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Legal Series – Suspensions from duty

Question – I have been recently suspended for transporting a patient in my fire engine. Is this legal?

Response – Suspension is one application of a discipline process and is generally used to take personnel off the line to investigate a policy violation, wrongdoing or some other act or actions committed by an employee. Suspension must be in a discipline policy and the conditions under which a suspension is made must be clearly outlined in that policy. Of course, it is impossible for a department to list each and every action committed by an employee so the Chief or a superior officer has the authority to suspend an employee pending an investigation based on some violation of policy. In paid or career departments, suspension is similar to administrative leave with pay, unless the action by the employee is so egregious, the employer has the discretion to place an employee on suspension or leave with or without pay.

Suspension should be made after a careful review of a standing policy, procedure, medical protocol, SOG or SOP and applied for the right reason. Sometimes the decision to place an employee on suspension is due to some real or perceived political pressure from your elected leadership.

In the question posed above, the decision to place an employee on suspension should not be a knee jerk reaction to an action made at the time of a significant emergency. The fire service depends on the right actions at the right time made by our firefighters or fire officers. That’s why we promote our best and brightest to manage the field operations of our fire department. Administrators who Monday morning quarterback a field decision made by our officers can lead to the fear of future “making the right decision for the situation” creating a hesitancy on the part of the officer making the next critical decision. In some situations these decisions can be a lifesaving decision for our firefighters or citizens needing immediate action.

Although trying not to “monday morning quarterback” this decision made by the department; it is imperative that careful, thoughtful deliberation is conducted before pulling the trigger on a suspension.

Due to issues brought forth by our all too present media, a possible right decision made by the Chief of a department, may wilt under the glare of the Court of Public Opinion.

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