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Spokane fire captain contests discipline after incident with patient

Spokane Fire Department Capt. Greg Borg holds a 1910 Spokane Fire helmet, part of his personal collection, in the lobby of SFD Station #3 Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Fire Department Capt. Greg Borg holds a 1910 Spokane Fire helmet, part of his personal collection, in the lobby of SFD Station #3 Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane firefighter is contesting a three-shift suspension he received after being charged with assaulting a patient on a medical call.

Capt. Greg Borg, who has been working for the department since 1979, threw a patient to the ground during a June 25 call after the patient spat and swore at him, according to an Oct. 5 discipline letter from fire Chief Bobby Williams and Tim Dunivant, the city’s budget director who was filling in for the city administrator, who was on vacation.

Borg was suspended without pay for the shifts based on a decision by Dunivant which the fire administration supported, Assistant fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. Borg earned $114,495 in 2015, including about $10,000 in overtime pay.

A Spokane police officer who also responded to the call charged Borg with misdemeanor assault in Spokane Municipal Court. In September, Borg agreed to a court order to participate in an anger management program, pay a monitoring fee of $75 and to not contact the victim in exchange for the charge being dismissed.

Borg is the former president of the Spokane Firefighters Union and spearheaded the effort in 2013 and 2014 to erect memorials at locations where Spokane firefighters died in the line of duty.

The case was handled by the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid a conflict of interest, city prosecutor Justin Bingham said.

The firefighter’s union has submitted a grievance, which is currently working its way through the city’s process, union President John Goodman said.

He said Borg’s actions need to be viewed in light of the patient’s aggressive, hostile actions, and that Borg’s 37 years of service in the fire department should also be considered.

The discipline letter noted Borg had exhibited generally good work and did not mention any prior discipline. Schaeffer said Borg has not had any other disciplinary issues to the best of his knowledge.

“Taking everything into consideration, we disagree with the discipline,” Goodman said.

Borg’s written account of the call, which he submitted as part of the disciplinary process, describes a tense call with a patient who was asleep on a sidewalk near the intersection of Boone Avenue and Madison Street. The man, a repeat patient for firefighters, was slurring his words and had open beer cans by his head, the account says.

The man refused to go to detox or to go back to his apartment and get off the sidewalk, Borg’s account said. The man started swearing at Borg and threatened to assault him after Borg checked his bag to make sure there was no weapon.

Borg called police officers to the scene, but the man continued being hostile, his account says.

“He spit to the right of me on the ground, I told him if he spit on me I would smack him, hoping he would rethink,” Borg wrote.

“He spit in my direction again, I was only about 2 feet from him. I grabbed his coat and pushed him sideways to the ground.”

Borg said the man did not appear to be injured. He was examined by other firefighters and declined to be taken to the hospital.

The letter from Williams and Dunivant said Borg was completing a 48-hour shift and already had run about 17 calls. Borg “immediately felt regret” and surprised himself with his actions, the letter says.

“I cannot stress enough the severity of this one action, and the negative impact that is a result of assaulting a patient while administering care. These actions are unacceptable behavior for any firefighter, and particularly for a supervisor,” the letter said.

Schaeffer said firefighters commonly respond to calls where patients are intoxicated or overdosing and hostile or angry to firefighters. He said he couldn’t recall another time where a firefighter acted as Borg did.

“The firefighters are consistently professional and their decisions are their own and the patient’s safety first,” he said.

Borg’s grievance will be heard by the mayor or his designee. If not resolved there, it will proceed to a negotiating committee meeting, then to arbitration.

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