Volunteer Firefighter Says His Boss Fired Him For Battling Blaze And Being Late

Why Was A Volunteer Firefighter Let Go From His Paying Job?
An Illinois volunteer firefighter is suing his former employer for wrongful termination according to television station KSDK. Justin Wilkinson claims that he was late for his day job as a fuel terminal operator at the Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil Company because he was helping to fight a five-alarm fire under difficult conditions.

Wilkinson's lawsuit claims the company knew he was an unpaid firefighter and that he was given the option of taking a vacation day or coming in late, according to the Alton Telegraph. Wilkinson, a volunteer for 11 years, said that at first he agreed to take a vacation day, but called back later to say he'd be in. He claims to have arrived at work an hour and 12 minutes late. The next day, the company allegedly called him to say he was out of a job.

Firefighters who put themselves in harm's way to save people and property are typically seen as brave and generous. The latter estimation might rise when you realize that of the nation's 1.1 million firefighters, 69 percent are volunteers, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The vast majority of the volunteers work in small communities that typically can't afford a full-time professional department.

The fire that Wilkinson and the rest of the crew faced was a particularly difficult one, according to what a fire department official told KSDK:

"When we got here the fire was fully involved. The fire had already made it up into the attic," said Rosewood Heights Fire Chief Tim Bunt, describing a challenging five-alarm fire that destroyed a house in the 400 block of Valley Drive January 30th. "There was a 20 to 25 mile-per-hour wind. It was in the 20s. We had to deal with the ice. Our closest water supply was about 1000 feet away."

In addition to the house being destroyed, two propane tanks exploded and a car caught on fire.

According to the Telegraph, the fire required assistance from four other community fire departments. The two people in the house escaped, although one was treated for smoke inhalation.

Bunt went on to say that he felt responsible for Wilkinson losing the job and that he was angry about the situation.

Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil Company CEO Matt Schrimpf told KSDK that Wilkinson was fired for some reason other than being late for work, but would not explain the cause, citing the lawsuit.

According to the Telegraph's report, a law called the Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act prohibits companies from firing employees who were late to or absent from work because of responding to an emergency. Employers can dock a worker's pay for the time missed.

Wilkinson's father was also a volunteer fire fighter. Married and with two children, he says that he plans to continue volunteering. He still doesn't have a new job.

He's suing the company for $50,000, including lost future wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages.

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