Firefighter labor dispute continues

Clallam County Fire District 3 is paying for one firefighter more than it has on staff.

Peter Craig, a fire captain with the district, has been on paid administrative leave for more than a year after his termination was appealed by his labor union in June 2007.

Craig was fired Aug. 18, 2006, for “horseplay on the job,” according to court documents.

The matter was appealed to a labor union arbitrator who reviewed the decision. Arbitrator Michael Beck ruled the Fire District Commissions’ decision to fire Craig was too harsh and ordered Craig’s reinstatement with back pay, excluding days he should have been suspended, rather than terminated.

But Craig is not back on the job. He is getting the paychecks but fire Chief Steve Vogel is not letting him suit up.

District 3 is challenging the arbitrator’s order in Clallam County Superior Court. The case, which was filed on Aug. 21, 2007, had a trial date set for early May 2008 on a day booked with too many trials for the court to handle one of its size. Judge Ken Williams indicated a trial with so much information needed an entire day and that attorneys agreed to a new date, Dec. 8, 2008.

Craig was placed on paid leave while the district investigated his actions, from June 2006 to his termination in August 2006. He then was without pay until the arbitrator ordered his reinstatement in June 2007, at which time he again was placed on paid leave pending a court decision.

If the court approves the arbitrator’s order, District 3 will be forced to also pay for the 10 months between Craig’s termination and the order to reinstate him.

Craig, of Sequim, has a 15-year career in firefighting He is a shift captain and is in charge of training and operations of firefighters on staff during his shift.

The horseplay incident took place on May 31, 2006.

Clallam County Superior Court documents filed by District 3’s attorney Thomas Burke state Craig took control of an aerial bucket on a fire engine after a training exercise, elevated another firefighter to the maximum height of the mechanical arm and bounced the bucket in an up-and-down motion. The firefighter in the bucket reportedly spilled some water onto Craig and other personnel.

The report indicates firefighters at the scene requested Craig report the alleged safety violation and requested a structural analysis for the fire truck to determine if any damage resulted from the actions.

“Capt. Craig failed to report the incident that took place during the training drill May 31 to his superiors as a safety violation,” the report reads. “Also, Capt. Craig did not report the possible structural damage that may have occurred to truck No. 344.”

As a consequence, other fire personnel filed complaints regarding the alleged violations, according to the report.

Vogel recommended termination of Craig to the fire district board of commissioners on July 31.

Craig filed a grievance with his labor union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, which initiated the arbitration hearing.

The arbitrator found the correct reprimand should have been suspension without pay for 10 days and ordered Craig’s reinstatement.

Burke asserts the arbitrator overstepped legal jurisdiction by determining what level of discipline the incident required.

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