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Chelsea firefighter fired days before 10-year anniversary

February 15th,2023 | News

Former Chelsea firefighter Geoff White is threatening to sue the municipality over a wrongful termination after he was fired just days before his 10-year anniversary. Low Down file photo

Chelsea resident Geoff White is threatening to sue the municipality after he says he was wrongfully fired from the fire department days before his 10th anniversary.

White was pulled into Chelsea Fire Department (CFD) Chief Charles Éthier’s office on Jan. 28 and told to turn in his uniform, helmet, and badge and to clean out his locker immediately. He was given a termination letter stating that he failed to meet the required 24 hours of training in 2022.

But White claims he did more than the required 24 hours of training last year and says the move to fire him stems from Chief Éthier’s “inexplicable animus toward me.”

“I want my job back,” says White in a prepared statement to the Low Down. “I practiced more than 24 hours in 2022 with the CFD during duty shifts and to prepare for and complete a hands-on practical fire pump engine test last November.”

White shared a document from Chelsea’s finance department that proves he was paid for 167 hours of service in 2022.

However, according to the acting interim director-general, Sheena Miano, White was fired from his volunteer firefighter position due to a “breach in the bond of trust between the two parties” and because he “failed to comply to several articles of the firefighter agreement,” as he did not complete the required training and fell short of the necessary call attendance rate of 15 per cent.

According to the municipality, White only attended 13 per cent of calls in 2019; 22 per cent in 2020; 15 per cent in 2021; and just 12 per cent of calls in 2022.

“The firefighters’ agreement stipulates that when the call attendance rate is less than 15 per cent, the firefighter is on probation,” said Miano in an email to White on Feb. 10. The email goes on to say that White failed to follow department rules that require complaints to go through the director-general, as he instead took his complaints directly to Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard.

“On multiple occasions, you had been informed of the procedure to follow by your director, the former director-general and the human resources manager, and ignored it,” the email states.

White also shared his shift schedule with the Low Down, which shows that he completed at least 44 hours of training in 2022 in everything from elevator and dry hydrant training to forcible entry and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training.

In emails obtained by the Low Down, it is confirmed by other fellow firefighters that White responded to calls, took “garde shifts” and “exceeded expectations” as a Chelsea firefighter in 2022. Garde shifts are a pilot project where firefighters and an officer are stationed at a fire hall in an on-call approach to increase response times.

According to White, the department never informed him he was put on probation. He says training nights were exclusively held in the evenings every second Wednesday, which proved scheduling conflicts for the single father of two, and resulted in him missing several training nights. Since then, at the request of White and other firefighters, training schedules were moved to weekly in 2023 to accommodate the busy schedules of firefighters.

White says he is appalled at the treatment he has received from the municipality over this and has told Miano that “we shall resolve this at court.”

“Since joining the CFD, I have dedicated hundreds of hours to training and responding to fires, alarms, car crashes, natural disasters, and rescues, and participating in numerous community events,” says White. “I’ve been in risky situations and seen some awful things.” White adds that he worked 20 hours in two separate shifts the week he was fired.

White is a long-time firefighter and community member, who says he volunteers to shovel snow for seniors and others with mobility issues and poor mental health. He is the vice-chair of Chelsea Elementary’s governing board and ran for council unsuccessfully in 2022.

White is demanding to be reinstated as a firefighter or he says he will take the issue to court.

The municipality said ​​it made its decision “based on measurable and supportable facts,” and would not comment further, as it is a confidential employee file.

Éthier would not comment and said the file is an internal matter.

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