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.

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