Busy Fire Law Week

Last week was a busy one legally for the fire service, and as often happens, a number of important cases escaped our attention – including several we have been following.

In Kansas City, Missouri, the city is offering $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit filed by EMS personnel who were wrongly classified as firefighters for FLSA purposes. In 2010, the city merged EMS personnel into the fire department and in 2011, without training them to be firefighters, required them to work 53 hours per week instead of 40. In June, US District Court Judge Beth Phillips concluded that the city’s plan violated the Fair Labor Standards Act because the EMS personnel were not cross-trained

Here is more on the settlement.

In Riverside, Illinois, a lawsuit filed by four firefighters who were disciplined for an off-duty altercation following a Christmas party has been removed to US District Court. The original suit was filed in April in Cook County Circuit Court by Lt. Thomas Bensfield, Lt. William Ruska, Lt. Ray Williamson, and Firefighter A.J. Ruska. The plaintiffs’ amended their complaint in June adding First Amendment claims that alleged their discipline was retaliation for their support of the past Riverside fire chief. On July 14, the suit was removed to US District Court.

More on the removal.

Here in Rhode Island, a candidate for the Central Falls Fire Department who was passed over has filed suit alleging age discrimination. The case has generated a great deal of controversy because the applicant has a criminal record. More on the story.

Lastly… and clearly under the YCMTSU category, a Tacoma, Washington firefighter who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a fellow firefighter from a volunteer fire department to which they both belonged – a fellow firefighter who coincidentally happened to be the ex-husband of his girlfriend – and who was arrested by a police officer who coincidentally was having an inappropriate relationship with the same woman, has filed a $1.75 million claim against the arresting officer’s police department. Confused? Took me a while to digest it all. Even the news reports on the case appear baffled and conflicting.

What appears to be clear is this: Robert Enriquez was arrested in 2012 following an altercation he had with James Dunn. Dunn is reportedly the ex-husband of Enriquez’s girl-friend – although some media sources say she was Enriquez’s wife. Both men were involved with a volunteer fire department – which has been listed in the media as either the McCleary Fire Department or Grays Harbor Fire District 12. Regardless of that inconsistency, City of McCleary Police Officer Randy Bunch (who is alleged to have been having an undisclosed affair with the same woman) was involved in the arrest and is alleged to have texted the woman from the scene of the arrest.

Following the altercation Enriquez was terminated by the Tacoma Fire Department and the volunteer department, but eventually prevailed in his criminal case. He has filed a civil damage claim against the City of McCleary seeking $1.75 Million for false arrest and violations of his civil rights. The civil claim is a prerequisite before a lawsuit can be filed. The city has 60 days to respond.

More on this YCMTSU story.

And more.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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