R.I. justices uphold ruling that Dunn’s Corners District doesn’t have to respond to fire calls from old BDA mill

R.I. justices uphold ruling that Dunn’s Corners District doesn’t have to respond to fire calls from old BDA mill

The Westerly Sun
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PROVIDENCE — A Superior Court judge’s ruling that the Dunn’s Corners Fire Department is not obligated to provide fire protection to the former Bradford Dyeing Association property was upheld by the state Supreme Court in a decision released Tuesday.

BPF Realty LLC, which bought the 61-ace, five building property in 2010, had appealed Superior Court Judge Bennett R. Gallo’s 2017 ruling. The original lawsuit, which Gallo heard, was filed by the Dunn’s Corners Fire District. The district asked the judge to rule that it was not required to respond to calls for service at the property because the property was intentionally excluded when the boundaries of the Bradford Fire District were drawn in 1937. Bradford was chartered by the state in that year. Dunn’s Corners has provided fire protection services to the village of Bradford, under a contract, since 2013.

Gallo agreed with the Dunn’s Corners District and ruled that the district did not have to respond to the former mill property. The justices upheld Gallo’s decision.

In 2015, the fire district sued BPF Realty, claiming it was owed $20,000 for responding to numerous false alarms. The suit also asked that the Westerly Ambulance Corps be enjoined from dispatching Dunn’s Corners firefighters to calls at the property. The corps provides dispatch services under a contract with Dunn’s Corners and other fire districts in the area.

Robert Lombardo, the attorney for BPF Realty and its owner Nick Greseto, argued in the original case that Gallo could not rule in the case because the Bradford Fire District had not been made a party to it. BPF said it wasn’t sure if the property was in the Bradford district.

In the appeal, Lombardo argued that the Superior Court did not have jurisdiction because the judgment sought by Dunn’s Corners would not end the controversy,  since the ambulance corps would not know how to handle calls for service,  and because the case did not involve all of the parties involved in the dispute. He also re-argued his position that the BPF property should be considered part of the Bradford district.

In a decision written by Justice Paul Suttell, the court found that Lombardo, during arguments before it on March 7, maintained that the Town of Westerly should have been named in the original case but had referred to the Bradford Fire District as the so-called indispensable party. “As this latter contention was not presented to the hearing justice, it has been waived,” Suttell wrote.

On the question of whether the BPF property is in the Bradford Fire District, Suttell said it appeared that Lombardo had conceded during the March 7 hearing that the property was not in any fire district. Suttell also noted that a special legislative act of the state General Assembly in 1980 stated that the property was excluded from the district. “Even if BPF were not willing to make such a concession, it is difficult to conceive of a more difficult obstacle to overcome than a special legislative act by the General Assembly,” the opinion said.

Relief sought by BPF Realty “would more appropriately be achieved through legislation or negotiation,” Suttell added.

On Tuesday Lombardo said he was not surprised by the court’s decision but continued to question whether the situation had been resolved. He noted that the Dunn’s Corners Fire Department was dispatched and responded to the property for a medical call last week. The call shows that the controversy is ongoing, he said.

“Declaratory relief is not supposed to be granted if it doesn’t terminate the controversy or bind all of the entities,” Lombardo said by telephone.

Matthew Thomsen, Dunn’s Corners Fire District moderator, declined to comment in detail, saying he had not yet read the court’s decision.

“I can say and the public should know we have been meeting with the ambulance corps and the relationship between the two entities is a good one. We expect to continue working together,” Thomsen said.

Ronald McDonald III, acting chief and president of the Westerly Ambulance Corps, said he has not yet read the decision and had not been able to reach the corps’ lawyer.

“We will comply with whatever the court orders and continue to work with Dunn’s Corners,” MacDonald said.

The challenge faced by the ambulance corps comes when it receives a report of a fire or other emergency at the BPF property, MacDonald said.

“Our concern is when we get a call from someone we don’t want to leave that person up in the air. Also, if there is a fire, we’re concerned about putting the neighborhood and surrounding towns in jeopardy if the fire spreads,” MacDonald said.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com


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