Archives for junior-firefighters
A 63 page complaint has been filed in Federal Court in Pennsylvania alleging that three firefighters, two of whom are also police officers, had inappropriate sexual relationships with a 15 year old junior firefighter.
The suit, filed under the name of Jane Doe, alleges that Old Forge Fire Chief Lawrence A. Semenza, 48, firefighter James Krenitsky, 34 and firefighter Walter Chiavacci, 47, engaged in various sexual activities with the victim between 2004 and 2007. All three men are also facing criminal charges in connection with the allegations.
Chief Semenza is also the police chief in Old Forge and Krenitsky is a police captain. The suit alleges that the men used their positions as both firefighters and police officers to take advantage of the junior firefighter.
The suit was filed on Friday, November 9, 2012 and also names the Borough of Old Forge, the Old Forge Police Department and the Old Forge Fire Department. The suit alleges violations of Doe’s due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Semenza, Krenitsky and Chiavacci; § 1983 claims against the municipal entities for failure to promulgate policies to prevent the misconduct, failure to supervise, and failure to train; and tort actions for negligence, assault, battery, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Attorneys for Chief Semenza and Captain Krenitsky insist their clients have been wrongly accused. Attorney Jason Mattioli, representing Captain Krenitsky, said “As it’s been from day one, 100 percent innocent… it’s all about money.” Chief Semenza’s attorney David J. Solfanelli added “We’re not surprised to see a lawsuit.”
Here is a copy of the suit. Complaint
If the story sounds familiar, we had another one from New Jersey earlier this week.
A sexual misconduct allegation involving a minor female firefighter in New Jersey that prompted three separate lawsuits has been settled… in part.
Two of three suits filed by John and Patricia Newton, parents of Jordan Newton, against Greenwich Township, the Greenwich Township Fire Department, and several ranking officers have been settled for $123,000.
The suits allege that former Fire Chief Wade MacFarland and former Assistant Chief Charles Reinhart engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships with Jordan, and that she was later sexually harassed and mistreated by the fire department. Her parents also claim that when they tried to raise concerns about what occurred, neither the department nor the township did anything to investigate or discipline those involved.
Left intact is a lawsuit against Charles Reinhart that alleges that he “forced [Jordan], against her will, to engage in sexual intercourse with him and forced her to perform fellatio upon him.”
Both of the settled suits were originally filed in Superior Court in Cumberland County, New Jersey, and removed to Federal Court. The settlement includes a confidentiality agreement and a provision stating the settlement shall not be construed as an admission of liability.
Among the other terms of the settlement that the fire department agreed to were:
- To increase the minimum age of its junior program to 18 years old;
- Improvements in its disciplinary policy and enforcement;
- Adoption of a sexual harassment policy and training for all members.
Here is a copy of the two complaints and the settlement agreement. GreenwichNewton
The investigation into a live fire training accident in Pennsylvania last month continues with the state Department of Labor and Industry sending a warning letter to the Jackson Township Fire Department.
A 16 year old junior firefighter was seriously injured in the accident which reportedly occurred when someone used 2 ½ gallons of gasoline to ignite a training fire. The youth was hospitalized for 6 days and sustained first, second and third degree burns.
The incident raises a number of legal issues with both civil and criminal implications, including: violation of occupational safety and health laws, violation of child labor laws, negligence, and reckless endangerment.
Here is a link to a news video about the case that I was unable to embed.
While the use of gasoline for a live fire training activity is incredibly stupid, the case should serve as a warning to any fire department with junior members – even if you do not anticipate such stupidity happening in your department.
There is a very real need to think through the roles that junior members can safely and legally perform. If you have not realized it yet, child labor laws do indeed apply to junior members and these laws (both Federal and state) prohibit exposing youths to dangerous conditions. Every state is different so it is important to know what your law provides. Some states have detailed regulations on junior firefighters and others do not.
A Virginia firefighter has pled guilty to reduced charges in a sexual assault case involving a minor firefighter.
Matthew Thomas Jones, a firefighter with the Read Mountain Fire and Rescue, pled guilty Monday to two misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was originally charged with rape and sodomy.
The incident allegedly took place last November at Read Mountain Fire and Rescue’s headquarters station. Jones is 26 and the victim is a minor.
A Botetourt Circuit Court judge sentenced Jones to 1 year in prison, but suspended six months of the term. Jones will also be required to undergo counseling and pay $1,000 in restitution.
It is an occurrence that has become all too familiar: a group of young firefighters set out with the intention of hazing a younger member, but in the end the hazers end up arrested.
The latest occurrence was in Vermont involving members of the Hyde Park Town Fire Department and the North Hyde Park/Eden Fire Department. On March 23, 2012, Sydney Mclean-Lipinski, 25, Joshua Kapusta, 24, and Nate Jobe, 21, decided to haze a firefighter cadet by restraining him and shooting him with airsoft guns.
According to Vermont State Police, the trio intended to “restrain the juvenile with handcuffs and ropes, then take the juvenile for a ride in the back of a truck on bumpy roads where they would leave him in a remote part of the Town of Eden.” The plot came undone when the youth escaped. The three firefighters have been charged with unlawful restraint and simple assault. They are due in court on May 30, 2012.
Over the last few years we have seen cases of hazing result in arrests in numerous other states including Connecticut and New York, and as well as other cases where the members involved were disciplined/terminated. For that reason, many department have adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward hazing.
A 20 year old volunteer firefighter from Pennsylvania has been charged with indecent assault for sexually assaulting a junior firefighter last year. Joseph Traino, of the Chambers Hill Fire Company, was in court yesterday on charges that date back to October, 2011.
He has been suspended from the fire company pending further investigation.
A volunteer firefighter is in serious trouble in Pennsylvania for what appears to have been a highly inappropriate prank involving a minor. Chad Richey, 29, of the Citizen’s Hose Company No. 1 in Glassport, has been charged with sexual abuse of a child by filming a sexual act, two counts of criminal solicitation, and corruption of a minor in connection with an incident that occurred in the fire station on May 25, 2011.
Richey alleged coerced a minor into exposing himself and surprising a community service worker who was in the station listening to headphones. The minor waved his private parts in front of the startled worker as Richey filmed the event with his cellphone camera.
The joke probably would have gone unnoticed but for a video surveillance camera in the fire station that captured the entire episode. During the investigation the minor said that Richey encouraged and dared him to do it.
Richey was arraigned before Glassport Magisterial District Judge Armand A. Martin on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. He will be back in court in September when the case proceeds to trial court in Pittsburgh. More on the story.
A bizarre story is emerging from Piermont, New York where a father is alleging that his son was sodomized as part of a ritualized hazing of new members in a volunteer fire department.
Mark Bernstein has filed suit against the Village of Piermont and three named firefighters in Federal Court. The suit alleges that the village knew about the ritualized hazing and “took no steps to prevent this rite of passage and as such acquiesced in its implementation.”
The assault allegedly took place in August of 2010 when the youth was 16 years old. The suit seeks damages for battery, the tort of “outrage”, and a Constitutional due process violation in so far as the village was “deliberately indifferent” to the practice.
The complaint reads as follows:
“Fifth: That upon information and belief, sometime prior to Aug. 14, 2010, and on occasions too numerous to mention, the defendant the Village of Piermont promulgated, fostered and implemented a policy whereby new arrivals (‘initiates’) into the position of volunteer firefighter would be subject to a form of ‘hazing’ whereby fellow firefighters would restrain the initiate’s movements, depriving him of his freedom of movement, expose their genitals to the said initiate, and attempt to forcibly cause the initiate to place his hand upon and/or fondle the genitals of various members of the Piermont Fire Department, and/or force the said initiate against his will by dint of duress to sodomize an existing firefighter.
“Sixth: That upon information and belief, the aforementioned exercise of what the defendant The Village of Piermont deemed to be ‘hazing’ was done to each and every named individual defendant herein and further deemed to be a ritual utilized as a ‘rite of passage,’ a prerequisite in acceptance into the Village of Piermont Fire Department”.
Here is a copy of the complaint: BernsteinComplaint
The suit was filed May 31, 2011 in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Incidentally the tort of outrage is also referred to as intentional infliction of severe emotional distress.
Three named individuals, Michael Bettman, Danny Goswick Jr. and Sam Kropp, are facing charges of endangering the welfare of a minor and sexual harassment.
A Carlisle, Pennsylvania fire captain has been accused of sexually assaulting a 13 year of female junior firefighter. Dana Franklin Jr., 22, has been charged with statutory sexual assault, indecent assault, and endangering the welfare of children. He was arraigned last week.
On May 7, 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that a fire department would not be held liable for sexual abuse committed by a former fire chief. The suit was one of two brought by a former cadet at the Village of Thornton, Illinois Fire Department alleging that Fire Chief John Klaczak physically and sexually abused him in 2001. Chief Klaczak was fired in July, 2002, and pled guilty to sexual abuse charges in 2005.
Former Cadet Steven Wragg filed one suit in Illinois state court alleging assault, intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, and negligence by town officials for not investigating previous allegations about Chief Klaczak’s behavior, which included hosting alcohol and drug parties that cadets attended, and rumors of inappropriate behavior. The second case was brought in Federal court alleging a constitutional violation of Wragg’s substantive due process rights under color of law (42 USC §1983), claiming that town leaders failure to act constituted deliberate indifference. The US District Court of the Northern District of Illinois ruled in favor of the Village, and Wragg appealed to the 7th Circuit.
In reaching its conclusions that the Village was not liable, the 7th Circuit found that “Wragg presents no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that either the board of trustees or [Village President] Swan knew that maintaining Klaczak in employment would pose a “substantial risk” of a constitutional violation”.
The entire decision can be downloaded here. Download XM1A3E66 It provides a good review of the law related to the liability of a municipality under 42 USC §1983. More information about what fire departments can do to manage the risks associated with junior or cadet programs can be found in the February, 2010 issue of Firehouse Magazine in my article: How Old is Old Enough: Legal Considerations for Junior Firefighter Programs.
Under the heading of you can’t make this stuff up, comes a really dumb – but in many ways even more tragic – incident from Connecticut involving several junior firefighters, and a few non-so junior firefighters.
While in the Quaker Hill fire station in Waterford on September 27, 2009, a 14 year old junior firefighter pulled a chair out from underneath the girlfriend of a firefighter. Not surprisingly, the woman and her boyfriend took offense. Several hours later, the junior firefighter was summoned by a captain, and several parties then proceeded to duct-tape and strap the 14 year old to a backboard.
Once fastened to the backboard, the victim was carried outside and placed on exhibit in front of the fire station. Three juveniles then took turns shooting the victim with two air soft guns from about five feet away. (Note: various news sources are reporting that the weapon was an air gun, pellet gun, or BB gun, but our sources indicate that two air soft guns firing soft BB-like projectiles were used). When the shooting ended, the victim was very upset, reported the incident to his parents, the police were notified, and a lengthy investigation ensued.