Justify how criminal law changed the fire industry


            Over the years, the issue of law has been of a huge influence and concern in the fire industry. The fire industry is concerned with dangerous activities in which lives and property are lost or people are seriously injured. This has led to the establishment of different laws dealing with different issues that occur in the fire industry. The laws address different issues, parties and requirements. For instance, there are laws that govern the fire safety requirements that buildings and industries should have at any given time to help in the prevention and management of fire cases. There are also laws that guide the operation of fire fighters. For instance, there are laws that allow for entry into any property by fighters when fighting fire, use of sirens and roads. There also laws that govern the operation of fire departments and firms. There exists a huge relationship between law and the fire industry. An example of a case that involved the fire industry and criminal law are the Walensky fire case whose source was a coconut grove. Another example of a case that helped shape the relationship is the Grogan case that occurred after the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire. However, has criminal law been of influence to the fire industry and in what ways? Is the influence beneficial to the fire industry?

There has been a number of criminal law cases that have helped alter and improve the fire industry. The cases involved the performance of actions that were illegal in nature. When the cases were taken to the courts for arbitration, the outcome was statements that affected the fire industry. The cases led to the development of court precedents or case law that helped improve the fire industry. Most had positive impacts on the fire industry.

The case laws have caused permanent changes and major improvements in the fire industry. The case laws have helped minimize the number of cases of fire outbreaks reducing the amount of loss brought about by fire outbreaks. This has been possible due to many reasons. For instance, there is a case that requires the individual that causes a fire to perform reasonable actions to stop the fire. There is also a case that requires an individual who causes a fire to alert the fire department immediately. This improves its efficiency. Before, the Constitution and common law were very shallow on issues concerning the fire industry. In the past, one could easily escape punishment even when responsible for a fire outbreak. However, the case laws make it hard and difficult for individuals that cause fire to escape punishment. This ensures that all persons responsible for any loss caused by a fire brought about by their actions are held accountable.

There has been a number of criminal law cases that helped define, modify and improve the Fire industry. An appropriate example of a case that helped improve the fire laws on the fire industry is the case, Commonwealth V Welansky 316 Mass. 383 (1944). The case involved the owner of a classy nightclub by the name Welansky. Walensky was away in hospital when a bartender unintentionally put the club on fire. Although Walensky was not at the club at the time the fire started, he had been completely in charge in the running of the hotel. The club’s fire exits were poorly marked and closed. One of the exits had to be broken from outside by firemen to rescue people and also the club was over crowded which lead to the death of about 500 people. Many more were seriously injured or burnt. Walensky was arrested and found guilty of involuntary man-slaughter. It was argued that Walensky had acted in a reckless manner. His failure to replace to ensure repair of defective wiring, prevent the putting in place of inflammable decorations and lack of appropriate fire exits had led to the injuries and deaths of the people. He had acted recklessly and negligently. Walensky argued on the basis that he did not intentionally kill anyone that he took no action at all and was away from the nightclub at the time of the fire. He argued that he wasn’t criminally accountable and had done nothing reckless thus wasn’t liable (Esposito, 2005). Walensky argued that he hadn’t broken any part of common law thus wasn’t liable to any criminal offence.

However, when the appeal was taken to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, the court argued that involuntary manslaughter occurred when one acted recklessly causing the death of another because of the recklessness different from voluntary manslaughter which occurs when one intentionally kills another person. The court held that Walensky owed his clients a duty of care. He was also responsible for the management and maintenance of the fire exits. It was argued that intentional failure to carry out maintenance activity in reckless disregard of the possible negative impacts the failure may cause leads to the involved individual been involved in a criminal act. Recklessness results to a criminal offence. Walensky had failed to do what an ordinary person would have done in an ordinary capacity (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 2007). Walensky was found guilty and responsible for the cases of the dead persons.

There was also the Commonwealth Vs Levesque 436 Mass. 443 (2002) case in which a homeless party was living in an abandoned warehouse. After an accidental and negligent act, fire started in the whole building and spread to the surrounding buildings. Because they feared they would be in problem for trespassing, the group failed to call firefighters. The fire spread quickly to surrounding buildings. Fortunately, somebody managed to call firefighters. By the time they arrived, the fire had already spread and was out of control. In an attempt to manage the fire, about eight firefighters lost their lives.

When the issue was taken to court, it was argued that in cases where an individual creates a life threatening risk on another individual, he is under duty to ensue that takes reasonable steps to lessen the risk he created. In case he recklessly fails to take any action, it can result to manslaughter. In the above case, it was decided that the group’s actions were unjustifiable and reckless. The group caused the fire but failed to call 911.They were guilty because they knew that failing to call for firefighters would result to great harm and they still failed to.

Another criminal case that has impacted on the fire industry was the case of Commonwealth V Cali 247 Mass. 20, 141 N.E. 510 (1923). The case led to the development of the precedent that when an individual accidentally starts a fire, but deliberately fails to extinguish the fire, he will be guilty of any harm caused by the fire. However, for the individual to be guilty, he should have been in a position to stop the fire but failed to. The case helped deal with the people near a place that fire has started or that cause the fire.

In the first two cases above, the common trait in them is the issue of determination of existence of civil and criminal liability despite the unintentional nature of the acts. In the cases, there was a high chance of causing harm, there was also a high risk of the aggrieved suffering serious harm and there was actual awareness of the presence of the harm. In both cases, the instances of common law or existing laws that were broken by the guilty were not stated. However, the injuries and loss suffered by the victims is what was put into consideration when deciding the cases. In both cases, it was argued that the acts and the omissions of the guilty had caused the harm to the victims. In both cases, the issue of reckless conduct resulting to involuntary manslaughter was what the courts put into consideration in deciding their cases. It was decided that reckless conduct consisted of an affirmative act without caring of the possible harm the act may cause to another person. Recklessness also involved intentional failure to provide a duty of care to individual’s clients. It involves an individual not caring of the negative impacts non-provision of duty will have on the client.

The cases discussed above are just some of the examples that helped change the fire industry. In common law, there are very few instances of laws that deal with fire industry. Most of those that exist in the constitution and common law only deal with issues fire fighters and fire departments. For instance, some deal with issues of establishment, funding, qualifications and rights of the fire fighters and departments. The case laws initiated on the basis of criminal law are therefore critical as they deal with issues involving prevention of occurrence of fire and the responsibility for loss caused by fire.

For instance, the Commonwealth V Welansky 316 Mass. 383 (1944) case dealt with the issue of accountability after fire outbreaks. The case law made it possible for one to be held accountable even though one never caused the fire on the basis of negligence (Esposito, 2005). This ensured that people took measures to prevent occurrence of fire. The Commonwealth V Cali 247 Mass. 20, 141 N.E. 510 (1923) case law ensured that incase on accidentally started a fire, one carried out some reasonable measures to put out the fire. The effect of this is that the number of cases of fire outbreaks has gone down. This is critical as the best way to reduce the loss caused to fires is by minimizing the chance of occurrence. The case laws also ensure that all the responsible persons for any fire outbreaks are brought to book.

The cases have also helped improve the performance of the fire industry. For instance, the Commonwealth V Levesque 436 Mass. 443 (2002) case ensured that when one accidentally started a fire, one did all he could to alert the fire fighters as quickly as possible. This has had the effect of ensuring that incase there is a fire outbreak, firefighters are called immediately. They are able to get to the place of the fire before the fire is uncontrollable and before immense property destruction and live loss happens. The case laws thus increase fire fighters and fire departments efficiency.


            In conclusion, criminal law and the fire industry have had a positive relationship which one helps improve the other. Criminal law has led to the development of different case laws that have helped change and improve the fire industry. However, most people do not know of the existence of these case laws. Therefore, measures should be put in place to educate society members concerning these case laws. The effect of this will help improve the fire industry even more.


















Esposito, J.C (2005). Fire in the Grove: the Cocoanut Grove tragedy and its aftermath Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press

Using one of the most infamous fire incidents in American history as its basis, this text provides an appropriate representation of the effects of a flawed fire-prevention infrastructure. Lapses in safety codes and underlying laws are also depicted with their contribution to the horrific events being clearly noted.


Johnson, P. E. & Moskovitz, M. (1985). Criminal law: cases, materials, and text.
Santa Fe, NM: West Publisher Company

This text provides an insight into criminal law from a theoretical standpoint, with various case studies being utilized to set precedence in a wide range of ethical, philosophical and legal principles. A clear depiction of criminal law as pertains the fire industry is present, with various laws governing institutions being underlined in the process.


Massachusetts. Supreme Judicial Court (2007). Massachusetts reports: cases argued and determined in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Houghton, MI: H.O. Houghton and Co.

A compilation of criminal and business law reports that have graced the halls of justice in the state of Massachusetts. Included in the report are various fire-related cases as a clear depiction of the impact of criminal law on fire and overall safety codes.


Pennsylvania State University (2008). National Fire Codes 2008 Supplement: Fall Revision. Cycle Rock Hill, SC: National Fire Protection

A revision of the nation’s fundamental fire codes as per Fall, 2008 including several additions that previous documents may have overlooked in the past. The influence of criminal law utilized in various precedence is also noted in its contribution to the amendment process.


University of Michigan (2007). Public documents of Massachusetts. Flint, MI: The University of Michigan.

A collection of legal documents and briefs considered as being critical in the history of the state of Massachusetts. Various criminal cases and their outcomes related to ineffective fire and overall safety codes are indicated with a clear indication of the changes made during the process.


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