Firefighter claims racial bias in ouster
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
BY CHRIS GARDNER
Copyright © 2006 Republican-American
SOUTHBURY -- The lone Southbury firefighter expelled Monday night because of the department's Myspace.com flap said he believes race played a factor in his ouster.
Joe Fragoso said he believes some members wanted him out because he is Hispanic. Others wanted to pay him back for accusing a veteran firefighter of operating a fire truck drunk three or four years ago, he said.
Fire Chief Tim Baldwin suspended Fragoso for six months in March for talking to the press after four fellow firefighters posted derogatory comments about the department on Myspace, an online networking site. The case was referred to all members for a vote Monday night.
At the meeting, Baldwin told members that Fragoso and three firefighters who talked to reporters should return to duty because their free speech was protected by the Constitution.
Members reinstated two of the men, sent another case back to the department's Membership Committee for further review and threw Fragoso out because they said they did not trust him.
The four firefighters who posted on myspace will return to duty in September after they finish six-month suspensions.
"How long have they been trying to get me out?" Fragoso said Tuesday. "All I was doing was standing up for the guys."
Fragoso has consulted a lawyer and has said he will sue the town. Aside from one other Hispanic firefighter, who is on probation, he is the department's only minority member.
He is a direct care worker at Southbury Training School, and volunteers for the fire department there and in Watertown.
He and Baldwin have butted heads since Baldwin became chief three years ago. Fragoso has criticized the chief and other officers for not disciplining firefighters who drive recklessly, and for refusing to buy new equipment. Baldwin denies both charges.
Fragoso was a lieutenant under former Chief John Stanko between 2001 and 2003 but was voted out when Baldwin took over.
Despite the friction, Baldwin pleaded with members not to expel Fragoso and the others. He said to throw them out on top of the discipline they already received would be "double jeopardy."
"They're actions are repugnant ... but to add to that discipline is not proper," he said.
Three secret-ballot votes were taken Monday night. The first, to uphold Tyler Pitcher's six-month suspension, was done behind closed doors because Pitcher was not at the meeting and did not request that his hearing be open to the public.In the second vote, Dan Tomascak and Ed Preiman, who were suspended for giving interviews to reporters, were reinstated, and Rich Volpe and Jesse Marino, who posted on Myspace, were ordered to serve the rest of their suspensions.
The vote that ousted Fragoso, and put Chris Poletti and Matt Behuniak back before the Membership Committee, was improper, Fragoso alleged.
Former Chief Vincent Soares made a motion to expel the three men "in the interest of public safety" because he could not trust them at a fire.
Fragoso said the issue was not about trust but whether the men broke rules by speaking to the media and posting on myspace.
Baldwin agreed, but did not stop the vote. "This is a very, very emotionally charged situation," he said. "I don't condone what these individuals have done. I'm just trying to administer this to the best of my ability."
When the votes were counted, Fragoso had been booted. He hugged supporters, then walked to the front of the room to shake hands with Baldwin. "Good luck, Joe," was all the chief said, after shaking Fragoso's hand.
What Did They Post?
Fire Chief Tim Baldwin got an anonymous letter in February that four firefighters were posting derogatory statements about fire officers and other members of the Southbury Volunteer Firemen's Association on the Web site Myspace.com. He and other fire officers monitored the Internet chatter for a couple of weeks before they disciplined the firefighters.
Among the posts:
A fire lieutenant was called "fat" and "worthless"
A firefighter was labeled a "drunk" and his picture was shown
A picture purportedly of a Southbury firefighter using a bucket of water to douse an inferno resulted in the firefighter's son being teased at school
A firefighter was shown in department turnout gear touching a woman on the hip
A firefighter joked that he was "doing nothing" while making $35 an hour to monitor propane flares at the Southbury Plaza during a construction project. The comment angered Fire Marshal Allen Brinley, who charged the firefighter wasn't taking his duties seriously.
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05-10-2006, 03:22 PM #1
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Southbury firefighter believes race played a factor in his ouster.
05-10-2006, 03:52 PM #2Former Chief Vincent Soares made a motion to expel the three men "in the interest of public safety" because he could not trust them at a fire."This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
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