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Firefighter Who Reported Fire Chief’s Drinking Sues Over Demotion

A volunteer firefighter from Michigan has filed suit against his department and its fire chief alleging his demotion from lieutenant was in retaliation for him reporting misconduct by the fire chief.

Jeremy Jennings filed suit in Federal District Court  on Monday claiming his June 22, 2011 demotion was the direct result of his having reported that firefighters, including the fire chief, responded to alarms drunk and under the influence of pain medication.  The suit alleges violations of the First Amendment (free speech), Fourteenth Amendment (due process), retaliation, and violation of the Michigan Whistleblower Act.

Jennings initially reported his concerns to the fire chief as early as 2008, and raised them periodically thereafter. When the chief failed to take action, Jennings met with various township officials about his concerns. A series of meetings took place between February and June, 2011. In his complaint Jennings claims that when he was notified of the demotion on June 22, 2011, fire chief Larry Merkle stated that he had been advise that Jennings had spoken with township officials.

Besides the demotion, Jennings claims that Chief Merkle “ordered or otherwise allowed other members” to ignore his radio requests for help and sabotage his SCBA by sticking a rubber glove in the “air intake”.

Here is a copy of the complaint:  Jennings v Monroe

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About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 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, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.