Union: Suspended firefighters to get jobs back

February 26, 2011 9:07:29 PM PST
Three Houston fire fighters are getting their jobs back and back pay. They were let go several months ago because of two words that were written on a patient report.

We were the first to tell you about this story last year. A racial slur was written on an official report but in a ruling Friday, an arbitrator never says the three firefighters who were fired didn't do it, but he does say they should get their jobs back.

It was two words found on a patient report last spring that led to an investigation, terminations and now an arbitrator telling the city to take it all back.

"It exonerates those three firefighters," Houston Professional Firefighters President Jeff Caynon said.

It is news Caynon has been waiting to hear for months.

When the Houston Fire Department indefinitely suspended Spencer Allred, Randal Ricks and Ryan Smith last September, he said the city had no evidence.

An independent arbitrator now agrees.

"The city was unable to determine who did it and so they just decided they're gonna line them all up and shotgun justice," Caynon said.

It all stems from a medical emergency call last march. According to city records, the three firefighters from Station 55 were transporting a patient to the hospital, and in the narrative of their report, all that was typed was a racial slur. None of the firefighters admitted responsibility, so the department disciplined all three.

"That's not an investigation, that's a witch hunt and witch hunts, fortunately, result in these kinds of arbitrator rulings," Caynon said.

In the 15-page ruling, the arbitrator concluded there was "no evidence" to narrow down culpability and that a one-in-three likelihood of responsibility is simply "not a preponderance of the evidence." He ruled the firefighters' terminations must be overturned.

In response, HFD Assistant Chief Rick Flanagan, issued a statement saying the ruling is "just part of the process." "Bottom line, I had to look at the facts and make a decision. I support the arbitrator's ruling 100 percent," Flanagan said.

Caynon wishes it never had to go this far.

"Nobody is saying that what was on the patient care record was OK. I'm certainly not saying that what," he said. "What I am saying is just because we don't like what was on that record it doesn't mean that we are allowed to throw justice and due process out the window."

The arbitrator ruled the firefighters should be given back their former positions and be paid for lost wages. They have been off the job for five months now.