This is a very interesting story from Burlington County, New Jersey. Veteran Riverside Fire Company volunteer firefighter Robert Campolongo was fired from his job as a driver for L&C Specialized Carriers after he failed to show up for work as Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey on October 29. Campolongo told his story to Burlington County Times reporter David Levinsky and so has L&C co-owner Cliff Cini.
What makes this story so interesting is that while Campolongo decided to fill his role as one of the engineers capable of operating the department’s “special-needs boat with a flat bottom”, handling dozens of rescues in Ocean County, Cliff Cini needed all hands on deck to get his trucks moving to New York with generators and other emergency supplies.
Before you make up your mind about who is wrong and who is right in this case, I urge you to read the entire article.
Included in the article are copies of text messages between the firefighter and his employer:
Cini: “Rob, if you don’t call me by 4 o’clock, I’m going to have to let you go. Everybody is working. You’re the only one not answering your phone. Ridiculous, dude.”
Campolongo: “Hey, you wanna fire me, fine. … Look on the news and CNN, and you’ll see why I couldn’t call you. … I’m ridiculous??? Well, it’s after 4!!! … I ACCEPT YOUR FIRING MY ASS!!!”
Cini: “Hey, Rob, just for your information, I was a cop for 15 years. … My business surrounds emergency services. Out of the employees, you’re the only (one) that didn’t answer your phone. So yes, ridiculous it is. … So yes, I take it very personally when you say you’re going to work. And just so you know, we’re in New York City, where real people are working and where there’s real issues. Not some stupid (expletive) in Burlington County.”
Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Kirk has sent a letter urging L&C to rehire Campolongo. Here’s what the chief told reporter Levinsky:
“We’ve always been told, if you’re late to work (because of a call), they don’t have to pay you, but they can’t fire you. This was a spur-of-the-moment thing. They called us at 1:30 in the a.m. looking for help.”
Chief Kirk, according to the paper, is referring to a 2010 law known as the Emergency Responders Employment Act. That law makes it illegal to fire a volunteer involved in an emergency response as long as the employer is notified at least an hour before the shift starts.
The president of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, George Heflich Sr, believes that law needs to be strengthened to provide greater protection for volunteers. Heflich said, “If I’m extinguishing your house that’s on fire, you think I’m going to call my boss?”