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Firefighter loses job for alleged violations

Thu., Dec. 22, 2011

A Spokane firefighter fired in August won’t get a third “last chance” to keep his job.

The Spokane Civil Service Commission this week voted unanimously to accept the decision of Fire Chief Bobby Williams to terminate James F. Frederick, whose disciplinary history included calling in sick for firefighting shifts on days he worked as a substitute school teacher and failing to follow other departmental procedures. He’d been a firefighter since 2001.

Frederick didn’t show up at the Tuesday hearing to present a defense.

Frederick was caught substitute teaching after calling in sick in 2007, but the city and the Spokane Firefighters Association crafted a “last chance” agreement to allow him to keep his city job. After violating that deal, Frederick was given a second “last chance” agreement last year. Even after that, city officials say, Frederick’s “pattern of irresponsibility and disregard for policy and procedure continued,” according to the city brief prepared for the Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Just before the commission voted, Civil Service Commissioner Craig Hult held up a thick packet of documents the city used to document its termination case. He noted the hours of city staff time needed to deal with the case.

“The mere fact that this had to go through this process is just appalling to me. In private industry this wouldn’t have even been given a warning,” Hult said. “If it were possible to bill Mr. Frederick for their time, I would do that.”

At a disciplinary hearing in July, Frederick denied the recent policy violations. Attempts made to reach him were unsuccessful on Tuesday.

Frederick earned $67,460 last year for his city position even after not getting paid as a result of his suspension for two months. He earned $82,947 in 2009.

In 2007, Frederick was given his first “last chance” agreement after he was found to be skipping work. According to a city investigation, Frederick was caught after calling in sick on Oct. 10, 2007; that same day, he called a fire station, and the caller ID said Frederick was at Rogers High School.

City officials checked with Spokane Public Schools and discovered that Frederick was substitute teaching that day. They later found that Frederick had taught school as many as 14 times from 2005 through 2007 after calling in sick.

Frederick, who was injured in the line of duty, argued that health issues made him unable to work as a firefighter on the days he called in sick. City officials said if he was well enough to teach school, he was well enough at least to perform light duty work for the Fire Department. That last-chance agreement required him to strictly follow city rules and file paperwork on a regular basis.

When he didn’t file required paperwork and called in sick on a day he took a test in hopes of becoming a deputy fire marshal in 2010, the city suspended him for 60 days and gave him a second “last chance” agreement. Williams said at the time that he wasn’t fired because language in it didn’t specifically say he would be fired for another violation. Even though the city didn’t fire him as was threatened, Frederick appealed the punishment to the Spokane Civil Service Commission, which unanimously ruled against him.

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