Atlee Hall Protects our Firefighters and First Responders
Being a firefighter, or any first responder, is a dangerous job. In 2013, nearly 66,000 firefighters suffered injuries, with 97 of those brave men and women losing their lives while protecting us and our property. However, fighting fires and responding to emergencies are not the only dangers confronting firefighters. Every year roughly 11 firefighters die in training incidents. In many small towns across the country, we rely on our neighbors who volunteer to risk life and limb for the good of the community. Yet, many volunteer fire companies are underfunded and rely on old equipment for too long. Firefighting is a dangerous job, but that danger should not include the risks of defectively made equipment in service merely because of a cheaper price.
On a warm summer evening, the Bareville Fire Department, which is made up of volunteers from the area surrounding Leola, PA, is conducting a training exercise for other local, volunteer fire companies. They are demonstrating the process for filling tanker trucks from a single source, local pond. A pumper truck pumps water at 120 p.s.i. from the pond to a 75 lb, cast aluminum, “WaterThief” manifold, consisting of four (4) 2.5 inch ball valves and a 5 inch through valve. At the time, the manifold is 19 years old. Two of the smaller valves control the flow to one tanker. With the first tanker filled, a firefighter with nearly 50 years of experience closes the first valve, but before he finishes closing the second valve, the manifold explodes without warning and a 10 lb. hunk of aluminum alloy smashes into his lower leg causing multiple, severe fractures and ending his career as a volunteer firefighter. Fortunately, no one else is hurt by the cannonball like projectile whipping around on the end of a pressurized line.
This is not the first time that this particular make of a “WaterThief” manifold catastrophically fails. Indeed, this is the fourth time that this one company’s manifold explodes under normal operating conditions in the last five years, and the third time that a firefighter suffers injury. In 2010, the third such incident injured a firefighter in Sussex County, New Jersey. The State of New Jersey investigated and concluded that the manifold was defectively cast as too brittle to withstand the increases in water pressure that come from closing valves under pressure. Rather than being able to absorb the increased pressure, the cast is found to be so brittle that a minimal increase in pressure causes it to fracture, with catastrophic results. Remarkably, the New Jersey investigators do not have the power to pressure the company to issue warnings and there are no federal regulations or agency oversight ensuring the quality of the manufacture of this type of equipment. Even the Consumer Protection Agency declined the opportunity to step in because the manifold is not a consumer product.
In the case of the Bareville firefighter, he turned to the attorneys at Atlee Hall who secured the broken valve and sent it for structural and chemical testing. Not surprisingly, the results of the testing were similar to those found in the New Jersey case. An independent laboratory conducted numerous tests and concluded that the alloy used to cast the manifold was too brittle for use in firefighting equipment. Worse yet, when asked for proof of testing or a quality assurance process, the manufacturer failed to show that it ever performed quality testing of its products. Soon after, the company settled with the injured firefighter and the State of Pennsylvania’s Workers Compensation fund was paid back. The attorneys at Atlee Hall held the manufacturer accountable for manufacturing defective products and endangering the lives of firefighters.
2 In the first two such incidents, the manufacturer obtained the broken valve and conducted its own, in-house investigation that included nothing more than naked eye observation. Not surprisingly, the manufacturer concluded that the valves failed due to operator error.