AWOL Firefighter Cost $350k and 8 Years to Fire

It took eight years, a total of forty days of testimony before an arbitrator, and cost taxpayers $350,000, but the termination of a Windsor, Ontario firefighter for being chronically AWOL has finally been upheld.

It is the kind of story that gives firefighters everywhere a black eye… It is exactly the kind of epic tale that the public loves because it confirms their worst fears about government mismanagement….  how we as public servants are the root cause of the current economic crisis… why pensions and benefits ought to be reduced… why “get tough” candidates get elected.

Kim Elliott was reportedly good at his job, but he had a serious and long term problem showing up when he was supposed to. By all accounts I have read the department went way beyond what any private employer would have tolerated – and what any public employer should have tolerated.

By the time he was terminated in 2004 he had repeatedly been warned, cautioned, and progressively disciplined… what else could a reasonable employer have done for the guy? He needed to go, he deserved to go and the department pulled the trigger. So how did his termination and subsequent arbitration drag on for eight years and cost $350,000?

I would like to see an explanation for that myself.

The news media seems content to dump the problem at the feet of Kim Elliott and his union.  But a guy fighting for his livelihood and a union doing its due diligence does not add up to eight years and $350,000. That is a system failure that goes beyond one man and one union. Blaming the firefighter and blaming the union may make some folks feel like the real problem has been exposed, but not in my mind.

And now that the arbitration has ended… will the litigation begin? Perhaps that is just the American way.

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.
  • David Costa


    I would suggest that we had the same “Broken System” in RI. According to the Windsor Star, “No stone was left unturned in this arbitration,” Snow wrote. And all this dragged on over eight years because it’s hard to get a busy arbitrator and lawyers for both sides in the same room at the same time. It took 40 days to present the evidence and there were 143 exhibits. Some of the numerous witnesses were brought in from out of town. There were numerous legal points.”

    While the number of hearings and exhibits in and of itself seems excessive, I can’t imagine how many years it would take to get all the parties involved in a room that many times.

    • Chief

      I agree – and frankly the description of Elliott sounded all too familiar to some of the headaches we had to deal with.

      An arbitration is “supposed to be” a reasonable alternative to litigation – which can drag on for years and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

      I am not sure about Canada’s legal system – but here in the US – the next step is to take the challenge to court. If it took 8 years to complete the arbitration – everyone involved will be retired or deceased by the time the case winds its way through the court system.

  • Andrew

    I think part of the problem is putting almost unlimited scheduling control in the hands of the attorneys involved. One of the prime moves in criminal defense is to request delay after delay, in the hopes that witnesses die, move away, forget, or can be intimidated. It seems to be even worse on the civil side, especially when you throw in tons of discovery and often dozens or even hundreds of garbage motions whose only purpose is to slow things down. I’d say give each attorney three possible dates; if they can’t agree, the arbitrator (or judge) sets one that works for him or her.

    Present company excluded, a lot of lawyers seem to think the world revolves around them. One more case of 99% of the lawyers giving the rest a bad name.


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