CalFire Engineer Contests Demotion Over Red Light Camera Gesture

Today’s burning question: I am an engineer… well, I was an engineer. Anyway, I was going through an intersection that had a red light camera and we had our red lights and siren going and I knew the camera was going to take our picture, so I gave them a “two thumbs up” gesture. My department demoted me back to firefighter. Can they get away with that? Oh, and I was driving kind of fast at the time… the camera said it was something like 60 miles per hour… but the other cars were all stopped.

Answer:  Son, if you worked for me – you and your officer would both be demoted – and he’d likely be facing a stiffer penalty than you would.  Nevertheless, CalFire firefighter Patrick O’Donoghue is challenging his July, 2011 demotion from engineer. He is accused of gesturing to a red light camera with both hands off the wheel. The engine he was driving was going 60 mph at the time. The case is pending before an administrative law judge from the state personnel board.

O’Donoghue’s attorney, David J. Givot, did not dispute his client used poor judgment, but argued that the penalty is excessive. Given the incident happened in November, 2010 and he’s still not back behind the wheel, I would tend to agree. A decision is expected within 90 days.

And by the way – NFPA 1500 and best practice calls for a mandatory stop at all negative right of way intersections (red lights, stop signs). It may not be the law, and it may not even be the standard of care – (but then again it might be… only a jury knows for sure) – but its a lot smarter and safer than blowing through red lights at 60 mph.

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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