1. #1
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    Default Discipline for leaving job

    Someone sent me this transcript, I haven't been able to verify that it is real, but I was wondering what everyone thought of the situation:

    VAN SUSTEREN: Karen Werfelman teaches math at Hicksville High School in New York. She is also a volunteer firefighter. On September 11, the fire department needed her. She got someone to cover her last class and spent two days at the staging area for the World Trade Center disaster site.

    After two days back in the classroom, the fire department called again. This time, she helped drive floodlights to Ground Zero, the disaster site. When she returned to work, a school administrator reprimanded her for taking unauthorized time off and abandoning her professional responsibility.

    Karen Werfelman joins me from New York. The school district turned down our request to let the administrator or another spokesman give its side of the story.

    Karen, where were you when you heard about the tragedy on September 11.

    KAREN WERFELMAN, TEACHER, VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER: I was teaching a class at the time and the principal broke in and made an announcement that there had been some sort of disaster at the World Trade Center. We had no idea how big it was at the time.

    VAN SUSTEREN: How long have you been a firefighter?

    WERFELMAN: Nine years.

    VAN SUSTEREN: What's the attraction to you to this job?

    WERFELMAN: My dad did it. I grew up with it.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Is it a volunteer job?

    WERFELMAN: It is volunteer. VAN SUSTEREN: What kind of training have you had?

    WERFELMAN: I go to fire school every year. I have taken several different classes in the class rooms, several hands-on classes.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Have you ever had to put out fires, I mean actually had some emergency work?

    WERFELMAN: Of course. I'm also an EMT, so I do both ends of it.

    VAN SUSTEREN: So, who called to you come to the World Trade Center disaster?

    WERFELMAN: I got a phone call from my lieutenant who said the chief wants everybody back in town on the first day and we took orders from him once we got back in town. The second time I called I got a call from my captain who said our truck was needed at Ground Zero.

    VAN SUSTEREN: What grade do you teach?

    WERFELMAN: I have high school math.

    VAN SUSTEREN: So, between the first call to the World Trade Center and the second call back, did you have a chance to tell your students about your job?

    WERFELMAN: I didn't tell them where I was. I just said I shouldn't be needed there and I was back at work and we just went on with what we were doing.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Any problems when you came back the first time from World Trade Center?

    WERFELMAN: Not at all. Everybody wondered how I was, if I was OK. Nothing about our -- my absence as being unauthorized.

    VAN SUSTEREN: The administrator didn't give you any trouble?

    WERFELMAN: Not at all. Never even spoke to her.

    VAN SUSTEREN: OK, so the second time you went back, what was your job?

    WERFELMAN: They called to us use flood lights to light up Ground Zero Sunday night into Monday, the 16th and 17th of September. We were there all night long. We also removed broken glass from One Liberty Plaza, and then we returned Monday afternoon.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did your boss at school know where you were?

    WERFELMAN: Yes. I left a message on substitute registry which we are required to call and I let them know that I would be at Ground Zero. I was getting called in for my fire fighting and EMT skills.

    VAN SUSTEREN: So what happened when you came back? WERFELMAN: I came back to work on Thursday. On Friday I got a note from the principal that I was to call personnel. I went over and I met Ms. Bright (ph) who is the deputy superintendent. And she wanted to let me know that I did not follow procedure. And that my duty was to the children of Hicksville rather than a volunteer activity.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Were you officially reprimanded?

    WERFELMAN: The district's position is that it was not a reprimand because of legal semantics. Whether it was or was not it certainly felt that way to me. She asked me if I was worried about my paycheck. And I said no, I was worried about family and friends and the lives of those people. And then she said are you worried about your paycheck now? And that is what hurt the most and that brought me to tears.

    VAN SUSTEREN: How long have you been teaching?

    WERFELMAN: Five years in Hicksville, seven altogether.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Ever have any trouble before?

    WERFELMAN: No, not at all. Never had any run-ins with this woman, never had any reason to not like her.

    VAN SUSTEREN: What did you think about -- what do you think about what happened?

    WERFELMAN: With school?

    VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. You know, when you got your informal reprimand, not a formal one, what is your thought about all of this?

    WERFELMAN: I thought it was absolutely horrible. At time like that, we are not supposed to be, you know, worried about petty things like that. A lot of people put different things in perspective. I'm not are a hero. I was not expecting a pat on the back or anything like that. I just did my job like anybody else would have but I certainly didn't deserve the way she spoke to me.

    VAN SUSTEREN: What did your colleagues, the other teachers say?

    WERFELMAN: They are in full support of me. There was a board meeting last week and they showed up with signs and they marched on my behalf.

    VAN SUSTEREN: What's the reaction of the administrator?

    WERFELMAN: They stood their position. They read a statement at the board meeting that I still have not provided a reason for my absence and that I still did not follow procedure.

    VAN SUSTEREN: So, where does the it go from here? WERFELMAN: I don't know. I think that depends on where the community let's it go. If people are still upset, we are accepting letters and phone calls and voice your opinion.

    VAN SUSTEREN: If you got a call tonight to come back to help out at the World Trade Center, are you going to go?

    WERFELMAN: I would go in a second.

    VAN SUSTEREN: My thanks tonight to Karen Werfelman who is a volunteer firefighter and a teacher.

    WERFELMAN: Thank you.
    The above is MY OPINION only and not that of anyone else. I am not representing any organization in making a post here!!!!

  2. #2
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    My question is, on her entire, volunteer, fire department, was she the ONLY one available to take a light plant to the scene? On the initial call, I might understand the need to drop everything and respond. But a few days later should have given someone some time to better plan for staffing needs when less of an immediate emergency existed.
    Richard Nester
    Orrville (OH) Fire Dept.

    "People don't care what you know... until they know that you care." - Scott Bolleter

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    I think there also needs to be an understanding of your dwsire to volunteer and get support from your full-time employer before you just take off and try and justify it by saying I am a volunterr, We do not have the same legal backing as the military.

    Being cooperative and having support from your primary emplyer is of most importents especially it would seem in this situation.
    Front line since 1983 and still going strong

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    The way I read it is she called in and took personal time.
    The above is MY OPINION only and not that of anyone else. I am not representing any organization in making a post here!!!!

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    The bottom line here is that, as a volunteer, your activities will generally be treated like "vacation" or "leave" by an employer, should they overlap into work time. As such, the rules for vacation and leave will apply.

    Whether you like it or not, whether you agree with your employer's priorities or not, what's burning or falling down, who's threatened with injury or death by what's burning or falling down, and all the rest of it are, from your employer's point of view, probably largely irrelevant (unless their stuff is burning or their butt is threatened). That's just the way the world works for most people who are volunteers.

    Maybe the world should be different somehow with respect to this sort of thing. Maybe it will be someday, and maybe it won't. Until it is different, we all have to figure out how to work within our individual employment situations and limitations in this respect (or face the consequences). Sorry. That's just how it is.

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    Formal, informal....whatever be the form of discipline this woman receives, she deserves! Should she worry about her paycheck? Absolutely! Volunteer Fire Departments do not pay your mortgage!! She cost the school district money!

    I think the school district was probably upset because they had to pay a substitute teacher two days of salary. I know if I were the administrator, I certainly would have questioned what occured. Despite the fact that what happened was a disaster beyond imagination, you still can not just drop everything at the last moment and expect your employer to pick up the slack!! I wanted just as much as anyone else to throw my gear in the car and go to New York....But I have an obligation and responsibilities to my employer!
    FTM-PTB-EGH-RFB

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    I thought also that after 9-11 that most of teh light plants on scene were from private companies to free up fire dept companies.Musco lighting from Muscatine Iowa sent their light trucks(unsure of amount at this posting)and even sent more when special called a few days later.The owner of Musco I believe drove one straight thru to New York from Muscatine Iowa and others were pulled off job sites in Mass and New England.

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    She is entitled to leave time. If she chooses to take it while responding, shouldn't that be her business?
    The above is MY OPINION only and not that of anyone else. I am not representing any organization in making a post here!!!!

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    I think we may only be getting part of the story here. In emergency (and I stress emergency) circumstances it would be nice if employers would allow volunteers to leave. I think that as long as their participation in such a program is voluntary we have to be careful and respectful in how it is used.

    We all want to do what we can for the folks affected by the 9/11 tragedy. I'm wondering like others if the light tower trip was truly an emergency or if it could have been scheduled with personnel that didn't have to leave work or at a later time.

    I have a deal with my employer that in emergencies all I have to do is let my manager know what's going on and I'm free to go - PROVIDED I am not at a business critical point in a project. I.E. as long as I'm not going to critically affect others by my leaving I'm clear. In return for my discretion of not running out the door all the time, my time is considered 'manager's discretionary time off' and is paid. It also does not affect my vacation time.

    If I were running out the door all the time for things that could have been handled by others - (what department doesn't have those that work nights/shift work or are off during the week?) I guarantee I wouldn't have that deal.

    I'm not saying that this woman abused the system - I don't have all the facts - but we have to be very concious of not abusing those employers that are allowing us to leave for emergencies.

    If she has the ability to take a personal day for whatever reasons provided she calls in, then I say she had the right to do what she did. We are not privy to those policies at this point however so we don't know if she followed procedure or not.

    In an ideal world we'd all be able to respond to all the fires, rescues and calls for help. Until the government provides protection for workers to do so however, we are at the mercy of our paychecks.
    Susan Lounsbury
    Winston-Salem Rescue Squad
    Griffith Volunteer FD

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    I've been to Hicksville NY, and have friends down there, they are a huge department! you can't tell me for one second that she was the ONLY one who could go that day! that is a bunch of crap! It's just another case of, "HEY I CAN GET ON TV AND BE A HERO!" Give me a break.


    -Nick

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    Originally posted by Nick SBFD 6:
    I've been to Hicksville NY,... It's just another case of, "HEY I CAN GET ON TV AND BE A HERO!" Give me a break.
    -Nick
    I have a problem or two with her going on the second day, but Nick... give ME a break. Trying to guess WHY a person wants to go to WTC. What? She's not allowed to take a day off?

    Sure there are other issues to look at, like classroom coverage, the shortness of the notice, etc. You wanna know something?
    My dept. is going up next Friday for two funerals... GUESS WHAT? I'm planning on going. I'm taking a personal day. I have NO INTENTION of "mugging" for any camera. I'm going to pay my respects. If my dept. had been called to go up there, I ALREADY HAD A BAG PACKED! My bosses knew that there was a possibility that I'd go and they were cool with that. Why was I going to go??? To do a friggin job. MY guess is that's why she went, but, I don't really know that, because I'M NOT A MIND READER!!!

    SOAP BOX MODE = OFF

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    Why not if therte was some one to cover why not?

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    If she was in Massachusetts, taking time off to respond to an emergency as a volunteer and getting disiplined is against the law (read MGL Chapter 149, Section 177B Volunteer firefighters responding to emergencies, discharge from employment)
    I had to use this MGL with a prior employer(supermarket chain) on a structure fire call. They were going to fire me for not showing up for work even though I called and told them I was on a fire.
    Playing a little devils advocate here, I have subbed for a few classes in a high school. the pay was only $50 a day, so I don't think the paying a sub was an issue.
    HELL YEAH!!!
    The comments made by me are just that. Not of the Fire dept or Ambulance squad I am on.

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    Originally posted by no_name_FF:
    She is entitled to leave time. If she chooses to take it while responding, shouldn't that be her business?
    It should be her time to use as she sees fit. But ample time of notice should be given. On the day this tragedy occured Alot of vollies dropped what we we're doing and some responded and some stayed back just as we are programmed to do. For this teacher to go up two days later is a bit overboard unless she had the approval. If she did I see nothing wrong with it
    ***The Opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect those of the Department to which I am a Member ! ***

    Stratford Fire Co. # 1.."Any Job ~ Any Place ~ Any Time"

    Check us Out www.stratfordfire.com

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    It is against the law in CA also for an employer to take action against a volunteer - some progressive Silicon Valley companies are even taking the law further and allow for training time to be taken off also. Basically - any time needed for response and/or training is liberally allowed.

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    If she was need to help at ground zero then the school should not of said a thing to her when i was i school teachers all missed alot of days for nothing her she is helping the firefighters at groung zero and the scool she works for give her hell that is wrong.

    Rember 9-11-01
    David R.Horner
    GrandTraverse Fife Lake Vol.

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    Never mind.

    [ 11-06-2001: Message edited by: Mary Ellen ]

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    LOL

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    Silicon Valley companies are even taking the law further and allow for training time to be taken off also

    Actually, those firms don't have much of a choice...

    California Labor Code
    230.4. (a) An employee who is a volunteer firefighter, and works for an employer employing 50 or more employees, shall be permitted to take temporary leaves of absence, not to exceed an aggregate of 14 days per calendar year, for the purpose of engaging in fire or law enforcement training


    Source: http://www.nvfc.org/leg/leginfo_ca.html

    While California isn't a "big" vollie state, at least compared to some of the northeastern states, that's a heck of a nice law!

    For those of you wondering about the "law-enforcement" training, from previous research a couple years ago, 1 in 7 California Police Officers are Reserves, either volunteer or part-time paid. That's just a number that surprised me, since I'm from a state that is virtually all full-time law enforcement.
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