Athens anticipating lawsuit over fire training mishap

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – The city of Athens is anticipating a lawsuit over a fire training mishap at the State Side Technology Park last year.

Service-Safety Director Andy Stone updated the City Council about the situation at its meeting on Feb. 19.

The training mishap caused significant water damage to QuidelOrtho’s Athens offices.

The company and the building’s owner have filed up to $1,000,000 in damage claims to the city’s insurer, according to Stone.

Stone said that on Sept. 20, the Athens Fire Department hosted training exercises at QuidelOrtho’s office that consisted of multiple water movement exercises.

“This included relay pumping, drop tank and drafting, and large stream application,” he said.

AFD was joined at the training by the Richland Area Fire Department and the Chaucey, Waterloo, and The Plains Volunteer Fire Departments.

Stone said this site has been used for training before, and permission was given by QuidelOrtho on Sept. 18.

He said a significant change in water pressure in the fire suppression system caused pipes to burst and flood the building.

Stone said that once discovered, “the fire department and other staff helped Quidel staff and the building owner turn off water and clean up what they could in and around the building.”

Two weeks later, on Oct. 3, QuidelOrtho and the building owner filed an insurance claim with the city’s carrier, The Public Entities Pool of Ohio (PEP).

“The damages are estimated to be significant, and costs are likely to be an excess of $1,000,000 with claims from the tenant and the property owners,” Stone said.

He said PEP then retained outside legal counsel on Oct. 10 because of the complicated nature of the claim since the parties include “the building owner, the tenants, the Athens Fire Department, and the several volunteer fire departments.”

Since then, Stone said the city’s insurer has conducted an investigation into the matter and a review of all parties’ insurance policies.

“The city is taking this matter seriously and is in communication with all parties on a regular basis,” he said.

But building owner Brent Hayes said that’s not the case.

“There’s just been zero communication or dialogue with the tenant Quidel,” he said at the Feb. 19 City Council meeting. “No one from this city went to talk to this tenant, including the mayor.

Hayes said another inaccuracy in Stone’s report was there had not been any agreement on a mediation plan to settle the claim.

“We’ve never agreed to a mediation,” he said. “We just want our money back we’ve paid out of our pockets to local contractors.”

Hayes said there is around $550,000 in outstanding payments left to be paid to the cleanup company ServPro.

“They keep calling our tenant and us as if we don’t pay our bills,” he said. “But this isn’t our bill. This is Athens city or Athens city insurer’s bill.”

But Stone said that he is not sure who will be paying for the damages.

He said because the city is a municipality it is not inclined to cover all costs in some liability situations.

There is currently no lawsuit against the city, but Stone said typically situations like this lead to lawsuits and he is anticipating one just in case.