Volunteer Firefighter Says His Boss Fired Him For Battling Blaze And Being Late

Illinois volunteer sues for wrongful termination

Why Was A Volunteer Firefighter Let Go From His Paying Job?
An Illinois volunteer firefighter is suing his former employer for wrongful termination according to television station KSDK. Justin Wilkinson claims that he was late for his day job as a fuel terminal operator at the Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil Company because he was helping to fight a five-alarm fire under difficult conditions.

Wilkinson's lawsuit claims the company knew he was an unpaid firefighter and that he was given the option of taking a vacation day or coming in late, according to the Alton Telegraph. Wilkinson, a volunteer for 11 years, said that at first he agreed to take a vacation day, but called back later to say he'd be in. He claims to have arrived at work an hour and 12 minutes late. The next day, the company allegedly called him to say he was out of a job.

Firefighters who put themselves in harm's way to save people and property are typically seen as brave and generous. The latter estimation might rise when you realize that of the nation's 1.1 million firefighters, 69 percent are volunteers, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The vast majority of the volunteers work in small communities that typically can't afford a full-time professional department.

The fire that Wilkinson and the rest of the crew faced was a particularly difficult one, according to what a fire department official told KSDK:

"When we got here the fire was fully involved. The fire had already made it up into the attic," said Rosewood Heights Fire Chief Tim Bunt, describing a challenging five-alarm fire that destroyed a house in the 400 block of Valley Drive January 30th. "There was a 20 to 25 mile-per-hour wind. It was in the 20s. We had to deal with the ice. Our closest water supply was about 1000 feet away."

In addition to the house being destroyed, two propane tanks exploded and a car caught on fire.

According to the Telegraph, the fire required assistance from four other community fire departments. The two people in the house escaped, although one was treated for smoke inhalation.

Bunt went on to say that he felt responsible for Wilkinson losing the job and that he was angry about the situation.

Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil Company CEO Matt Schrimpf told KSDK that Wilkinson was fired for some reason other than being late for work, but would not explain the cause, citing the lawsuit.

According to the Telegraph's report, a law called the Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act prohibits companies from firing employees who were late to or absent from work because of responding to an emergency. Employers can dock a worker's pay for the time missed.

Wilkinson's father was also a volunteer fire fighter. Married and with two children, he says that he plans to continue volunteering. He still doesn't have a new job.

He's suing the company for $50,000, including lost future wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages.

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Filed under: Firings
Erik Sherman

Erik Sherman


Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman

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I don't know that the threat of a $50,000. lawsuit was a very good idea. I used to work with a volunteer fireman and the company knew when they hired him that the day would come when it would interfere with his work. They always cried about it, although it didn't happen very often. They never did try to write him up or fire him though. The thing is that if they don't want to deal with it, why hire the guy ? If his position is critical, why hire him to begin with ?

February 18 2014 at 1:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil Company and CEO Matt Schrimpf better increase their fire coverage and hope they never need the fire department.. Volunteer Firefighters put their life on the line each time an alarm goes off for only the satisfaction that they are helping their neighbor even if they have never met them.

February 16 2014 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Rebecca Cortright

This was absolutely wrong. Firefighters have one of the most difficult jobs and yet this is the treatment that they got. I hope he finds a new job where he will be valued. May God bless him and all the firefighters we have.

February 15 2014 at 11:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

NO NO NO NO NO THERE IS MORE TO THIS STORY THAN "POOR VOLINTEER LOST HIS DAY JOB!!! " PS volinteer is a paid one a poorly paid one...

February 12 2014 at 11:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dean Sutton

Well, sounds like the company decided to make an example of this Volunteer Fireman; they wanted to make it clear that they were the "boss"!

Whatever the "other reason" they claimed, it still sounds like a chickens**t way of doing so and why had they not fired him before ?

Hopefully there is another Oil Company nearby that customers could switch to; Soon!

February 12 2014 at 10:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Michelle Neff

Thier is more to it then this-- they gace hin the option of a vacation dyd he sould have taken it. My guess is thier was some verbal altercation. I am a Firfighter too, and Volunteers are under some time constrnts some emplyers go with others do not. Most volunterrs drive thier own cars to the seen and can leave for other duties.

February 12 2014 at 10:21 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dr. Ted Grossman

Justin Wilkinson & volunteers like hime are the Heartbeat of America.

February 12 2014 at 10:08 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

There's another way he could fight it is call the states labor relations board..

February 12 2014 at 10:06 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I think it was wrong what they did too him,, i hope he gets hisw job back..

February 12 2014 at 10:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to endmillll's comment
Dean Sutton

I think it would be better that he gets a higher paying job with a competitor and also win the lawsuit along with some additional punitive damages tacked on.

February 12 2014 at 10:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As usual, there's something else going on behind the scene which the article's writer didn't bother to find out.

February 12 2014 at 10:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to thosholzel's comment

Well, if the former employer is refusing to comment, there's not much more the author COULD have found out, is there?

February 12 2014 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Karen's comment

Thank you, Karen, for stating the obvious to thosholzel!

February 13 2014 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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