As he gets ready to head back to work after a one-month suspension, Thomsponville Fire Chief Frank Alaimo is taking legal action against the fire district and commission, which he says is trying to force him into retirement, according to his attorney.
Alaimo was suspended last month over allegations that he failed to properly log his hours and document his daily activities while on the job, fire commission chairwoman Colleen Reidy said in December. She also cited Alaimo’s late arrival to a deadly fire on South River Street on Dec. 10.
A federal lawsuit filed Jan. 13 depicts a strained relationship between the chairwoman and chief, a 35-year veteran of the department who has held his post since 2007. According to the suit, tensions ran high between the two even before Reidy was elected to the fire commission.
The lawsuit says Reidy was part of an outspoken group pushing back against the construction of a $3.5-million fire station in 2012. Alaimo was a strong proponent of the new facility and became a target of personal attacks, according to the paperwork.
“Reidy was one of the most vocal critics of Alaimo,” the lawsuit claims.
After Reidy became chairwoman, she took “willful and intentional” action against Alaimo by failing to accommodate his medical concerns and publicizing them to the rest of the commission, according to the lawsuit.
The paperwork says Alaimo was late to the fire scene Dec. 10 because he was dealing with a chronic medical problem. Although Reidy claimed the commission was unaware of the issue, the suit quotes an email Alaimo sent her over the summer explaining his condition.
The lawsuit also says Reidy refused to allow Alaimo to order the lighter fire helmet his doctor recommended after the chief underwent surgery. He'll now need additional surgery as a result of complications from wearing the heavier helmet.
According the suit, the commission tabled the issue twice during public meetings, when it should have been addressed in a private setting, as required by law when it comes to employees’ medical histories.
Additionally, the chief was required to use sick days and vacation time to cover his medical leave of absence, which cost him about $400 per day, since firefighters are reimbursed for their unused sick time when they leave the department, according to the paperwork.
The lawsuit says another commissioner, who was also opposed to the construction of the new firehouse, told Alaimo he would be “checking up on him” to make sure the chief reported to fire scenes while off duty.
Per the Department of Labor, Alaimo should be paid his normal wages for all hours worked while off the clock, but the chief has yet to see that money, according to the suit.
Alaimo is seeking unpaid wages, punitive damages, compensation for emotional distress and for medical expenses he incurred as a result of having to wear a heavier fire helmet, attorney fees and the lightweight helmet he still has not received.
Reidy could not be reached for comment Wednesday.