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HB 1083 Allows Fire Districts to Sue Smokers for Starting Fires

The war against cigarette liberty creeps into your home and your pocketbook. House Bill 1083 would allow rural fire districts and other political subdivisions to recoup the cost of fighting fires from the negligent folks who start them. HB 1083 would allow the fire district or the city fire department take folks to court to make them pay for a fire call if those folks let a controlled burn get out of control, fails to call in a fire, gets in the way of a firefighter, or drops a match or cigarette.

Uh oh—there it is! Section 1, clause 1—"cigarette, cigar, ashes of pipe"—don't you see what's happening? The nanny state is threatening your right to smoke the tobacco our Founding Fathers themselves proudly grew (actually, George Washington saw tobacco wasn't a sustainable crop and switched to grains in 1766, but hush!) by allowing the government to sue smokers... for smoking! In the privacy of your own home!

Can you help it if you drowse off after enjoying a fine cigarette and then gravity—cursed gravity!—pulls your butt to the carpet? Unfair! you should cry. Liberty! you should cry. Down with House Bill 1083! you should cry.

I look forward to the tobacco lobby coming to Pierre to demand that House Judiciary remove smokers from HB 1083.


  1. Roger Cornelius 2015.01.27

    Do marijuana smokers ever drop their ashes in the forest?

  2. Anne Beal 2015.01.27

    According to e-surance, basic homeowners' insurance will cover up to $5500 of what a fire dept might charge for their services

  3. Bill Fleming 2015.01.27

    Is this for fires indoors too, or just outside?

  4. Roger Elgersma 2015.01.27

    let the insurance companies sue them instead.
    They like to take the money from medical tragedies when someone sues for pain, the insurance takes it first. That is not always fair but we had an insurance agent for governor back then.
    In this case the fire fighters did the work to reduce the amount of the insurance lose. So the firefighters should get paid first even if the insurance companies have to pay it. But if it was a fire from negligence or stupidity, then the arson by intent or arson stupidity should pay for their mistake in some way. Either they pay it all or non smokers should get a lower fire insurance rate.

  5. W R Old Guy 2015.01.27

    Interesting bill. Improper handling and disposal of ashes from a wood burner cause a lot of fires too but apparently they are exempt.

    Most home owner policies do provide coverage up to a specified limit for a fire department response. The also have an exclusion and will not pay if the fire department is supported by a tax authority. That eliminates municipal and organized fire districts from collecting.

    Can a fire department bill if the cause was a child playing with matches or a lighter?

    This bill seems to be a resurgence of an efforts to let emergency responders collect fees and thus not affect the tax base. About a decade or so ago there was a movement to allow emergency responders to bill for service if it involved someone living outside the boundaries of the emergency service.

    The bill needs to die in committee.

  6. Daniel Buresh 2015.01.27

    I haven't heard of a SD fire dept sending a bill unless it pertained to unusual or criminal circumstances in which case most insurance companies won't cover it. Most insurance companies donate $500 - $1500 to the fire dept but they are in no way required to pay a bill. I would suspect that happens in other areas of the country much more often. I would like to see some teeth for cig fires and out of control controlled burns. The fire dept will burn anything you have for free and use it for training so you have no reason to do it yourself. I know some cities have fines for businesses that have too many false alarms as well, but Madison is not one of them.

  7. Amanda 2015.01.27

    what if you leave a candle burning? Seems pretty negligent to me.

  8. scott 2015.01.27

    Don't worry, Tim Kant will have cigars exempted. If you're going start a fire, start smoking cigars!

  9. MC 2015.01.27

    Whoa! Let me see if I get this right? If I'm going down the road, and I see a fire, and I don't pull over to report it, I can be sued for the cost of putting the fire out?

  10. W R Old Guy 2015.01.27

    Proving the cause of a fire in court is not always easy. Fire investigators always work on the premise of ruling out causes until they have one possible cause. It doesn't make any difference if someone saw a person running out of the structure with a gas can in their hand. They could have been saving the can after all. Suppose the cause is determined to be a cigarette. How many in the structure smoke? Do they all reside there? Did any other smokers have access to the structure?

    I doubt there would be many departments or municipal governments wanting to spend the money and time in a court case to recover damages.
    Fire Departments and other responders can and do bill for special circumstances type calls such as a haz-mat incident because of the requirement for specialized equipment and training.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.27

    Bill, the way I read it, HB 1083 applies to any fire, indoors or outdoors. It refers to recouping "fire suppression and extinguishment costs," with no location or type specified, from anyone who "Drops or throws a burning match, cigarette, cigar, ashes of pipe, or other burning substance of any kind," with no qualification as to where the dropping or throwing takes place.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.27

    MC, yes, that appears to be another implication of this bill. Condition 3 reads "After finding any uncontrolled fire burning, fails to give immediate warning and to make reasonable attempt to quench the fire...." Check out that and: not only do you have to call it in, but arguably, you have to run over and pour your beer on it. The use of the verb quench seems to entail using liquid to extinguish the flames, so, technically, could it be that taking a shovel or a blanket to the fire wouldn't be enough? Quick, call a lawyer to quench the possible legal fires in HB 1083!

  13. JeniW 2015.01.27

    In a way I am pleased that this has become a topic. The reason being because of some people who smoke having a total disregard of others and of property. Not everyone who smokes is careless or lazy, and I appreciate that.

    I live in a three story apartment complex. The people in the apartment directly above me, and the the people on the third story apartment smoke.

    They throw their burning cigarettes, and cigarette butts wherever it pleases them, which means many of them end up on my patio. They never offer to come to clean up their mess. I can comment to the manager, the number of cigarette butts decreases for a while, then it goes back up again.

    None of the individuals have a disability that they cannot dispose of their cigarette garbage appropriately.

    If anyone complains about this bill, they should thank those smokers who have a lack of respect for others and property.

  14. Joe K 2015.01.28

    As a volunteer fireman, I can say - every time we respond to a fire, we send a letter (or a bill) to the property owner asking them to submit it to insurance. This letter is not a demand they submit - and if they will not submit it - we do not pursue it any further.

    Hopefully, they do - and we can recoup some funds. Our firemen are paid 2 dollars per call - that is our "clothing allowance." So costs are not paying the firemen. What really hits us hard are the fuel costs to keep all the pumps running, especially if it is a long call. It is easy to burn through $1000+ in fuel alone on a fire call if it is a windy day in the river hills. Hell, we were called out on mutual support in Nebraska for over a week back in 2012, and ate the costs (my district is south central SD, right on the NE border). Our support in Nebraska cost us thousands of dollars, but help was needed. If we did not go help, why would they come help us when our time comes - and it will.

    Now, I will say my dept. is ran quite well, and we are better off than most rural departments in terms of finances, but we still need help. My bunker gear is 10+ years old, sorta fits, and needs upgrading. Outfitting a single fireman costs $3500+.

    We have trucks in service still from the 70's. Only recently, we took possession of our first brand new truck a year ago. It has been 40 years since we bought a completely new rig. It was a rescue unit, designed to respond to vehicle accidents. It cost us 70k. We saved for years to acquire it. Most rural fire departments are dealing with equipment decades old, but they still respond.

    This law is bad. I cannot see my fire dept. suing someone for negligence. It is bad PR, and honestly - those we serve in our district supports us via donations. Taking someone to court over this is financial suicide. The ONLY time we submit a bill, and demand it be paid is if someone does a open burn, when there is a burn ban in effect - during times of drought. Why would we sue the people that donate and support us?

    How about writing a law that gives us additional funding? After all, when your house is on fire, wouldn't you want that responding fire department to have the best equipment available?

  15. W R Old Guy 2015.01.28

    Joe K,

    I wonder if a rural FD that is not an organized fire district would fall under this law. We have both in Meade County. Some of the rural departments in the county are wholly funded by donations and are using 40+ year old equipment usually consisting of "home built" brush trucks and tankers.

    South Dakota already has a means of collecting on costs for wildland fires and also contracts with FDs for service. There are training and equipment requirements that the small departments can't afford so they are unable to participate.

    We have sent departments from the Rapid City area into Nebraska and Wyoming on a mutual aid assistance and they have done the same for South Dakota. I agree that an incident that lasts more than a day puts a lot of stress on the responding departments in terms of costs and personnel.

  16. mike from iowa 2015.01.28

    So what happens if you see a fire and call or text while passing by? Is that an automatic ticket whether you are caught in the act or not?

  17. JeniW 2015.01.28

    How likely is that you will see a fire and having someone witness your not stopping?

  18. Bill Dithmer 2015.01.28

    A piece of glass, matches, a bic lighter in a baggy filled with Pine Sol and clorine pellets, and a roll of film. Internal cumbustion from manure piles, grain, ground hay, and a compost bin. A train, a car driving on the rim, catalytic converters many times, and a camp fire. I've been to four or five fires that started a week after the storm, and I've seen a burned arrow with a rag wrapped around the end. I've seen dead pine trees ignite ten miles off of any road and burned out cars that were left to burn.

    When your a rural valunteer fire department you fight with what you have, with the people that get to the fire shed in time. While we did recieve financing from the feds in several ways, for the most part we got donations from business and land owners along with the proceeds of our little illegal gambling opperation called a smoker.

    Long Valley was right in the middle as far as response times go. Martin was thirty miles south, Kadoka was thirty miles north, Norris was twenty five miles east and Green Valley was twenty five miles west. Wanblee had new equipment given to them twice by the feds but they never responded to a single fire because someone stripped the trucks of all the things that were of value. Now they dont have anything so the rest of the departments have to pick up the slack.

    A law suit for helping a neighbor out, no matter how it started would make for a lot of enemies out on the range. What part of neighbor dont they understand. If you try hard you can always find a covienient cause for a fire, whether its the right one or not.

    Placing blame is something for insurance companies to figure out. When we faught fires the only time we were reinbured was when we went on tribal ground, and the last time I did it, it took two years.

    I was the ST for the Long Valley Fire Department for twelve years.

    The Blindman

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