Dear PoPville – Fire department abuse of authority?


“Dear PoPville,

A firetruck sideswiped my friend’s legally parked, unoccupied car this week. I didn’t see the accident, but it appeared that the truck pulled over so the firemen could grab coffee/breakfast at the coffee shop in my building – something I’ve seen them do several times. My friend arrived at her car, needing to leave for work, was told by a fireman – who identified himself as a “public safety officer” – that she was not allowed to leave until the fire chief arrived to take pictures and document the scene. My friend was forced to stay at the scene for over an hour, so that several firemen and police officers could arrive, take pictures, and fill out reports. She had to show her ID and insurance information to three separate officers/firemen. She also had to cancel a client meeting because, again, when she asked to leave, she was told that she could not do so until the fire chief arrived. (She couldn’t disregard their orders either, as the fire truck hit at an angle, pinning her car between the truck, the sidewalk, and another car parked behind it.) Finally, after all that, they moved the truck – revealing relatively minor damage to my friend’s car.

Something just rubs me the wrong way here. I’m not aware of any law requiring someone to stay at the scene when someone hits his/her parked car – especially when they didn’t witness the accident. I’m also not aware of any authority permitting firemen or “public safety officers” to detain people and their vehicles for no reason other than to fulfill the fire department’s own bureaucratic rules and limit the city’s liability. Again, it wasn’t “it will be easier for you to get reimbursement if you stay because the city government is a mess sometimes” – it was “I’m a public safety officer, and you are not permitted to leave.” I also think it’s notable that the firemen were not rushing to an emergency or responding to a call – literally just getting coffee. I see no reason why they should be treated any differently than anyone else in this instance.


84 Comment

  • If a fire truck hit my car I’d certainly want to stay around until the matter was documented. I would hope the client would understand the situation.

    • I agree absolutely. Why in the world would you want to leave before the scene was fully documented?

    • The point isn’t: what choice would you make in this situation. The point is: shouldn’t it be your choice? Shouldn’t you be able to make a decision that the damage or your insurance deductable is less than your hourly billing rate, and leave? That would actually be the smart economic decision.

    • jack5

      I’m willing to bet that the guy who was driving the truck had a much worse day.

    • Exactly…sheesh!

  • It appears that they took the time to document the incident. Can you imagine the blowback if they had not? An hour is not a lot of time to make sure everything was handled. No abuse there.

  • Back in college in Cincinnati, a cop car ran into mine from behind. Slow speed, more damage to his car than mine. Since I didn’t have any damage, I wanted to go about my way but had to wait until his superior came to document the incident. They would not let me leave. So… I guess they are able to do that.

  • Whether the car owner SHOULD stay on the scene isn’t the point, it’s the fact that the she was REQUIRED to stay by the firemen, excuse me, “public safety officers.” This is yet another example of abuse of power by those whose role is to serve the public. The fact that these firemen refused to move their truck from a car they hit and pinned in—while making a daily coffee run, no less—until they felt ready to do so is egregious behavior.

    • Are you kidding? Leaving the scene of an accident, no matter if you were the cause or not, is illegal.

      • the post indicates that the car was parked and unoccupied. she wasn’t “leaving the scene of an accident.” she happened upon the scene of property damage, and wanted to un-happen upon it. and even after an accident, you’re required to stay for a reasonable time. its not like if you tap someone’s fender, you’re required to stick around for hours just b/c they wanna hang out.

      • jack5

        +1 That’s the reason why it’s called an accident… Your business meeting had to wait. Since it was a city vehicle, you could have possibly left your car in the spot there with a note and disputed the ticket after sorting out preliminary information (insurance etc) and take a cab to work but you’d probably have to fight parking tickets (for the rest of the day) in court. It would suck if it cost you your career or a job, but you could probably sue the city for those consequences later on. Not a good solution, but the only options under the law.

      • wrong. see below.

  • I would have waited as well especially if the city will need to pay for the damage. I need the person who can authorize the city’s insurance to pay for damages to be around. Stuff happens and an accident even if no one was in the car is definitely a legitimate reason for having to cancel a meeting. Hopefully your friend’s client understands.

  • Why is it a bad thing that they wanted to document the fact that they hit your friend’s car? Would a hit and run have been more convenient?

    • actually, yes. either way, have to arrange for car to be fixed. client fees > insurance deductable. so, why exactly was it beneficial to force to wait?

      • If the city’s insurance is paying for the damage why would your friend have to pay an insurance deductible?

        • if it had been a hit and run, then the city wouldn’t pay. it would be submitted to insurance. Q was whether hit and run more convienent. answer: yes.

      • Someone was taking responsibility for messing up your stuff, which is all too rare. To me that’s worth the wait, but different strokes I guess.

        • okay, so if i damage your stuff, and (a) you could fix it yourself for $100 or (b) i could fix it for you but it would cost you $500, you’d rather i fix it? riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. totally believable.

          • I’m confused as to why it would cost me $500 if you fixed it for me because it was your fault. DC isn’t a no-fault “state” is it? I must have really $hitty car insurance.

  • Seems like this could be false imprisonment if they didn’t have some statutory basis for it

    • tonyr

      The way I read it is that they wouldn’t let her leave IN THE CAR, until the paperwork was completed. There’s no way that they’d physically restrain her if she just walked away and caught the bus. What if she hadn’t shown up? Would they have tracked her down and forced her to remain at the site?

  • If the fireman was acting in an intimidating manner and insinuating that they have jurisdiction to compel the person to remain on scene, then I’m not sure if that’s quite ethical or professional behavior. But as a practical matter, I can imagine that they might not be allowed to move their truck until the accident position and the damage were fully documented. The fire crew probably has a rigid set of rules and protocols that they’re required to follow in circumstances like this. And they probably need to protect themselves, in case the accident victim later tries to make an exaggerated claim about damages (I’m not saying the individual in this story is the kind of person who’d do that type of thing, but the fire department has no way of knowing that). I’d say bottom line, it’s a sucky, inconvenient situation, but it’s an accident, and sh*t like that happens sometimes.

    • Also, I can’t really muster up much outrage or disgust about the “coffee run” element of the story. Sure, the fire truck wasn’t rushing to a call, but I’m guessing more than a few of us have, at some point in our driving history, made a stupid, fleeting miscalculation that caused a minor fender bender (or very narrowly caused one). I mean, I occasionally dash out of my office to grab a coffee if I have a few minutes of down time, so why shouldn’t firefighters, outside of an emergency situation, be entitled to a break, too.

      • they should be entitled to a coffee break. that’s not the point. if i hit a parked car, i’d do what any normal person would do, exchange insurance/license information, and go on with my life.

      • I don’t know about you, but I’d want my firefighters to be refreshed and caffeinated!

      • Emmaleigh504

        I agree. They probably can’t do what normal people do (exchange info and move on) because they are in city vehicles.

    • “If the fireman was acting in an intimidating manner and insinuating that they have jurisdiction to compel the person to remain on scene…” – that is EXACTLY what happened. That is the point.

  • The fire department might have a policy of not moving their vehicle in situations like this, for their own insurance purposes. Perhaps the person could have left after providing insurance information, but not with the car until all the bureaucracy got resolved. Personally, knowing how nothing is simple when it comes to DC, I would have gladly stayed if I had any intention of not paying for the repairs myself.

    • ^ yes, this. I don’t know why so many peopel presume they are the subject of some plot or incompetence by others. A city fire truck was involved in an accident, and it was the city’s fault. They HAVE to document it for insurance purposes, I am sure, and as taxpayers we wouldn’t have it any other way. It makes sense to prevent conflicts of interest (i.e., not reporting just to the self-interested fire dept.) that they would have to get multiple reports from DCFD and MPD. My guess is that there’d be equal OP indignation had they said “fine, you can leave, just sign this form waiving any claim against the District.” Unfortunately, it would have altered the scene to move the truck so the damaged car could leave, but that’s not “false imprisonment” or anything close, as suggested by some here. And for all the talk of the economic loss, I’m sure the friend could have left the car, grabbed a cab to her client meeting, and come back to give the statements required at a later time that day had she asked to do so. The only relevant thing she might have reported: when she parked, how long she had been away from the car, that she was not in the vehicle at the time, and whether the vehicle had any damage to it at the time it was parked. My best guess is she’ll get a generous insurance settlement from the city, and she’s only out the hour here. It’s not ideal, but crap happens, you know?

  • Why were they using a public vehicle for a personal matter to begin with…

    • saf

      They have to. If they need to answer a call the truck is with them, not a couple blocks away at the station.

    • Because Firefighters are humans too and deserve lunch/coffee breaks. Since it is their job to provide emergency response, the vehicle goes where they go while on duty in their 911 service area.

  • just be thankful the fire engine didn’t spontaneously combust and engulf your car in flames

  • Please let me apologize for my fellow DC Firefighter; I’m sorry for the inconvenience and damage to your car. Unfortunately this type of minor accident does occur. Please let me explain our procedures; When ever a Fire Dept vehicle is involved in any and I mean any accident it has to be fully documented and investigated by a battalion fire chief, safety officer, and MPD. I believe the “public safety officer” was our Safety officer. I understand the inconvenience. I can only offer you the number for the Fire Dept 202-673-3320 to question the demand to stay on the scene. Please ask the fire chief to explain the proper procedure. Again as firefighters of the city we only wish to serve the citizens and maintain our good standing. I only hope this response lessens any animosity and doesn’t tarnish the reputation of many by the actions of few.

    • i love firemen. do a great service. but please understand – those in private practice are only trying to serve their clients too (and keep their job – if cilents go elsewhere, guess what?). what is the authority to force (not ask…REQUIRE) a citizen to remain so that firemen can follow their department’s internal procedures. if a delivery van hits your car, are you cool waiting until all their bosses arrive at the scene so that they can fill out their company forms? even if its the “company policy,” should you be bound by that? if some kid his your car, are you cool waiting until his dad shows up to see things for himself, since dad’s gonna have a lot of questions and will ultimately be the one who has to deal with insurance? i guess the question is: putting aside whether it was more convient for firemen if person stays (i’m sure it was), is there actually something that says they can detain people who don’t do anything wrong just b/c its convient for the fire department?

      • For a lawyer you (your friend) sure seem to have a problem following the rules.

        • which rule, exactly? that’s the whole question. i don’t follow your company’s manual for employees – b/c it doesn’t apply to me. the whole question here is: what is the rule? no need to make it personal.

        • also, car owner isn’t a lawyer. all sorts of small businesses have clients.

        • That was +100 in response to the OP. It’s interesting that the majority of respondents subscribe to the “go along, get along” mentality in this case. Is this an “obedience to authority” scenario, a la Stanley Milgram’s social psychological studies? The OP brings up a good point: Would more respondents be upset if a private company’s service van hit and pinned in a car and then refused to move its vehicle until the company’s supervisor could come out and assess the situation an hour later? Why was the car owner informed that she was prohibited from leaving the premises and was required to show her insurance and ID on multiple occasions to those who hit and entrapped her car? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? This seems like an abuse of authority. Surprising that more people aren’t unnerved by it.

          • austindc

            I thought Milgram’s studies showed that people refused to follow orders when they were flat-out told that they had to do something.

          • Fair point re small business by the OP.

            I don’t think that it is an abuse of authority, they are just following procedure. I normally question instances like this myself, but it seems like the fire department was just playing it by the book.

            Full disclosure – first responders and emergency personnel get the benefit of the doubt with me every time. If it was some elevator repair company or some other private entity, then yes, I would be annoyed and borderline pissed off.

  • After spending the last 10 days out in Oregon, the outraged OP here is an apropos welcome back to DC. That and the suspicious package freak out this AM.

  • it should not be your choice.. tax payers dollars will fix your friends car, therefore there are rules involved. tough break.

    • Shouldn’t it have been presented: “if you want reimbursement, then you should stay.” If owner is given choice and choses to leave, isn’t that his/her problem? The post says that wasn’t what happened. I think poster’s issue is that owner wasn’t given that choice – but it was implied that she was required to stay on scene. Is there such a requirement (not just for fire fighters – obviously they have to follow company protocal) – what is it?

  • If your “client” isn’t understanding enough to reschedule a meeting because you have to deal with this, then maybe you need to find a new client.

  • Was she under arrest? If not, then she’s free to leave. Clear as black and white, right lawyers?

    • Not right.

      Try this at your own peril.

      Public safety officers work in dangerous situations and are entitled to create a safe working environment for themselves and have a duty to protect us. If a cop tells you to do something (a normal cop command anyway) you have to do it, for all they know you are an armed cop killer; if a fireman tells you to stand back from a fire for your own safety you can be arrested if you refuse, for your own protection.

      Neither one of these situations apply here but that is why there are laws to put some muscle behind their orders. If they had cuffed/detained OPs friend it would absolutely have been inappropriate, it sounds like they skirted the line a bit.

      Either way I’ll give firemen pretty much all the slack in the world, they are not cops, didn’t take the job to be in a position of authority, and would rather be drinking coffee than running through their accident protocol.

      Shit happens, when it involves government/public services shit happens slower.

  • I think this illustrates a huge problem in this city… you want an accountable city government that cant just run over your car willy nilly… but far too many people think that everyone should accommodate their work obligations and that because its their top priority in life, everyone should understand and adapt.

    An accident happened, someone, who probably makes far less than you but has a far more important job to society had to do their job. It prevented you from doing your job for 1 hour.

    We want EMS personnel doing the right thing at all times, including documenting an accident…. and yes he is a “public safety officer”.

    Deal with it.

    And, for the record, an accident is an accident – you’re not allowed to leave the scene with evidence no matter how much your client pays your firm.

    • everyone seems to misunderstand my use of “client” and assume that the car owner is some rich entitled person. actually, car owner is a working schmuck like the rest of us. wondering: do you have the same opinion if car owner is a plumber whose client offered the job to someone else b/c car owner was detained at scene? or car owner is a low wage worker who gets fired b/c he/she is late to work and their boss doesn’t believe that a fire department “officer” detained them on official business? just wondering.

      • Yes, I would. In fact, as a client of a plumber and other service providers, if someone called me and explained this situation – I’d totally understand. In fact, I reschedule meetings with people all the time because of conflicts far less significant than this.

        However, I refuse to believe that someone that is so bent out of shape about a client meeting is a plumber. He or she is probably one of the self-important masses of DC that thinks everyone should get out of their way because they have to get to work. Pay is of no influence on this. You should see Hill interns standing in line for coffee. They dont get paid anything, but can be incredibly difficult.

        • I wish all clients were reasonable. If you work in a client industry, you know that some cut your more slack than you deserve, and some are complete unreasonable. They’re people. Bosses are too. In college, I was very late to work (as a waitress) b/c I parked my car in a legal spot and the building next to it happened to catch fire. The fire department pulled the hoses in a way that blocked me in. I had never been late to work before. I had no other issues at work. I called as soon as I could and warned my boss about the situation. I was summarily fired when I arrived. It’s called “at will” employment. Was my boss a jerk? Of course. Did I miss and need the money? Desperately. That doesn’t make me a self-important a#$hole.

  • Everyone seems to be under the impression that some generic “leaving the scene of an accident” law would require the owner of the parked car to stay on the scene. I don’t think that’s the case. Here’s the actual DC law, which applies only if injury to person or substantial vehicle damage and only to the driver who inflicted the injury/damage:

    § 50-2201.05. “(a) (1) Any person operating a vehicle, who shall injure any person therewith, or who shall do substantial damage to property therewith and fail to stop and give assistance, together with his name, place of residence, including street and number, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle so operated, to the person so injured, or to the owner of such property so damaged, or to the operator of such other vehicle, or to any bystander who shall request such information on behalf of the injured person, or, if such owner or operator is not present, then he shall report the information above required to a police station or to any police officer within the District immediately. In all cases of accidents resulting in injury to any person, the operator of the vehicle causing such injury shall also report the same to any police station or police officer within the District immediately.”

    There’s no “if you’re a victim hit by a car, then you’re not allowed to leave” law.

  • I’m very curious is the firemen said (or just meant and were minunderstood) that the CAR was not allowed to leave, or if they actually meant the DRIVER was not allowed to leave. I’d imagine it was the former and not the latter, and that if she really had to get to her meeting, she could have just hailed a cab and been on her way and come back later to get her car. There’s a BIG difference between a person being detained against their will and a piece of property (albeit a very big, very expensive, very shiny piece of property in this case) being kept as evidence until it can be documented.

    • The fireman approached her, said “ma’am, I’m a public saftey officer. We’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Then he said, completely serious, how they’d gone in the coffee shop “looking for her.” (i.e., probably running the original errand – anyone who thinks the owner of a car parked on a major DC street is likely to be in the store that the car is parked in front of has never parked in DC.) Owner said: Can I leave? I have to get to work. He said: No, you can’t leave until the fire chief gets here. Okay, so maybe he meant “Well, you could leave but we’re temporarily impounding your car, blah blah.” But that’s not what he said.

      That’s when I left. She said that she asked a few more times if she could leave, and was told no.

  • Also, for the record, that looks like a pretty new car. A 2011, 2012 or 2013 Ford Focus I’d guess, from the size and shape of that a/c vent you can see through the window in the pic. Now, I understand if you don’t care if someone scuffs up that 25 year old Civic you’ve had since high school and only drive once in a blue moon, but I’d think the owner of a relatively new car like that one would want to get everything done right so they could get it fixed correctly, even if it meant they lost an hour of their day.

    On the upside, if I’m right and it is a Ford Focus, that bolsters your argument you made in the comments that your friend is a regular working person and not some fancy shmancy lawyer. I don’t know many lawyers at high-paying firms in this city that make six figures and drive a Focus. Which is kinda silly, actually, because I’ve heard the new Focus is actually a really nice (and very affordable) car…

    • You must not know many young associates at large firms in DC. Sensible cars (or even no cars) are becoming the norm given that most of them graduate with ~$150k in debt.

  • This is awful what happened to this persons car and I would be pissed off as well. It seems to me that this is a very unreasonable “client” if they can’t understand an accident occurred and the meeting needed to have been postponed. Maybe it’s time for a new profession if one has to have a nervous breakdown if they are late for a meeting with a client. Is your career and livelihood really over if you miss one meeting? Either this person is not good at their job or the industry they work in is crumbling to where there aren’t a lot of clients to work with. Honestly, this came across as rather self entitled and disingenuous toward Fire Fighters and the protocols they are REQUIRED to follow. If the city had to pay out a lot of money, they would have to make sure all of the bases were covered just as well if any other business such as the OP’s was at fault for something. To attack the fire fighters for “having coffee in your building” is a bit pompous. These hard working self-less people probably make less than you, they deserve coffee breaks just like you do and they need to remain ALERT to fight fires and WAIT FOR IT…….SAVE LIVES!!! Were they rude to the OP? Did they PHYSICALLY detain the person? NO. Only 1 hour was missed out of their very important work life. DC is a very CAREER CENTERED city where people are workaholics and very anal about TIME. At the end of the day, the city will pay for damages and LIFE WILL GO ON. No one was injured. A friend of mine was hit by an AMBULANCE and suffered SEVERE injuries. Please save the DRAMA QUEEN DRAG SHOW and count your blessings. Blaming fire fighters for following protocol and for simply trying to make sure your losses will be paid for is frankly CRUEL. I don’t care what anyone says, this post was OVER THE TOP and not needed. Accidents happen all the time, whining about it does not solve anything, especially if the people at fault ADMITTED to being at fault and were in the process of HANDLING their fault.

    • 1. No one said anything about “a nervous breakdown.” It was a very calm question about whether this is something that firemen are actually authorized to do. There’s a lot of real estate between “some folks don’t like being detained” and “someone had a nervous breakdown.”

      2. Having a job you need to get to does not make you self entitled. It makes you someone who has to pay your own bills.

      3. Firemen can follow their protocols all day long. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether those department protocals apply to citizens. Do they entitle firemen to detain people who haven’t done anything and who ask to leave. What if I came up to you the street and told you that my business’s employee manual requires you to stand on the street and talk to me for over an hour. You cool with that?

      4. No one “attack[ed] the fire fighters for ‘having coffee in [a] building.'” Point is: they were running a normal errand, not rushing to the scene of a fire. The later would entitle them to special consideration in my mind. The former makes then just like anyone else.

      5. “Please save the DRAMA QUEEN DRAG SHOW.” I really think you need to reread the post.

      6. “SAVE LIVES,” “LIFE WILL GO ON,” “SEVERE injuries,” “frankly CRUEL.” I also, respectfully, really think you should cut back on your own coffee breaks.

      7. “this post was OVER THE TOP.” Yes, yes, thank you for demontrating through your comment how to express one’s self in a calm, objective, and unemotional manner. This was very helpful.

  • Let’s be honest, I think it’s less some sort of well-known fire fighter protocol, and more this:

    And, since you asked, I’ll add my opinion to the mix too. I mean, who doesn’t love a fire fighter? That’s like saying you don’t love puppies or babies. This has nothing to do with the important role fire fighters play in our wonderful community. They save lives by putting their own life at risk, I for one am constantly in awe of their selfless determination. They correspondingly deserve coffee – and lots of it. I also think the whole client issue is being taken way too literally, of course most clients will be understanding if an accident has occurred. Or we all hope so. And besides, who is anyone to judge how important someone takes their career? At least they are paying their bills and taxes.

    To me, this is the bottom line: if the same accident occurred between two normal ole folks (plumbers, lawyers, Hill interns), especially if there was no argument as to who was at fault, the police MIGHT have been called, a quick report would have been developed, insurance information would have been exchanged, and they’d both been on their happy way. Instead, to have to wait for over an hour while multiple reports are filed by policemen, firemen and then the firemen’s boss too, over a $350 side mirror? This is nothing more than a CYA move. Period.

    The worst part, if the friend ever wants to get the side mirror fixed, he/she probably has to fill out his/her own report and send it via snail mail to the DC claims bureau. I am sure the insurance deductible is way more than the mirror.

  • This is the most ridiculous thread I’ve read in a while. If you have an issue with the way the firefighter handled the situation, why not call them or the department, and ask how it was supposed to be done? Instead you come to PoP and complain that a friend’s car was hit, and it would have been sooooo much more convenient if it were a hit and run! My guess is that if your car were involved in a hit and run and you didn’t have anywhere to be, you would not be saying these things. Yes you and your friend both sound extremely entitled like the world is supposed to revolve around what you are doing, where you need to be, and when you need to be there. Wake up, this is life. Jus sayin…

    • You think the best response is to ask the fire department if they’ve abused their own authority? Okay, while you’re at it, why don’t you also call all the politicians and just ask them if they’re corrupt? Bringing these things to light is generally the best way to get things resolved if there’s an issue (and if there’s not an issue, then why does it matter if someone asks the question?). How does asking if the gov’t is allowed to detain you make you “exptremely entitled like the word is supposed to revolve around what you are doing.” I’d be annoyed if this happened to me. I’d probably stay, but I’d like to be given the option.

    • Taking this a little personally huh? Right on the heels of two other posts taking it a little personally? Hummm…

  • He/she asked a question. Responded to follow up questions. And from this you conclude he/she is never happy? I feel like resorting to personal attacks in a blog comment is sadder than asking a question, bro.

  • Uh, okay. Whatever you say.

  • I think the key takeaway from this post and from all of these comments is to always seek clarification. Any time a police officer or a firefighter or mall security guard or whoever tells you to stay put, you have a right to question them and to ask if you are under arrest. If you are not under arrest, you have a right to leave. Now, you may not be able to take the car or whatever with you, but you have a right to walk away. They cannot force you to stay. Now, they certainly can tell you that a claim for damages will be denied if you don’t stay put and follow procedure, or that they will ban you from the store for life, or whatever else – this is not saying that not staying will have no consequences, and it’s not saying that they will necessarily tell you about the fallout of walking away before you do so, but you should ask and try to find out and then make your choice.

    I think the other key takeaway from this experience is to remember that every time you go to your car and it starts and gets out of the space and takes you where you need to go successfully, a part of that result is just plain luck. Even the newest of cars can still have mechanical problems, any car could have a tree fall on it or a firetruck hit it or even part of Skylab just crash out of the clear blue sky onto it and you wouldn’t know until you get to the car, and certainly in the city the risk of being blocked in is high. I once had a FedEx truck block me in on L Street downtown for over 40 minutes, and there was nothing I could do but just sit and wait and get angry about it and wonder why he didn’t just park around the corner or in front of a hydrant or anywhere but *right there beside my car*. So while it’s fair to assume a 97% success rate in getting to your car and being able to use it right that minute, it’s important to plan for that 3% of the time that there’s an issue. I know that when I have an important meeting the next day, I make sure I have $20 in cash on me the night before just on the off chance I have to take a cab in the morning, because one time on my way to a *really* important meeting my car just died right in the middle of traffic and I nearly lost my job for missing the meeting. So be prepared. And try to remember the 10-10-10 rule. If it’s not going to matter to you in ten hours, let it go. If it’s not going to matter to you in ten weeks, let yourself get worked up for a minute and then let it go. Go get drinks with a friend later and bitch about it if that helps, but let it go. If it’s still going to matter to you in ten years, then go all out and get mad and do something about it. But if it’s not, just let it go. It helps to think of all the times in high school that something happened and you said “OMG my life is OVER!!” that you did, in fact, survive, despite how distressed you were about whatever at that moment. I hope your friend gets her car fixed easily!

    • There are a bunch of really good points in there. I agree that the moral of the story is to ask for clarification. A fireman says you’re not allowed to leave (or a cop says that you need to come with them to the station, or that you need to let them search your bag, or whatever), most people will feel like they can’t say no. But, there are situations where they can.

      And I think its also a good point that a lot of this is just “luck” – good or bad. FedEx trucks block you in. Your car breaks down. You get sideswiped and have to go to the hopsitial. Etc. Life doesn’t always cooperate.

      I guess I didn’t really take the post to be complaining about the inconvience. More, was this an okay use of authority – when it required more time than if it were just two normal cars, and it seems like maybe it was just to save the firemen’s butts. You know, if I’m walking down the street and some cop on a power trip arrests me and puts me in the back of a police car for an hour — the issue isn’t the hour of time I lost. Its: was that an appropriate use of authority? I dunno, but that’s how I read the post.

  • This is one of the most ridiculous threads I’ve seen here in awhile. Seriously, what is with all of the assumptions and personal attacks? OP asked a question – did the DC Fire Department have any legal right to detain the car (and subsequently, the driver of the car) on the scene. We all agree that firefighters do great work and that it would be beneficial for the accident to be fully documented if the driver was looking to get reimbursed for the damage. That isn’t the point. The question wasn’t “if you were in that position, what would you do?” – it was asking whether the driver was REQUIRED to stay. There are countless things that may have been more important to the driver than the $500 (or whatever amount) it might cost to fix the damage, so absent of a written law addressing protocol for accidents involving government vehicles, the choice should have been left to the individual (as it would be in a non-gov’t vehicle accident). That being said, I don’t think that any of that matters here. The fire department wasn’t forcing her to follow their protocol, THEY were following their protocol. They could not move their truck until the necessary inspections had been completed. Her car was stuck as a result. As annoying as the situation is, there is also no law that says the firetruck is required to move immediately after the crash, before the government feels everything has been properly documented. Now, I can’t comment on what was SAID to your friend, but the actions themselves don’t seem to be an abuse of power.

  • I had a similar situation…was rear ended (very minor damage) by a DC Dept of Water Vehicle while on my lunch break. A “longer than usual” lunch break if you get my drift…guess what…I had to wait. I waited for nearly an hour while the Police and the driver’s supervisor showed up to take pictures and statements. Did I mention that I was on lunch…never did get to eat and got back to the office more than a little late and missed a very important staff meeting? At least your “friend” got an explanation…I was just told that I needed to wait. I swear DC can’t win for losing with some people.

    Never once did it cross my mind to pull off…

  • I’m amazed that almost everyone has 1) either ignored the OP’s question or 2) given blatantly wrong answers. DCFD cannot detain you in this situation. Full stop. For the most part, only the police can do that – and only within the bounds of the Constitution’s requirement of “reasonable” seizure. They can try to get you to stay – probably even saying things like “we need you to stay” – but they cannot prohibit you from leaving or act as if they are authorized as government agents to prohibit you from leaving. Now, you don’t get to avoid any consequences (e.g., insurance) of declining to stick around, but, if the OP is accurately reporting her friend’s experience, this is a clear abuse of power and worth, at a minimum, filing a complaint, if not demanding compensation for the cancelled client appointment.

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