive and go into the structure of the department rather than just safety issues.

Christopher Lockwood, executive director of the Maine Municipal Association, said while the agency does not maintain statistics on matters such as this, staff members are not aware of a lawsuit being filed before against a fire department for what someone considers an inadequate response.

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