Over the last few years I have spent significant time preparing and presenting discussions that have tackled broad scale legal topics within the fire service. I would sometimes spend my entire presentation time speaking on a single topic: Consolidations, the impact of Missouri’s medical marijuana legalization, fire department budget and finance issues, to name a few.  As you might imagine those types of topics are broad and deep, and even when you focus an entire 90-minute presentation on them you can’t really take a deep dive into the many working parts, pitfalls, or specific legal aspects.

In my unique position as a former fire chief and current attorney I am afforded the opportunity to spend time with a lot of folks in the fire service.  What I have found during these interactions is this: There are so many different legal areas that fire chiefs (especially new/aspiring fire chiefs) are expected to have functional knowledge of that it can be overwhelming, or impossible to get up to speed. After speaking with a bundle of fire chiefs, up-and-coming officers, and elected officials over the last few years and soliciting input, I took that information and went back through the conversations and communications I have had with departments and districts I represent or have counseled over the past few years. What I found was a pattern of questions and inquires—a group of “usual suspects”—that kept coming up.  And that is how the Fire Chief’s Legal Toolkit Series was born.

The Legal Toolkit Series will cover a variety of legal “stuff” in bite-size components.  My intent is not to take a single, comprehensive look into any one issue; rather, I’m going to try and give you some nutshell concepts, break bigger things that are important into component parts for easier consumption, and avoid legalese as much as possible. I’m not going to make you an expert; The idea is to help with basic understanding, not just toss a bunch of buzzwords around.  I want you to have the knowledge necessary to survive, stay out of legal trouble, and understanding what your lawyer is telling you when necessary. The more you understand these concepts the better our service and leadership will be.

And ultimately, if I give you some information that provokes a little thought, causes a policy review or two, or helps you build a relationship with your attorney then I will consider it a mission accomplished.

Stay Safe.


Thank you to the Missouri Association of Fire Chief’s for inviting me to present “The Fire Chief’s Legal Toolbox” at your 2022 Annual Conference! I had a great time, the interaction with your members was outstanding–great Q&A!

Watch firehouselegal.com for more updates, news, and info.

Hello and welcome to my little blog about the fire service and the law. I sincerely hope you will find it informative, thought provoking, or at least entertaining. If I can accomplish any of those three goals then I will consider this adventure a success. 

This blog is the product of several different things. First, a recognition on my part that over time representing the fire service, many of the same questions/issue come up time and again.  Second, the non-stop encouragement (See: Badgering; hounding) of my colleague Aaron Lukken, author of The Hague Law Blog, who believed beyond a shadow of a doubt I should be blogging, and making my voice heard. Ultimately however, it was the third reason for starting this blog that tipped the scale and sent me over the edge into the blogosphere.   Continue Reading Welcome to Firehouse Legal!

Question of the day: If there is no business to conduct (which, in rural areas is a distinct possibility) then why have a monthly meeting? Is it not a colossal waste of time and effort? 

The answer to the first question is because it’s the law. The answer to the second question, in typical lawyer fashion, is maybe yes and mostly no. And the second answer probably changes based on District size and workforce.

Fire Protection Districts in the state of Missouri are mandated to hold at least one meeting per month. If you’re curious, the statutory reference is contained in RSMO 321.200.1.  Its right there in the first line and its pretty clear: “…the board shall meet regularly, not less than once each month.” This statute sets the minimum of course, and districts may meet more regularly as they deem necessary in the interests of the District. However, at least one monthly meeting is always required.  Continue Reading If There’s Nothing to Do, Why do we Meet? (Hint: It’s the Law)

Based on my experiences, I believe that even amongst those who have served as fire chiefs or elected board members there are still some fundamental misconceptions or downright falsehoods about fire protection districts.  So, what is a fire district? 

In Missouri at least (although the basic statutory schemes for fire districts are very similar across the United States) a Fire Protection District is a specifically geographically delineated political subdivision created by a vote of its citizens under the laws of the State of Missouri. It serves only a handful of purposes; namely the prevention and/or mitigation of fire.  This service can be expanded into the realm of other closely related functions such as rescue and hazardous materials response, or Emergency Medical Services (RSMO 321.010; 321.225).  Continue Reading The Fire Protection District

In August of 2018 new legislation took effect in Missouri allowing special taxing districts greater control to recoup greater amounts from tax abated projects within district boundaries.  The changes enacted by SB 870 apply to RSMO chapters 99, 100 and 353 projects, subject to certain conditions. Despite the legislation being several years old I continue to speak with Districts that are not aware of the legislation, or don’t know how to protect themselves. 

In order to take advantage of the greater degree of control allowed for these projects fire districts must annually review and set a “reimbursement rate” (expressed as a percentage of the expected revenue from the project should it not be tax abated) for the upcoming year. Timing is important–This must be done prior to the determination of assessed valuation each year. It is also important to note there is no retroactivity provision (no mulligans!) so an approved reimbursement rate cannot be applied to previously approved projects within a District. The get-out-of-jail-free card for previously approved projects is amendments—any Chapter 99, 100, or 353 project amended after the passage of a reimbursement rate resolution would then be subject to the adopted reimbursement rate.  Once the reimbursement rate is set all jurisdictions with the power to approve a tax abated project within the District must be notified.  Continue Reading Reimbursement rate resolutions and Missouri Fire Districts-protect yourself from the TIF

Over the last few weeks I have answered multiple calls from agencies unsure how to best approach worker’s compensation coverage for firefighters, medics, EMT’s, and police during the Coronavirus crisis. Given the proliferation of the virus and its ability to spread quickly through minimal contact, employers and employees alike wondered how proof of a workplace exposure could ever be proven or disproven in the new normal these emergency workers now inhabit. Fortunately, a portion of that unknown area has been addressed and some of the guesswork removed. 

Acting pursuant to powers under the Governor’s Executive Orders 20-02 and 20-04, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Division of Worker’s Compensation, has enacted Emergency Rule 8 CSR 50-5.005. This rule creates a presumption that any First Responder (as defined by RSMO 287.243) who has contracted or is quarantined for Covid-19 is presumed to have contracted the disease at work. Under the Emergency Rule firefighters and EMT’s will be presumed covered by worker’s compensation if any of the following occur:  Continue Reading Missouri Enacts Emergency Rule Providing Presumptive Covid 19 Coverage for First Responders

Confusion abounds regarding the sharing of protected patient information (PPI) of a Covid-19 patient to first responders.  As EMS providers, fire departments, and police officers work in the field managing public emergencies, exposures should be expected and anticipated.  Organizational mitigation efforts have hinged on identifying “actual” Covid-19 patients, primarily through hospital testing after patient delivery.  However, the exchange of information from hospital to first response organization has been hampered in many instances due to HIPAA compliance concerns. Hospitals and EMS/Fire understand the process of information transfer related to potential exposures under the Ryan White Act, but the current situation is a different animal. 

The HHS issued this memo clarifying this information transfer, and ease the concerns of those covered by the HIPAA rules.  The takeaway from the memo, and the explanatory article from Ayanna Alexander at Bloomberg Law  makes clear the PPI may be shared so long as one of the conditions for sharing PPI is met. As listed in the HHS memo, a good faith belief the disclosure is “necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of a person or the public” may justify the disclosure. The other big takeaway is this—CHECK YOUR STATE LAW.  Laws vary from state to state as they relate to privacy, confidential data, mandatory disclosure, and emergency declarations.   Continue Reading HHS Offers Clarity for First Responders — Yes, Hospitals Can Provide Info on Covid 19 Exposed Patients