Discipline Over The Use of the N-Word

Today’s burning question: Should the penalty for a firefighter who uses the N-word be termination?

Answer: I am not sure that question can be answered in the abstract, given all the possible variables. Was the statement made while the member was on-duty or off-duty; in what context was the term used (hate-filled threat, quoting another person, said in jest); is the member an officer or a firefighter; was it directed toward a coworker in a threatening manner; and perhaps the most paradoxical question of all, what is the race of the person who made it?

The New Haven Fire Department is struggling with yet another difficult problem: disciplining a fire lieutenant for using the N-word in a social media post related to an incident that occurred in England. The unnamed lieutenant was suspended for fifteen-days last week by Fire Chief Allyn Wright prompting praise from the New Haven Firebirds Society, an organization of minority firefighters.

However, William Augustine, president of the Firebirds, wants to see the lieutenant terminated, or at least demoted, when the case goes before the Board of Fire Commissioners.

Incidentally, recall the case last year of Jacksonville (Florida) Fire Marshal Kevin Jones who was suspended for 10 days for using the N-word when discussing plans for an upcoming concert. Fire Marshal Jones is black.

More on the New Haven case.

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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