Randolph Sues to Recover Expense of New Fire Station

  • A 2015 fire destroyed the Randolph Village Fire Department. A new building has been completed in its place. Randolph, Vt., Sunday, May 13, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Burlington — The town of Randolph has filed a $2.5 million civil lawsuit against two fire engine manufacturers, claiming a faulty electrical system led to a 2015 blaze that destroyed a rescue pumper truck and the Randolph Village Fire Station.

Kovatch Mobile Equipment Corp. of Nesquehoning, Pa., and Navistar of Lisle, Ill., design, manufacture, test and sell emergency response vehicles, according to the lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

The Randolph Village station on Central Street, at the junction of Routes 12 and 12A, was heavily damaged, and three of the four fire trucks destroyed, in the Sept. 1, 2015 blaze, officials said at the time.

Randolph bought the rescue pumper truck in Sept. 2011; it was designed, manufactured, tested, distributed, marketed and/or sold by KME, the lawsuit maintains.

The fire truck’s engine and component parts were “designed, manufactured, tested, distributed, advertised, marketed and/or sold by Navistar,” the lawsuit also said.

An electrical arc alleged to have sparked the blaze “was caused by the negligent designed and/or manufacture of the fire truck and/or its component parts,” according to the lawsuit filed by lawyers Philip Woodward and Marikate E. Kelley.

Randolph received $573,000 from its insurance carrier to cover the loss of the fire truck, Town Manager Adolfo Bailon said.

In addition, the town also recovered $79,000 for firefighting and mobile equipment and about $48,000 for building contents from insurance coverage, he said.

The lawsuit is designed to cover the $2.5 million the town needed to spend to replace the fire station to meet current code requirements, Bailon said.

The town also bought two adjoining properties on Park Street to provide additional room to meet the code requirements and provide extra parking.

The new, modern station has five bays, meeting rooms, a kitchen and significant storage space, officials said. It is about twice the size of the destroyed station, which was built in 1971, officials said. Firefighters began moving equipment in about six weeks go and are now operating from it, though some paving and exterior work remains, Bailon said.

Randolph residents voted 1,486-646 in November 2016 to bond for up to $2.4 million for a new fire station.

The three-count lawsuit claims negligence, product liability and breach of warranty/misrepresentation about the 2012 truck.

While the lawsuit was initially filed in Vermont Superior Court in Chelsea, Burlington lawyer Ritchie Berger on behalf of Navistar petitioned last week to have the case moved to U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Berger, who is with the Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew law firm, declined comment on the case.

Berger wrote that Kovatch also did not object to moving it to federal court.

Defense lawyer Franziskus Lepionka of Michienzie & Sawin in Boston did not respond to the Valley News’ request for comment.

Formal written responses to the lawsuit from both defendants are due in a couple of weeks.

Vermont State Police said the fire was reported about 6:20 a.m. Sept. 1, 2015.

Detective Sgt. Todd Ambroz said responding firefighters found the left front corner of the fire station, where one of the trucks was parked, fully engulfed in flames.

Randolph Fire Chief Jay Collette requested an origin and cause investigation by the State Police and the Vermont Division of Fire Safety.

Ambroz said it was apparent from the start of the investigation the blaze began inside the cab of the fire truck. Randolph had completed a training exercise the night before.

Mike Donoghue can be reached at vermontnewsfirst@gmail.com.