A judge has ruled a trucking company contracted by firefighters to help contain a blaze in Amherst almost six years ago isn’t liable for damages to a nearby building.
The deputy chief of the Amherst Fire Department called in Baxter Trucking on the morning of Aug. 27, 2012 to demolish the Dooly’s building, where his crew had been battling a fire throughout the night. John Baxter, who heads the trucking and excavation company, told the deputy chief he’d rather use an extention for the excavator because of its greater reach, but that it would take eight hours to install.
“The (Amherst Fire Department) requested, and John Baxter agreed, that Baxter Trucking would conduct the demolition without using the extension attachment because time was of the essence in preventing the fire from spreading to nearby buildings, causing further damage, and threatening public safety,” according to a Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision released Tuesday.
During the demolition, part of the Dooly’s wall collapsed, damaging a building nearby owned by an outfit called Walmer Inc.
“After the first collapse, Baxter Trucking moved the excavator to the rear of the Dooly’s building to demolish what remained of the wall. The second collapse occurred when the remainder of the wall of the Dooly’s building collapsed and fell onto the Walmer Building at approximately 3:45 p.m. on August 27, 2012.”
Baxter Trucking argued it was acting under the direction of the deputy fire chief. Walmer countered that while the fire department was telling Baxter and its driver what services were required, it wasn’t directly giving orders.
Justice Mona Lynch concluded that Baxter Trucking and its driver at the scene, Doug Richard, “were not weighing the costs and benefits of proceeding with the demolition,” of the Dooly’s building.
“It appears that Baxter Trucking may have done things differently if they were making the decisions,” Lynch said. “They may have put on the extension attachment to have more control over the demolition.”
She said Baxter and its driver were assisting the officer in charge of the fire scene at Dooly’s, which continued to burn until the morning of Aug. 28.
“The deputy chief provided the directions and instructions to knock down the wall,” Lynch said. “Baxter Trucking and Doug Richard endeavored to do so under the deputy chief’s direction and authority.”
The judge said she’s satisfied that the trucking company and the driver “were acting under the direction or authority of an officer in charge,” who had the legal right to tear down any building to contain a fire and protect the public.
Because of that, the trucking company and its driver can’t be held liable, Lynch said in her decision, which also has a bearing on another suit brought by the company that insured the tenants of the Walmer-owned building.