"Zero Tolerance": A Consistent Policy?

Online comments www.newhavenindependent.org/archives/2007/10/workplace_viole.php#comments

by Melissa Bailey | October 3, 2007 7:51 AM

IMG_9887.JPGSaying he smelled a "cover-up," an ex-firefighter confronted department brass about its handling of a "strangling" incident on the job.

The ex-firefighter, Cliff Petteway, was tossed off the city firefighting force a few years ago after allegedly thrusting his finger at the former chief's chest and making a personal threat (a charge he denied). Tuesday, he returned to fire headquarters to find out why he appears to be the only firefighter ever disciplined by the city's so-called "zero tolerance" policy on workplace violence.

Petteway (at right in picture), a 14-year veteran of the force, was terminated in 2001 as part of a city effort to crack down on violence in the workplace. Then he heard about two current firefighters who recently got into a fight on the job involving "strangling" and unproved accusations of drunk driving. Those firefighters were not disciplined, even as at least one superior wrote a memo asking that the department take the incident seriously in light of the zero tolerance policy. Click hereto read about that incident.

"All I'm looking for is some consistency," said Petteway, returning to fire headquarters Tuesday to get some answers from the Board of Fire Commissioners.

Has anyone else on the force ever been disciplined or fired under the "zero tolerance" workplace violence policy? Petteway asked the board. Fire Chief Michael Grant and Fire Commission Chair Bill Celentano both said they could not recall anyone being disciplined for that reason since the policy was instituted in 1999.

Petteway called the board's attention to the incident at the Lombard Street fire station on Aug. 9, where veteran firefighters Paul Mikolinski and Matt Kennedy reportedly got into a fight stemming from accusations of drunk driving. Three weeks ago, Chief Grant told the Independenthe had decided not to discipline two firefighters.

Is this board aware of any violation of the workplace violence policy in relation to this incident? Petteway asked.

Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts (pictured above at left) replied that while the matter had not been brought before the board, it is "under investigation" by Human Resources and by his office. "It is not a closed matter," he said.

To Petteway, the lack of action on the "strangling" incident, and the fact that the matter had not come before the board, smelled like "some kind of cover-up." He later pointed to a written report of the incident that said Deputy Fire Chief Ryan tried to keep the matter under wraps. Ryan "spoke to both FF Kennedy and FF Mikolinski and also the men in the station. He told them it would be better to let this matter stay in the station," Kennedy's report read.

"I don't see why [the Aug. 9 incident] is taking so long to be evaluated," said Petteway. His own case was settled comparatively swiftly: He allegedly got into a confrontation with his immediate supervisor. When asked to report to the chief, poked his finger at former Chief Dennis Daniels's chest and said, "You're pushing me, Dennis." One month later, Petteway was put on administrative leave. Another month later, he was terminated.

Smuts declined comment on the comparative timeliness of the administrative review of the two incidents. He said accusations of a "cover-up" are unfounded, because his office is "actively looking into the case."

Commissioners did not take action on Petteway's comments Tuesday. After the meeting, Commissioner Boise Kimber declined comment. So did former Chief Daniels, who was spotted jumping into a car.

Lt. Gary Tinney, president of the New Haven Firebird Society, a fraternal group of black firefighters, said he had lingering questions about the policy. "My concerns are just consistency," he said. That's part of why the Firebirds were established in the '70s, he said -- to make sure everyone on the force would be treated the same way.

In other Fire Department News: In just the first quarter of FY08, the department has already racked up $960,000 in overtime costs. "There would be a deficit if we continue like this," noted Grant.

And a second fire vehicle got slammed into in an automobile crash, reported Grant. He said an ALS emergency unit sustained "substantial damage" when it was hit by a motorist running a red light at Orchard and George Streets.



Posted by: Biagio | October 3, 2007 3:05 PM

Sounds like the policy isn't being administered very consistantly and Petteway has a point. While it's sad that this was an arguement between friends, if it's true that Kennedy did lay hands on Mikolinski, then by rights he needs to be terminated.

Basically, this now looks like Petteway was canned simply because he pissed in the wrong bowl of Cheerios.

Pray tell, could someone explain why there's so much overtime? Are we that short on Firemen?

Posted by: WESTVILLER | October 3, 2007 8:57 PM

I agree with Ben, he appears is on the right track. Please tell me why similar situations described have been delt with differently? Does the cereral spell politics? He's too on track with firefighters overtime, how much are we paying for the firemen to sit around and joke with each other. What happened to the test given for new firemen? The paper said that would cut down on overtime so what are we paying for then?

Posted by: write&wrong | October 3, 2007 9:00 PM

I dont't smell smoke or see fire on this...

Move on Mr. Petteway. Chase some other false alarm.

Posted by: yellow card | October 4, 2007 12:03 PM

"How much are we paying for the firemen to sit around and joke with each other". Are you serious? These men and women put thier lives on the line everyday to protect the residents of New Haven, even ignorant fools like you. They also do it most of the time for straight time to ease the financial stresses of our taxes. I have never seen anybody complain about the firemen not being there when you need them. And thier overtime is nothing compared to the P.D., which is about $2,500,000 for the same time period that has yielded no improvements. As far as the fire class is concerned it has been put on hold according to the paper due to all of the screwups by the human resources department, again!

Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | October 4, 2007 12:10 PM

Write And Wrong
Mr. Petteway Is A Personal Friend Of Mine. Before
You Claim That He Should Chase Some Other False Alarms You Need To Do Some Research On Why Mr. Petteway Was Fired And That Is Because He Was Out Spoke About The Injustice In The New Haven Fire Department And He Also Was Out Spoke About The Injustice In The Commuinty!! The New Haven Fire Department Has A History Of Comming After Firefighters Who Speak Out, Do The Research On Lieutenant Ron Benson Who Was Harass For Speaking
Out.Sheryl Broadnax And John Brantley Who Had Been Fired Buy The Board Of Fire Commissioners Broadnax And Brantley File A Lawsuit Againist The City Of New Haven And The Fire Department And Won.
Ms. Broadnax Won Over A Million Dollars And Brantley Also Won. The New Haven Fire Department
Has Always Come After Any One Who Is Out Spoken.
P.S. Mr.Write And Wrong If It Is Found That There Was A Cover Up Should Mr. Petteway Get His Job Back, After All That Would Make Things Write!!!

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