In 1963, the California Legislature enacted Government Code §850.4 which generally provides immunity to public entities and their employees for firefighting activities.1 One question that has arisen is whether this immunity applies to an unsafe or dangerous condition at a firefighting facility which is unrelated to firefighting activities – and when an employee firefighter is injured due to such an unsafe or dangerous condition. The California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District has recently ruled that Government Code § 850.4 is to be broadly constructed and applies to the condition of the firefighting facility – even when the condition is unrelated to a firefighting effort. That decision was issued in Quigley v. Garden Valley Fire Protection District (2017) Westlaw 1399720 ("Quigley case").
In the Quigley case, Plaintiff Rebecca Quigley was part of a team that was assigned to assist with the "Silver Fire" which broke out in the Plumas National Forest in September 2009. The United States Forest Service initially managed the effort to fight the fire and set up a base camp at the Plumas County Fairgrounds. The base camp included a sleeping area for firefighters. The Plumas County Fairgrounds also has a racetrack with a large grassy infield. The Forest Service set up a shower unit on the infield. Fearing the fire might affect structures, the Forest Service called in a non-firefighting team, referred to as "Norcal 1", to assist in managing the fire and the basecamp. The individuals who worked for the non-firefighting team were all retired Forest Service employees who had since become employees of local fire agencies.
Plaintiff Rebecca Quigley was a Forest Service firefighter on a hot shift crew working the Silver Fire. On an evening during the course of her work, Plaintiff Quigley had been unable to find an area to sleep in the designated sleeping area and then slept in the infield in a sleeping bag with the permission of her supervisor. The infield was not roped off nor was there any signage warning that individuals were sleeping in that area. The first evening went without incident. The next evening, Plaintiff Quigley again was unable to find an area to sleep in the designated sleeping area and slept in the infield with
1 California Government Code § 850.4 provides in pertinent part:
"Neither a public entity, nor a public employee acting in the scope of his employment, is liable for any injury resulting from the condition of fire protection or firefighting equipment or facilities or, except as provided in Article 1…."