Media Contact

March 21, 2023

Serious injuries were the result of deliberate indifference by NDOC and NDF

LAS VEGAS — The ACLU of Nevada filed a lawsuit today on behalf of seven people who were badly burned while working as wildland firefighters in April 2021. The firefighters were injured while working in a program in which the Nevada Division of Forestry and the Nevada Department of Corrections press incarcerated people into dangerous service on behalf of the state.

The case is Leavitt v. Nevada, Case No. A-23-867730-C, and it was filed in Clark County.

ACLU of Nevada Legal Director Chris Peterson said:

“Wildland fires are a growing concern for the State of Nevada, and our clients take pride in their contributions to this community, but nothing justifies the treatment they endured. The State of Nevada sent them into dangerous terrain with faulty equipment and inadequate training. When our clients reported they were being burned early in their shift, our clients were ignored, mocked, threatened, and ultimately forced to keep working. By the end of their work detail, our clients had burns across their feet to the point where they could not walk without assistance. When they finally received medical treatment two days later, they endured doctors cutting away the dead tissue caused by the burn without any pain medication. We filed this case to make sure no one is ever treated like this again. Our clients are not disposable. These are human beings, and they have rights.”

Background on the Case

On April 20, 2021, Leavitt and the other plaintiffs were moved from Jean Conservation Camp to a site near Laughlin to contain the remnants of a large fire that had swept through the area. They quickly realized the ground was still smoldering and burning their feet, but when they reported this to their Division of Forestry supervisors, they were ordered to keep working. The soles on one of the plaintiff’s boots literally melted off, and in response, a supervisor merely taped them back on and gave an order to get back to work.

When they were returned to Jean Conservation Camp, the workers found their socks had melded to their feet, and they could not exit the bus without assistance. That night, they could only shower and reach the restroom by crawling on their hands and knees. None of the plaintiffs received medical treatment for their second-degree burns until the next day.

The ACLU of Nevada is seeking to require the NDOC and NDF to develop and implement policies, procedures, and practices to ensure:

  • Practical field training and training on identifying and reporting fire-related injuries offered prior to a deployment where fire-related and heat-related injuries may occur.
  • Training is provided on identifying and reporting damaged and worn-out equipment.
  • Adequate safety equipment is provided to incarcerated firefighters without charge to the firefighters, including any policies and procedures necessary to ensure that damaged and worn out equipment is removed from the State’s inventory.
  • Processes for reporting without retaliation damaged equipment, injuries, and negligent supervision by entities other than NDOC.
  • Discipline for employees of the State of Nevada whose negligence and/or intentional conduct results in injury to incarcerated people doing work on behalf of the state.
  • Proper training for all State of Nevada employees who work with incarcerated firefighters to identify and report injuries related to wildland firefighting.