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Fire Captain’s Termination Upheld Following Off-Duty Assault
LCW Associate Tony Carvalho successfully represented a city in a termination appeal involving a fire department captain.
In October 2018, the captain and his wife attended a birthday party at a colleague’s home. In attendance were the friends and family of the hosts, as well as other fire department personnel. The captain’s brother, who was another fire department employee and with whom the captain had a fraught personal relationship, also attended the party with his wife. During the party, the captain’s brother made a derogatory comment about the captain’s wife, which resulted in the captain striking his brother.
The city determined that the captain’s actions during the party violated multiple department policies, including policies on proper conduct and good order. Following a pre-disciplinary meeting, the city terminated the captain.
The captain appealed his termination and alleged that his brother was not a credible witness in light of his brother’s inconsistent statements at the party about the captain’s wife, as well as other incidents unrelated to the party. The captain claimed he did not strike his brother first, and that his actions were in defense of his wife–who the captain claimed was in imminent physical danger from his brother. The captain also presented evidence to support lesser discipline, including his lengthy, discipline-free tenure with the city and testimony from other fire department personnel about his character.
The hearing officer found that even assuming the captain’s brother was not a credible witness, the weight of the remaining evidence from other witnesses supported that the captain struck the first blow while his brother was turned away from him. As such, no persuasive evidence indicated that the captain had reason to believe he or his wife were at risk of imminent danger at the time of the assault. The hearing officer also found that the act occurred in front of members of the public, including young children at the party.
The hearing officer upheld the termination in light of the captain’s responsibility to set a good example for his community, whether on-duty or off-duty, particularly given his supervisory rank within the fire department. The hearing officer concluded the captain’s actions were the antithesis of what the public expects from fire department personnel.
Fire safety officers have a position of trust with the public. These officers, particularly at the supervisory level, are held to high standards of conduct, whether on-duty or off-duty. The off-duty misconduct, in this case, had a nexus to the job because the assault was on a fellow firefighter and occurred at a party attended by the public and other department firefighters.