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Regner v. North Star Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 11, 2014

LEO A. REGNER, Appellant,
v.
NORTH STAR VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT, INC.; JEFF TUCKER, " Fire Chief" ; JERRY HANSON, " Fire Commander" at the scene; NORTH POLE FIRE DEPARTMENT; BUDDY LANE, " Fire Chief," Appellees

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Michael A. MacDonald, Judge. Superior Court No. 4FA-10-03390 CI.

Leo A. Regner, Pro se, Fairbanks, Appellant.

Laura L. Farley, Farley & Graves, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellees North Star Volunteer Fire Department, Jeff Tucker, and Jerry Hanson.

Zane D. Wilson, Cook Schuhmann & Groseclose, Inc., Fairbanks, for Appellees North Pole Fire Department and Buddy Lane.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

Page 17

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

On December 31, 2008, a fire broke out at a mobile home owned by Leo Regner near North Pole. The North Star Volunteer Fire Department, the North Pole Fire Department, and the Fort Wainwright Fire Department responded to the fire but were unable to prevent damage to the mobile home. Regner sued the fire departments and several of their employees, alleging negligence. Regner voluntarily dismissed his claim against the Fort Wainwright Fire Department and its employee, and the remaining defendants (the " defendants" )[1] moved for summary judgment on the basis that they were immune from suit. The superior court granted complete summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) the individual defendants were immune from suit; (2) the fire departments were immune from suit for their discretionary decisions; and (3) Regner failed to offer any evidence of negligence to rebut the defendants' " conclusive showing" that all firefighting activity was done in accordance with generally accepted firefighting practices.

Regner appeals only the superior court's decision that he failed to make a sufficient showing of negligence to defeat summary

Page 18

judgment. Because the defendants did not move for summary judgment on the merits of Regner's negligence claims and the merits of those claims were not otherwise addressed in the summary judgment proceedings, we reverse. Because Regner did not appeal the superior court's immunity decisions, we do not address the merits of those decisions, but we note that the superior court's discretionary function immunity decision did not address all of the allegedly negligent actions that the defendants argued were subject to immunity. These remaining claims are remanded for decision.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

This appeal concerns a mobile home fire that occurred on December 31, 2008, just outside of North Pole. On the afternoon of the fire, Leo Regner, the mobile home's owner, received a phone call from the tenant living in the home informing him that water was not coming out of her kitchen faucet. Regner determined that the water line had frozen in the -45° F temperature. The water line ran from a small adjacent well house to the underside of the mobile home. Regner went underneath the mobile home, removed the insulation, and used a small handheld propane torch to apply direct heat to the water line. When this proved unsuccessful, Regner and the tenant entered the well house, and Regner used the torch to heat the line from inside. Regner noticed that this process caused a black insulation board inside the well house to " glow[] a little" and smolder, so he scratched out the glowing spot with his finger until it was cool to the touch. The tenant informed Regner that she thought she smelled smoke, but Regner responded that he did not smell anything, and the tenant concluded she was simply noticing the smell of the torch. After successfully restoring water flow to the kitchen sink, the two left the residence and drove to Fairbanks to run errands.

At approximately 5:53 p.m. the North Star Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire at Regner's mobile home. Although Regner's property is outside of their jurisdictions, the North Pole Fire Department [2] and the Fort Wainwright Fire Department were also dispatched pursuant to mutual aid agreements with the North Star Volunteer Fire Department. The North Pole Fire Department was the first to arrive on the scene. The North Star Volunteer Fire ...


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