Firefighters break through wrong door

July 1, 2008 9:15:12 PM PDT
A San Francisco man filed a claim against the city after firefighters broke through his door by mistake, trying to reach a small fire in the building next door. The city denied his claim, but the man says he's got the evidence to prove what happened.

Firefighters responded to the fire on February 25th. Neighbor Dan Bacon's security camera captured what happened that night.

His claim was one of about 4,000 claims filed against the city this year. Most are denied for various reasons. Bacon's was denied because of a state law that leaves little room for extenuating circumstances.

It wasn't a big fire. Bacon refers to it as a smoker. The incident report says it started on the bed, probably accidentally by the tenant, but the fire never spread farther.

Bacon says, for whatever reason, firefighters broke open his garbage door. Ironically, it was a steel reinforced fire rated door. He says the battalion chief told him afterwards they made a mistake.

"The battalion chief, he said he'd put it in his report. He apologized for it," says Bacon.

So, Bacon filed a claim with the city for $2,535, the cost of repairing the door. But, the city denied it saying it was immune from civil action.

"In circumstances where damage occurs as a result of emergency responders responding to an emergency, California law provides that local governments are immune from civil liability," says city attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey.

"I would ask what emergency there is to get into my garbage room," says Bacon.

Bacon got a copy of the incident report and found no mention by the battalion chief of his damaged door. However, Bacon's security camera got the evidence. It shows firefighters whacking at his door, trying to open it, while others in the foreground are treating the tenant who lives in the burned apartment.

A couple of minutes later, firefighters succeed in breaking the door and they open it and go inside.

Dorsey says the claim was investigated and despite the video, the law is the law.

"The basis of it was there's no liability on the part of the city because the city is immune from emergency response situations."

Bacon, who is a lawyer, can still file a lawsuit against the city.

We called fire dept officials and told them Bacon's story. They want to review the case and of course see the tape. They say if they made a mistake, they'll resolve it.


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