MAYVILLE – The village of Fredonia and its mayor have been named in a lawsuit filed by the village’s firefighters’ union, due to the village not filling three vacant lieutenant positions within the Fredonia Fire Department.
In a civil complaint filed Wednesday in Chautauqua County Supreme Court, the Fredonia Professional Fire Fighters Association, Local 2931 – through its attorney Charles DeAngelo from Fessenden, Laumer and DeAngelo – states that rank-and-file firefighters have had to serve as fire lieutenants within the department, dating back to Aug. 1, 2020. In the complaint, the union cites state law (New York Civil Service Law §61) that prohibits rank-and-file fire fighters from serving “out of title” and performing the duties of a lieutenant, unless they have taken and passed the state civil service exam for that position. New York requires a separate Civil Service Exam for fire lieutenants, beyond the exam required for rank-and-file firefighters.
According to the union, the village has budgeted for three fire lieutenant positions in its 2020-21 spending plan, but has failed to act on filling any of those vacancies, leaving the fire department with just one lieutenant in the department. The union also states that it has urged the village to fill the lieutenant vacancies on several occasions but that has yet to take place, even after the village officials were informed of impending litigation if action was not taken.
Besides not having a fire lieutenant on duty for various shifts since August 1, the union also states that there were two different fires that took place in the village, where the fire chief was unavailable and there was no lieutenant on duty. As a result, a senior firefighter had to step forward and assume command during the response.
One fire occurred at a residence on Aug. 25, where there were reports of multiple people trapped in the house. A senior Firefighter – Timothy Winters – had to command the situation for nearly 15 minutes until the chief finally arrived on the scene. During that time, Winters called for a second alarm and supervised all firefighters on the scene during the initial search of the house and suppression of the fire, performances that are required to be handled by a lieutenant or the fire chief.
“Due to a Fire Lieutenant not being scheduled on the shift, the senior Firefighter had to act as a Fire Lieutenant in that all supervisory functions and command decisions were required to be performed by him in the absence of a Lieutenant,” the lawsuit claims.
A second fire occurred just three days later at the Econo Lodge Hotel at 10455 Bennett Road, which also required a firefighter to assume command.
“Due to no Lieutenant being scheduled, the senior Firefighter Brent Johnson was the ranking Firefighter on shift, causing him to assume the responsibilities of the Fire Lieutenant who was not scheduled that day,” the complaint states.
Fire Chief Ryan Walker was not regularly scheduled after 3:00 p.m. on Fridays, but also was not at the Fire Station at any point during that day. At 6:25 p.m., firefighters received the alarm of fire and arrived approximately 6 minutes later. Firefighter Johnson had to assume the role of Incident Command in the absence of a scheduled officer. Due to lack of available Fire Department manpower and the fire scene comprising a large and heavily populated building, Firefighter Johnson called for a second alarm and supervised all Firefighters on the scene during the initial search of the room and suppression of the fire. It was not until about 6:40 p.m. that Chief Walker arrived on the scene and command of the scene was transferred to him for the duration of the incident. Due to a Lieutenant not being scheduled for the shift, the senior Firefighter had to act as Fire Lieutenant in that all supervisor functions were required to be performed by him and in the absence of the Fire Chief, all command decisions were also made through him.”
The union argues that due to the village not filling the vacancies, firefighters are being exposed to grave risks and village taxpayers are also being exposed to greater losses.
It is asking the court to make an Article 78 order that the village no longer appoints and assigns rank-and-file firefighters to serve out-of-title as acting lieutenants and to instead fill the vacant positions. It is also seeking relief, including but not limited to an award of back pay and benefits to all Firefighters for all time served out-of-title as Acting Lieutenants, together with attorney fees, costs, and disbursements of this action.