Terminated West Virginia Firefighter Reinstated – But Concerns Continue

A strange case out of West Virginia seems to be coming somewhat back down to earth. Firefighter AJ Shinn, 34, of the Nitro Fire Department was accused of being 2 minutes late for work on April 14, 2011. He was given a 2 day suspension without pay, and believing that to be rather harsh he filed an appeal.

In a shocking move last May 17, the hearing board terminated Shinn, a 13 year veteran and single father of three. Shinn immediately alleged that he had been subjected to a hostile workplace for over four years. He claimed that firefighters who disliked him lobbied the fire chief and mayor for his termination, and that he was being singled out for strict, particularly harsh discipline. He said while firefighters routinely cover for other firefighters who are running a few minutes late, firefighters on April 14 refused to cover for him when he was stuck in traffic.

The city council became involved in the dispute and ordered an investigation into the matter. The council also ordered Shinn to be placed back on the payroll pending a full civil service hearing.

While the city council investigation is expected to be completed in mid August, the civil service hearing reinstated Shinn subject to the initial two days without pay as a penalty.  Following the decision, the local paper quoted Shinn as feeling relieved but terrified at the same time.

“I’m worried to death because they’re putting me back with that same captain, and I’m supposed to rely on these guys for my life to have my back… And clearly, they’ve wanted me fired.”

Shinn returns to work on Monday.  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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