The former Fire Commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department has filed suit against Mayor Richard Daley claiming the mayor and his chief of staff forced him to resign over false sexual harassment allegations.
Chief John Brooks resigned on May 7, 2010 amidst allegations that he had sexually harassed a fire department payroll auditor. Brook’s lawsuit claims he was wrongfully forced to retire, and threatened with a termination proceeding that would ruin his reputation if he refused to step down. A subsequent investigation conducted by a former judge hired to review the sexual harassment allegations, found them to be baseless.
Chief Brooks’ suit was filed yesterday, April 29, 2011, in Federal Court against both Mayor Daley and former Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco, who was the mayor’s chief of staff at the time.
Perhaps you recall the ill advised public remark Chief Brooks made when asked about the allegations when they first surfaced in March of 2010: “I do not proposition women. I don’t have to. Women usually proposition me. God has blessed me like that.”
Five more men have been indicted in the Massachusetts EMS recertification scandal. This is the third round of indictments since the scandal broke in December of 2008. It has led to the suspension of over 200 EMT and paramedic licenses.
Those indicted in this round were Thomas Codair, Sr., 49, of Cambridge, Brian Connor, 49, of Arlington; Jonathan Kulis, 37, of Wilmington; Michael McPherson, 38, of Billerica and Brian O’Connor, 39, of Woburn.
Codair was indicted on 4 counts of violating Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) regulations by submitting false statements in documents and aiding and abetting others to evade OEMS requirements, as well as three counts of conspiracy. The others were charged with OEMS violations and conspiracy.
The indictments were handed down on Thursday, April 28, 2011 by a Suffolk County Grand Jury. Coincidentally, each of the previous rounds of indictments included five defendants.
You know things are bad when banks start bringing foreclosure proceedings to repossess fire trucks. That is exactly what is going on in the Kinloch Fire Protection District, in St. Louis County, Missouri.
Last year, Kinloch was awarded an AFG grant to purchase a new engine. The grant paid 95 percent of the cost of the truck, and the district financed the balance with Community First National Bank.
When the district was unable to afford the cost of insurance this year, the bank moved to foreclose on the loan. A hearing on Monday, April 25, in St. Louis County Circuit Court was postponed, and the case has been continued until June 29, 2011.
According to Kinloch Fire Chief Darran Kelley, donations have provided the fire district with enough money to pay for the insurance, and the truck is back in service.
In what seems to be a disturbing trend, the third California fire chief in the past 2 weeks has filed suit against his employer. Fire Chief Ron Hittle filed suit last Thursday against the city of Stockton, seeking to challenge the city’s right to fire him. He joins Alameda Fire Chief Dave Kapler and Monterey Park Fire Chief Cathleen Orchard in having filed suit since April 14, 2011.
The complicated background to the Stockton case begins with Chief Hittle, who was appointed fire chief in 2006. At the time, the city charter stated that the fire chief could only be suspended or removed from office for cause, and gave the chief the option to return to his previously held position in the department. Chief Hittle was a Deputy Chief at the time he was promoted.
Last November, Stockton voters approved a charter change that made the fire chief an “at will” employee. Accordingly, the city contends that Chief Hittle has no protection and can be fired at the pleasure of the city. He was placed on leave in March of this year while the city investigates the fact that he attended a Christian leadership conference in August, 2010 at taxpayer expense.
Chief Hittle contends that the new charter provisions do not apply to him, and that in any event they cannot be applied retroactively for something that occurred prior to the charter being amended. He also denies any wrongdoing in connection with the conference.
The city has hired an outside attorney to conduct the investigation. Hittle’s attorneys are quoted as saying “The allegations of professional misconduct or deficient performance … are baseless and, even if they were all true, do not rise to the level to demote, suspend or remove the fire chief from his office.”
An Omaha fire captain has lost her initial request for a court order blocking her transfer out of an EMS staff position.
Captain Melanie Bates filed suit earlier this month against the city of Omaha, Mayor Jim Suttle and Fire Chief Mike McDonnell, alleging her transfer was retaliation for her cooperation with state auditors looking into fire department finances.
The city countered that Captain Bates was moved from her staff position as a grant writer back to a suppression unit to address a staffing need, and cut down on unnecessary overtime. A department wide reorganization had placed a number of staff personnel back into line positions.
In ruling on the case last Thursday, Douglas County District Judge James Gleason concluded “The court finds it to be totally incredible to think that the chief would go to the extent of reorganizing the OFD and transferring 10 percent of the department’s workforce in order to retaliate against the plaintiff.”
On Thursday, the Indiana Supreme Court handed down a decision in the email discipline case of firefighter Bradley Love of the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department. Love was a volunteer/part-time firefighter in the combination fire department.
The case arose back in 2006 , when Love sent an email critical of the department’s spending to a small group involved with a community youth athletic league. The email was sent in response to an email critical of a candidate that Love supported for election as Township Trustee. That candidate ran on a pro-volunteer platform that sought to replace the career fire chief and rein in spending. The April 24, 2006 email stated:
We have 5 new sport utility vehicles that have been purchased in the last 4 years that are given to [career] officers to have free use of. I see them in Castleton, Greenwood and all over the State. We pay for them, gas and insurance. These gas guzzling SUV’s [sic] are being driven home to Anderson, Greenfield, Franklin Township and other area’s [sic] outside of the township every day and YOU pay for it. They do not make emergency runs after 4PM and are just a perk that WE pay for.
A copy of the email made its way to Fire Chief Robert Rehfus who concluded it contained false information. On May 17, 2006, the chief terminated Love for conduct unbecoming a firefighter and lying. The termination letter stated:
While it is every persons [sic] right to support and vote for whoever they so choose, it is totally inappropriate to lie about a person or several persons. One of those persons that you lied about was me in an E-mail to the New Palestine Soccer League. To be specific you stated that I did not make runs after 1600 hours. That would be a lie and you know it.
In what can only be described as an epidemic, yet another volunteer fire company has been victimized by a trusted insider who steals large sums of money.
The former treasurer of the Steelton Volunteer Fire Company, in Steelton, Pennsylvania, is accused of stealing $55,000 over the past three years. This is the 53rd case in my nationwide database where a volunteer fire department official (usually a treasurer, president, or chief), has taken fire company funds since 2008.
As unsettling as the numbers may be, the reality is that many more cases are going upreported by fire departments that do not want the publicity that accompanies the arrest of a high ranking official.
Here a link to the last case. I would be remiss to leave the impression that such theft is limited to the volunteer fire service. There have also been a number of firefighter unions that have been ripped off by their officials. One distinction – the union theft cases usually involve smaller sums of money.
Fundamentally, the problem is one of human nature: some people are very trusting of others, particularly their co-workers – and that includes most firefighters. Other people can’t seem to recognize the difference between someone else’s property and their own. Such thieves are the minority in the fire service – but without proper controls in our organizations, the trusting nature of firefighters makes us easy pray. All organizations (volunteer and career) need to have financial checks and balances, as well as routine audits.
What do you get when you uncover government wrongdoing, and have to report it to a police chief who reports to officials from the community where the alleged wrongdoing took place? In the case of Longboat Key, Florida firefighter Matt Taylor, you get sent to a psychiatrist.
The story began when Taylor began documenting what he believed was mismanagement and possible criminal behavior related to the town’s pension fund. In December, 2010, he shared his suspicions with his fire chief, but the disclosure ended badly when he was disciplined for a variety of minor matters – all of which would otherwise appear to be valid disciplinary concerns had the timing been a bit different.
He next sought to report the matter to the Attorney General and the state’s Ethics Commission, but was told he needed to first report the matter to the local police. He diligently met with police chief Al Hogle on January 21, 2011, who following the meeting sent a memo to town officials and the fire chief suggesting that Taylor needed to see a psychiatrist. The memo stated:
“I had a one and one-half hour interview with an employee this morning that has very serious mental health issues. I’m working on a detailed set of notes to explain some of the issues. As soon as I get those notes completed, I will get with the fire chief and come to see you to pursue a Fitness for Duty issue. This is not just anxiety, rather a sad state of mental reasoning deterioration.”
Before the day was over, Taylor was ordered to take a drug test and be examined by a psychiatrist. He passed both the drug test and the psych eval, and now a full state police investigation is underway into his pension allegations.
Taylor has been restored to full duty and is credited with making a water rescue earlier this month. He has filed a claim against the town for defamation, which is a preliminary step to filing a lawsuit. According to his attorney, if the claim is denied Taylor will sue both the town and Chief Hogle.
Another California fire chief has filed an employment related suit against a city, the second such filing in a week. Chief Dave Kapler filed suit against the city of Alameda, claiming he was wrongfully forced out of his job last fall.
Chief Kapler claims that a councilwoman conspired with the firefighters’ union force him out, and that the Interim City Manager acceded to their wishes without justification.
However, last August the chief was photographed fueling his personal vehicle, a BMW Z4, at the city pumps. When the matter became publicized, Chief Kapler responded that he had permission from City Manager Debra Kurita to refill his personal car using city fuel. The situation created a bit of a public furor, and when asked about granting Chief Kapler permission, Kurita cited a “miscommunication”.
The Chief was placed on administrative leave in September, 2010 and threatened repeatedly with termination. He submitted a letter of resignation of November 5, 2010.
The suit asks for $2 million in damages, and names the City of Alameda, Councilwoman Lena Tam, Kurita and the former Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant (who issued Chief Kapler a termination letter), as defendants.
An Indiana firefighter who had a lung removed and suffered a heart attack but never the less wanted to stay on the job, has received a monetary settlement from the City of Jeffersonville following a Federal discrimination lawsuit.
Major Irvin “Mac” Kircher, a firefighter with the Jeffersonville Fire Department since 1971, had a lung removed in 2002 and suffered a heart attack July 20, 2008. Somehow his cardiologist approved him to return to work in November 2008. Kircher was assigned administrative duties until March 23, 2009, at which point he was terminated because the city concluded he would never be able to return to full duty.
The termination cost Major Kircher somewhere around $300,000 that he would have been entitled to had be been allowed to continue working under a drop program. He filed suit in state court and later in Federal court alleging violation of his due process rights (no hearing prior to termination) and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The settlement followed Federal court mediation efforts, and is reported to be for $130,000. For more on the story.
The fire chief of Monterey Park, California has filed suit alleging she was discriminated against by city officials because she is gay. Cathleen Orchard’s lawsuit claims she is wrongfully being forced out of her job as fire chief, a position she had held since June, 2005.
The suit was filed on April 14, 2011 in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging gender and sexual orientation discrimination, harassment, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She alleges that city officials, including council members, shunned her, attempted to discredit her, and in at least one case berated her in public.
News reports about the case have had conflicting information about whether Chief Orchard had stepped down, but the Pasadena Star is reporting that she is still the chief, but out on leave.
A North Carolina fire department that had been fined $81,300 for 18 OSHA violations, has agreed to settle the case for $57,000.
The High Point Fire Department was cited by North Carolina state OSHA on March 11, 2011 following an investigation prompted by complaints from firefighters about unsafe conditions. State officials cited High Point for 18 serious violations, including two-in two out violations, PPE, and training violations. Here is a copy of the actual citation listing each of the violations. HighPointNC.
Last week the department agreed to settle the citations, and correct the deficiencies. For more on the story.
Local officials in Centreville, Illinois are investigating the discovery of marijuana in a local fire station. State Police Narcotics Commander Joe Beliveau reported that police found between 30 and 500 grams of marijuana in a filing cabinet at the Golden Garden Fire Department during a recent search.
The search was conducted in conjunction with a raid on a house that netted roughly 5 pounds of marijuana and $15,000 worth of estacy. One fire department employee is suspected, but no charges have been filed. Commander Beliveau indicated that there was no evidence that drugs were being sold or delivered from the station, but rather were stored there.
A battalion chief in the Columbus Fire Department has lost her race discrimination lawsuit against the city.
BC Yolanda Arnold filed suit in US District Court in January, 2008 after her leadership of the fire prevention division was subject to several investigations. The investigations were prompted by reports that inspectors were not doing inspections and collecting overtime.
Two separate investigations found no wrongdoing, but Chief Arnold was disciplined for lying to investigators, suspended for one week, and transferred out of fire prevention. The situation prompted 10 Columbus firefighters who had served as fire inspectors to file a total of three lawsuits alleging race discrimination.
Judge Michael H. Watson ruled against Chief Arnold’s claims of race discrimination and retaliation, finding she lacked proof to support her allegations. Judge Watson also dismissed two of the three companion cases brought by the fire inspectors.
Arnold and her attorney vowed to appeal the ruling.
Last Tuesday, a group of 24 black firefighters filed suit against the Jacksonville (Florida) Fire Rescue, and Jacksonville Firefighters IAFF Local 122 claiming the department’s promotional process discriminates against minorities.
A decorated FDNY medic has filed a lawsuit in Federal court alleging he has been discriminated against under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Paramedic Gary Smiley, 48, alleges that the city improperly denied him injured-on-duty status while he was recovering from reconstructive sinus surgery related to injuries suffered in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. He also claims he was later retaliated against because he complained.
The suit was filed last May, but is making news again as the city is seeking to have the case dismissed.
The complaint refers to Smiley as an “elite” employee, “one of the most highly decorated Paramedics employed by” the FDNY, with over 100 documented pre-hospital resuscitation saves. Smiley claims following his initial compliant to superiors about his IOD status, he was removed from a “Special Operations” rescue assignment with a 12% pay differential, and also removed as a senior paramedic instructor from which he earned another $10,000 per year.
He further alleges that following his formal complaint to the EEOC about his IOD status, the city decertified him as a hazmat tech, and removed him from the “prestigious Haz-Tac Unit”.
FDNY alleges that Smiley was disciplined twice in 2009 for “performance related” issues, and that the he was properly charged sick leave for the absences related to his disability following surgery.
Here is a copy of the amended complaint, filed after the city’s motion for summary judgment. AmendedComplaint
A severely injured firefighter from Warrior Run Area Fire Department in Pennsylvania received a $10 million verdict last Friday against the arsonist who set the fire that caused the injury. The arsonist was also a firefighter.
The case was tried before Judge Charles H. Saylor, who awarded Hawley $7.54 million, and $2.5 million to his wife.
The reality is that the Hawleys’ are unlikely to see any of the $10 million. Cyphers is serving a 12 to 25-year prison sentence at the State Correctional Institution, and will likely be in his 70s before he is released. He had been a firefighter in Washingtonville, PA.
The driver of a Boston ladder truck that collided with an off-duty Boston police officer last week, has been cited for failing to stop at a red light even though the apparatus was responding to an alarm.
The accident occurred last Tuesday, April 5, 2011 and sent both the police officer, Darrell Vinson, and the driver of the ladder, Francis X. Tierney, to the hospital. The apparatus, Ladder 29, was responding with lights and siren to a vehicle accident at the time.
The Massachusetts State Police conducted the accident investigation and on Friday cited Tierney for not stopping for the red light controlling the intersection where the accident occurred. Massachusetts law allows fire apparatus to proceed through red traffic lights ONLY after first coming to a complete stop.
Here is the language of the statute:
Massachusetts General laws Chapter 89, Section 7B. The driver of a vehicle of a fire, police or recognized protective department and the driver of an ambulance shall be subject to the provisions of any statute, rule, regulation, ordinance or by-law relating to the operation or parking of vehicles, except that a driver of fire apparatus while going to a fire or responding to an alarm, or the driver of a vehicle of a police or recognized protective department or the driver of an ambulance, in an emergency and while in performance of a public duty or while transporting a sick or injured person to a hospital or other destination where professional medical services are available, may drive such vehicle at a speed in excess of the applicable speed limit if he exercises caution and due regard under the circumstances for the safety of persons and property, and may drive such vehicle through an intersection of ways contrary to any traffic signs or signals regulating traffic at such intersection if he first brings such vehicle to a full stop and then proceeds with caution and due regard for the safety of persons and property, unless otherwise directed by a police officer regulating traffic at such intersection. The driver of any such approaching emergency vehicle shall comply with the provisions of section fourteen of chapter ninety when approaching a school bus which has stopped to allow passengers to alight or board from the same, and whose red lamps are flashing.
The law is consistent with NFPA 1500 and best practices, but is unusual in so much as most states do not require the mandatory stop. The case points out the importance of firefighters knowing the law of their state.
Two Texas firefighters have been terminated following an investigation into sexually explicit photos of nude men found in their fire station.
The two unnamed firefighters were employed by the city of Victoria Fire Department. Victoria, a city of 63,000, is southwest of Houston. The photos were part of a collage that included a nude and partially nude men kissing and in compromising positions.
The matter came to light last month, when an investigation was initiated following a complaint about sexual harassment.
An argument between two New Jersey volunteer firefighters over a fire boat Monday evening resulted in one of them being stabbed and the other facing criminal charges. The two were working on the fire boat at their station when an argument escalated into an altercation.
Police allege that firefighter Travis Donka, 22, stabbed a 20 year old firefighter in the forearm with a lock blade knife. The incident occurred at the Lincoln Park Volunteer Fire Department Hose Company 1 on Chapel Hill Road in Lincoln Park.
The victim was transported to the hospital, treated and released. Donka was charged with one count of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, and released on bail. According to news reports, he has been terminated from the Lincoln Park Volunteer Fire Department.
The Mobile, Alabama firefighters’ union is preparing to file suit against the city for refusing to allow union dues to be payroll deducted.
The city’s position is that a new ethics law that became effective in 2011 prohibits them from collecting union dues. Alabama, a right to work state, enacted strict laws in December 2010 that restrict payroll deductions for union dues, and make it a criminal offense for payroll deducted union dues to be used for political purposes.
Suits challenging the law have already been filed by firefighter unions in Decatur and Cullman, Alabama, as well as by teachers unions. The law allows for union dues to be deducted if the union certifies that it will not use any of the withheld funds for political purposes.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers in the general practice of law. The Court does not license or certify any lawyer as an expert or specialist in any field of practice.
Curt Varone has over 39 years of experience in the fire service, and 27 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and writes the Fire Law column for Firehouse Magazine.