Volunteer firefighter says he was fired for leaving work to respond to emergency call
June 6, 2013
Steamboat Springs — An Oak Creek volunteer firefighter thinks he was fired from his full-time job because he left work to respond to the homicide and attempted suicide in Stagecoach on May 29.
Colorado state law provides protections for volunteer firefighters, and Marc Bell, who has been with the Oak Creek Fire Protection District fire department for about seven years, thinks his employer broke the law.
"I know I was fired because I went on that call," Bell said Thursday.
The incident concerns Oak Creek Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup because he thinks it could discourage people from being volunteer firefighters.
"I'm upset," Wisecup said.
An official with Bell's former employer, Professional Transportation Inc., said the company is reviewing the termination to make sure state laws were followed in addition to company policies.
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"We'll research that situation to make sure we are in compliance," said Steve Greulich, director of human resources for the company.
Bell was working during the early hours of May 29 when the emergency call came in at 2:55 a.m.
Because of the nature of the emergency, Bell said, he left work without telling his supervisor.
Wisecup said he needed Bell to respond to the call because he is one of the best drivers in the department, and he expected anyone injured in the incident would need to be taken to the hospital quickly.
"He's one of the guys who everyone on the crew trusts to drive these calls," said Wisecup, adding that in 2011, Bell was given the department's award of merit for his role in saving a woman who crashed her car into the Yampa River. "He's one of my best volunteers. I wish I had ten more of him."
When he returned to work five minutes before the end of his shift May 29, Bell turned in his paperwork and ended his workweek.
Bell said he previously had filled out his timecard and admitted he did not account for the time he left work to respond to the call.
"I just didn't even think about it, and I left," Bell said.
Bell was fired Saturday from the Indiana-based company that employs 6,000 people nationwide. In Colorado, it shuttles employees of the Union Pacific railroad company.
According to Bell, his supervisor said he was fired for sleeping on the job, receiving multiple complaints from railroad management and for submitting an inaccurate timecard.
Bell disputes the accusations with the exception of the timecard issue.
"I shouldn't have been fired," Bell said. "I should have been wrote up."
According to state law, an employer cannot terminate an employee who is a volunteer firefighter and leaves work to respond to an emergency as long as the employee is not essential to the company's operations.
Greulich confirmed Bell was terminated for various policy violations. Greulich said he learned about the incident Thursday.
"There is a union, and Mr. Bell has a right to appeal any adverse decisions through that process," Greulich said.
Bell said that he has contacted his union about the termination and that he has moved on to a job with the city of Steamboat Springs Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, which he starts Monday.
"I don't want my job back," Bell said. "This is wrong that they fired me from going on that call."
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com