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You be the judge: NJ Volunteer firefighter loses job while handling storm emergencies. Boss says he also needed employee to respond to help victims of Sandy.

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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?”

Comments - Add Yours

  • Legeros

    Good post for the KABs. Keyboard Arbitrarion Boards.

  • Former Chief

    Mr. Campolongo is wrong in my opinion. Mr. Cini from L&C had every right to expect his employees were available based on what I read in the article. Mr. Cini even gave Campolongo the chance to keep his job at L&C. Sounds like Campolongo wants to be a “full time volunteer”. I guess he’s getting his wish.

  • Bullets

    As a volunteer EMT in NJ, I’m with the employer. This wasn’t a structure fire that gets dispatched in the middle of the day with no warning. We knew NJ was getting this a week out. Storm came on Sunday, no reason he couldn’t have called Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday morning. Considering the job market, this guy is lucky to be employed. Most bosses are pretty understanding of volunteer Fire and EMS. Not only would he have been covered legally, it’ just common courtesy.

    Also, I’ve never seen a special-needs boat! I’d like to see that.

  • Mike

    Sounds like Riverside has a full time volunteer, he deserves to be let go.

  • Hopeless

    This has officially made everyone that volunteers look like raging a-holes. I live and volly in this county, and when i saw this in the paper i wanted to go slap him myself. I am essential personnel at my work, and my department was also asked by the burlington county coordinators to respond to ocean county, but i kinda rely on my paycheck to survive and had to pick my job over being a career volunteer. Did i want to go help? Yes. Did i also think about my future and not wanting to get fired? Yes. The law protects us if we get stuck late on an incident. He knew damn well he would be there for a long period of time, because the coordinators told us to only commit to it if we were available for 12-24 hours at a time. But since he wanted to be portrayed as a hero instead of an unemployed jerk off he took it to the newspapers…

  • OJ11

    WTF! Real people?! That comment is so ignorant and selfish! Yeah maybe he coud have made moe of an effort to call but look outside your window there is a bit of a storm happening! It makes me sick to hear something like this for someone to just think there more important than others! The guy was operating a rescue boat and he was supposed to stop to deliver generators to already safe people. Give your head a shake!

    • Anonymous

      It’s all about making one little phone call. It dosen’t take that long to do. I’m sure if he had to use the bathroom or eat he took the time for that.

  • Shhh…

    Mr. Campolongo should know where his bread is buttered and know the terms that go along with his volunteering.

    “but it requires the responder to provide his employer with notice “at least one hour before he is scheduled to report to his place of employment.”

  • Rick Lau

    I think that this only goes to show a underlying issue of of the volunteer firefighters not being able to respond due to other demands. This is one of many reasons that volunteer ranks are shrinking.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like they need more career firefighters working.

  • J. Collins

    The employer is completely in the right. Mr. Campolongo had sufficient time to send a text or a phone call to Mr. Cini before he “didn’t have any service”. I appreciate the fact that Mr. Campolongo served people in need but the complete breakdown in communication blew this situation out of control. Mr. Cini even gave him a second chance to come back to work. Sounds like Mr. Campolongo has a bad case of priorityitis.

  • Chief 62

    First, if my memory serves me correct this was an unprecedented
    event, The Dept. was called by their County Emergency Mgmt. to provide a specialized boat, if its anything like ours I DON’T have all my members certified as operators for it,just select ones.
    This volunteer just happened to be one of these certified members,correct. This happened at 01:30 hours the callup, for those of us whom have been involved with climactic events such as this one, they take on their own life and you quickly become immersed in what is at hand. If my memory serves me correct again much of the region Cel phones were useless but then I could be wrong (just from what was published).

    Duties, if we take the peeing contest and set it aside, what does this really boil down too. The employer had a right to excercise their option, its how they chose to deal with this I find disturbing. Whether or not the volunteer had been an employee for 4 weeks or 14 years isn’t the issue either. I appreciate the company could have used him to fulfill their obligation under contract, as Class One drivers are in short supply right across North America but if I owned the firm and the truck had to move I would have moved the additional truck myself. I don’t know too many large trucking companies that the owners haven’t risen thru the ranks. If its my business just like us Chiefs (we haven’t forgotten how to do the job)I would have seen the truck got rolling in the volunteers abscence. Perhaps the owner was too proud and driving one of his own trucks was beneath him?

    I also don’t get the feeling the volunteer is flaunting the firefighter special rule either, read the article thouroughly. The comebacks from the owner on the texting are somewhat surprising as well. Lets agree that both persons would have been in an emotionally charged state and perhaps cooler minds would have prevailed at some later point, but by then the companies ultimatum had been delivered, so in all fairness to the volunteer it was a done deal I probably would have said something similar.

    In the end as stated before major trucking firms are crying out for qualified Class One drivers and special load experience ones would be in higher demand, he should be able to fill a replacement job probably by the time I have finished this typing if that is what he chooses. Like our business in the Fire Service it takes a special person with the drive and desire to pilot these 18 wheelers all thru the country in all types of weather, something I don’t think I am capable or desirious of so I tip my hat to them. If not for them commerce across the continent would stop overnight. In the end I think the owner will be the loser here, by the lanquage used, “ridiculous dude” you kind of have too wonder the maturity level of the former 15 year cop, now trucking co-owner? JMHO.

    In closing I will fully support my part-time firefighters and have even on occasion talked with employers over the phone as daybreak approaches to explain the situation to them and never once have I been turned down. Granted this doesn’t happen frequently, slightly more than a Sandy event happens in a community, but at the end of the day the deciding fact is how bad was the offence, did it warrant such severe punishment, could another way out of the no doubt PR mess for the company been found, are we incapable of compassion and the benefit of the doubt. Who if not for the volunteer firefighters would have been there to help the region? Anybody?

    I will end with this, this volunteer gave up his time and responded to another communities peril, with nary a thought about his job. The company minus the volunteer as a driver lost out on some profit!!! Their claim that they were just as needed and that Burlington Counties issue was “expletive” rings kind of hollow to me. While they may appear to have equal merit, people likely drowning over those without a generator to me is a no brainer. To those whom have commented why the Chief of his department would back him up, its a good thing your not a Chief for you have no basis to make such an iditotic comment. Kudos to my Brother Chief. Chief Out. Stay Safe. Play Nice.

  • East Coast Jake

    This guy is just another example of taking his volunteer position to far. I have seen a few guys go through job after job because it interferes with there full time volunteering. You make a commitment to be at work M-F whatever shift you work, you be there! You volunteer at your local firehouse when your off from work or able give some time in-between other daily commitments! I applaud those that give your free time to volunteering, but don’t take it so far that you put life’s priorities on the back burner.

  • Anonymous

    A simple phone call would have made all the difference. Also, from the texts it looks like the employer offered to take him back the next day and he refused. Got to make contact

  • mark

    Well, being a volliePOC as well as an employer, I’d be a little upset as well. Could he not have had dispatch notify his employer that he was tied up?

    And then to disrespect his employer as he did, that also tells me quite a bit. And then his employer gave him an opportunity to keep his job and he blew it.

    One last question. I’m not a sailor, but I am quite sure one doesn’t drive a boat. Just something I noticed that makes me wonder about the veracity of his story.

  • Fire21

    Perhaps Mr. Cini would have been more cooperative if Mr. Campolongo had been more cooperative. Literally daring your boss to fire you usually doesn’t lead to a good result. Most dispatch centers will place a call for you if you request, but perhaps the center in NJ was too busy to make a call for Mr. Campolongo.

    I’m been a volunteer for 37 years, and have always notified my boss if I wasn’t going to make it in. It’s only common courtesy to treat your boss as your boss!

  • Thomas Maahs

    Simple phone call would have advertedthis situation

  • slackjawedyokel

    the “entitlement” mentality is showing up on all levels

  • 8truck

    Really? How much difference would a phone call have made? The employer said that everyone was working but FF Campolongo so who was going to deliver the generators? Phone call or no phone call the employer would have been in the same position. I’m willing to bet that even with the phone call he was going to be required to come to work or would have been fired for not coming. Yes the FF should have been more professional in his personal text messages but so could have his employer. I find it disheartening that his employer feels that NY’ers comfort is higher than Burlington County’s residents lives. Why is he no longer an LEO? Don’t know of any depts that allow you to retire after 15 years. What’s done is done and it’s the FF’s job not ours and if he’s is willing to give it up then so be it. Employement is on the rise anyways so it will be easy for him to find a job….

  • Mack Seagrave

    Volunteering is something that should be done in a person’s free time. Family and career must come first. When someone’s employee chooses to become a volunteer, that does not mean that the employer has at the same time ‘volunteered’ to run his business around the needs of a volunteer fire company. This is why many counties choose to suppliment or completely replace their VFD’s with full time career departments. Just as law enforcement agencies and hospital emergency rooms need to be fully staffed at all times, so too is the case with Fire, rescue and EMS agencies. Emergencies need to be handled on a 24 / 7 basis and responders need to be able to respond promptly and operate for as long as is needed to complete the mission. Career personnel are where they are supposed to be when they are operating at an emergency. Volunteer responders are supposed to be at work when they are scheduled to be there, their responsibility is to the person who hired, pays and relies upon them in order to make a profit and pay his bills.

  • CLT_FF

    Hey brother firefighters stick together but I agree with the employer on this – he deserves to be fired. If I found myself in a serious position of not being able to call, I’d find a way to ask someone to call for me. The absolute right thing to do would be to call the employer – you have to do it. I’ve been in very similar positions, even had to go to the hospital via ambulance for an injury – I still called. Mutual respect, all around.

  • Capt Dick

    Happens everyday all across volleyville , USA… Either a marriage is busted or someone gets fired or quits, all for the sake of running the ” big one”. The super storm is the only thing that makes it a news bit.

  • Karma

    This is the EXACT reason I will not hire anyone that mentions volunteer firefighter on my employment applications. I also think Mr Campolongo has no idea how this event will change his future employment opportunities. The FIRST thing I do with the name of a potential employee is to Google search their name. Yep, this article will be in the top 5 returns on Google for his name. The best way to judge a persons future actions is by looking at their past actions, and in this case, it ain’t good.

  • LINozzleman

    The majority of the region was without cell service or land lines for quite a while. In my case 15 days. I understand the viewpoint that work comes first and thoroughly agree. However the region was devastated and the employer could have had a lil heart under the unprecedented circumstances.

    • bullets

      The region was without cell service AFTER the storm made landfall. And I had Verizon the whole time just north of the area he says he was in

  • BH

    I missed a first-due structure in my first year as a firefighter because I had to go to a work meeting that I never said a word at. My presence was completely superfluous, but mandatory. I’ve missed serious EMS calls too, when the duty crew is calling for manpower.

    It happens. Well, it happens when you have your priorities straight.

  • OldCityCaptain

    Alot of wasted breath defending this guy…..Plain and simple for you folks, pay attention…..here it is……He DID NOT follow the established rules, he acted poorly when he was given an opportunity to correct his actions, and Campolongo made the the decision to not be employed by Mr. Cini any longer!
    All those of you who say “cut him some slack”, “let it slide”,….put yourselves in Mr. Cini’s shoes…..go give some slacker a days worth of your pay for nothing…..you probably won’t be cuttin’em some slack!!!
    HE DID NOT FOLLOW THE RULES!!!!!

  • Scott

    As a volunteer, you can’t make them all. If I was the employer and I was counting on that guy to be at work and needed him, the I would agree w/ the employer. Maybe they both could have handled it a bit differently. I am a business owner and a volunteer, sometimes I can go and many times I can’t. It’s all part of the balance.

  • DaveH

    I live and Volunteer in the same county. I can honestly see both sides of the issue. From the FF Campolongo’s perspective there was a lot of chaos that night and then Ocean County calls up in the middle of the night asking for boats. I can see how communication with his employer broke down. Add to that the Cell service was nonexistant where the guys were operating in Ocean County.. he couldn’t explain the situation until he got service back. At the same time, Mr Cini needed people, didn’t hear back, and got upset.

    What gets me is the texts that occurred after the fact. No remorse or flexibility on either side. It’s a shame. A FF is out of a job and an employer is out of a driver.

  • Anonymous

    Unemployment pay = more volunteer time He basically got what he wanted, now is trying to embarass the company that fired him. Another obamaroid living off the system. I bet he complains about having to do medical runs in the hood too because they “abuse the system”.

  • Jim

    Its nice to see many people here are sane, but some people ugh, can’t fix stupid I guess. 8truck, what are you thinking? The generators going to NY were for comfort?! How do you know what they’re being used for?

    This company has 10 drivers, Mr Volunteer said he would be available to drive prior to the storm, then at the last minute decided it’d be more fun to play firefighter. His boss is missing 10% of his drivers. Not every critical function during a disaster involves a red truck with flashing lights. On the plus side, now he wont miss a single response.

  • Anonymous

    I would fire his ass! Work is just that work! You need to show up. If he wants to lay around a Volly house then go to PG and live in a Volly firehouse. LOL

  • No.1 statter fan from virginia

    I love all these comments; youse guys are sooo funny. People affected by the storm, you are in my thoughts and prayers down here in Virginia/North Carolina…and we have shipped equipment/supplies/manpower up there to help out…I just thought of something. This was a call for help out of the first due in another area right? All the guy had to do was call his boss before moving out on the mission. That would have been the right thing to do. i have been late to work before (career fire captain) because of a volunteer fire or rescue call. Always called to get cover though, and it is a rare unavoidable event (ie something that happened while en route to work) Everyone stay safe. everything people have said about priorities is true and good wise advice that I will heed.

  • mark

    To respond to a couple comments. We don’t know that the bossowner wasn’t running a truck himself. I’d bet he was. Could be wrong.

    Also, did anybody (that is defending this guy) notice that he was called at 0130 but not on the road until 0600? And he didn’t have time to call his boss?

  • Molly

    I’m a volunteer and I have made agreements with my employer in anticipation of this kind of event. My boss would prefer a call, but he also understands, that due to the very nature of emergency events, that a call is not always possible.
    This case has an undertone of pre existing animosity between the two.