Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Safety, Security, and Emergency Management

First Advisor

E. Scott Dunlap

Department Affiliation

Safety, Security, and Emergency Management

Second Advisor

Larry R. Collins

Department Affiliation

Safety, Security, and Emergency Management

Third Advisor

Andrew T. Tinsley

Department Affiliation

Safety, Security, and Emergency Management


Litigation in any industry is a driving force in the need for change management. There are very few industries that have not felt the direct effects of liability and litigation. For generations the fire service has enjoyed a sort of protected status as a result of the general good will the public has offered. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which being that firefighters routinely will risk their lives in the service of others. However, in recent years, fire departments across the United States have experienced increasing incidents of civil and criminal litigation. The core issue and purpose of this paper is a growing concern over the possibility of being sued due to work related activities. The question at hand is what effect, if any, has legal liability had on the recruitment and retention of fire officers? This research will determine whether or not this perception has migrated into the collective psyche of the fire service and if so, to what degree.

There is little academic literature available that deals with this core issue relating to the fire service. Most of the evidence regarding the impact of litigation on the fire service is anecdotal. However, there are many examples of related disciplines, such as medical practice, law enforcement, and social workers, and the effect that litigation has had on the recruitment and retention of qualified individuals in these disciplines. The literature review will be comprised of case studies of how liability and litigation has affected these disciplines in order to properly frame the issue for the fire department.

The data collection was accomplished by the distribution of a survey designed to clearly identify factors that either support or refute the hypothesis. The survey established a demographic comparison as well as specific aspects that either directly or indirectly influence the decision to promote. Survey results were compiled, analyzed, and measured against the hypothesis.

Survey results did not support the presumption that litigation is an active or critical issue facing the fire service. However, the results did show that 7% of the respondents turned down a promotion while 77% had at least considered the potential impact litigation would have on their decision to promote. Volunteer firefighters were demonstrably more sensitive to the topic of liability and litigation than their full-time brethren. Education levels also highlighted a trend in how a firefighter viewed the issue of litigation in the fire service. Results of the survey did identify that litigation is something of which firefighters are aware. For this question to be more thoroughly explored, or to determine if this issue continues to develop, more research is required.