New Jersey Firefighter Comuting from Jail Fired

PATERSON, N.J. -- A fire captain who was commuting from a prison in Pennsylvania on a work-release program was fired from his job, a city official said Monday.

Fire Capt. Thomas Alala was fired from his job "immediately", said city Fire Director Glenn Brown. A city hearing officer ruled that Alala should be terminated because of "conduct unbecoming of a public employee," Brown said.

"I am going to concur with the decision set forth by the hearing officer," Brown said. Brown said he received the decision Friday from the hearing officer, a retired state Superior Court judge.

In June, city officials discovered that Alala was commuting from jail in Pennsylvania to his job in Paterson. Alala failed to notify his supervisors that he had been arrested a third time for driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to serve one year in prison. An administrative hearing on the charges against Alala was held in November.

Alala was in a work-release program at the Northampton County Prison in Easton, Pa. He surrendered on May 23 and then reported to work in Paterson on May 26.

Alala was arrested on Aug. 6, 2006, and did not report his arrest to supervisors -- a violation of department regulations, Brown has said. Alala was driving home from a music festival in Bethlehem when he lost control of his motorcycle on Interstate 78. Alala's blood-alcohol level measured 0.18, exceeding the state's highest threshold of 0.16, according to court papers.

Brown said he did not know who was driving Alala to and from work during the work release program.

"We certainly weren't sending a limo for the guy," he said. Once prison officials became aware that Alala was a firefighter, they stopped permitting him to continue working through the program, Brown said.

On Monday it was unclear whether Alala, who is paid $101,560 annually, would lose his pension. Alala has 21 years and eight months of service recorded in the state's pension system, said Thomas Bell, a spokesman for the state's division of pension and benefits. Bells said that the state's Pension Review Board must examine Bell's case to determine if he is still eligible for his pension.

Another fire department employee had been charged with misrepresenting himself to Pennsylvania prison officials when they were trying to verify Alala's employment for the work-release program. Robert Pina, who had been suspended, was cleared after investigators found he had had no conversations with Northampton prison officials.

Pina has since retired from his job, Brown said.

Alala's dismissal comes just weeks after Joseph Mania, a 15-year veteran and supervisor in the city's department of public works, pleaded guilty to reckless driving and fleeing the scene of an accident. Mania, who pleaded guilty on Jan. 5, crashed a city-owned 2002 GMC pickup truck into a utility pole on McLean Boulevard on Nov. 14 and then fled the scene in another vehicle. The second truck was allegedly driven by another DPW supervisor, James Maher, who was arrested and charged on Nov. 21 with hindering the apprehension of a person involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Maher is awaiting trial.

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