Erie Firefighter to Get Her Job Back

The Erie firefighter who was terminated from the department after she tried to commit suicide by setting fire to clothes in a bathtub, has won her job back. Mary Wolski, 45, the department’s first female firefighter, set the fire hoping that the smoke would kill her.

Wolski was suffering from severe depression and was under medical treatment at the time of the blaze. On December 28, 2006 she attempted suicide in her father’s vacant home by putting cloths into a bath tub and setting it on fire. She then tried to douse the fire with water and went on to cut her wrist. Meanwhile her family members found her and called for help.

Wolski underwent medical treatment, was able to recoup, and was later found fit for duty. In 2007 the district attorney opted not to press criminal arson charges against her. Wolski then sought to return back to duty, but instead the department terminated her. 

She appealed her termination to the Civil Service Commission, which upheld the city’s decision. Wolski then filed suit under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) claiming stating that she was actually terminated by the city on account of her depression, and the city’s ungrounded fears that she might relapse into depression again.

Yesterday, an eight member Federal jury decided that that the city violated the ADA and Wolski’s rights. The city was ordered to pay back wages to Wolski and reinstate her with her seniority intact.

Assistant City Solicitor Gerald Villella said afterward that the city feared rehiring Wolski would impact the morale of the Fire Department, and that the City would consider filing an appeal.

More on the story.

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.
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