An Augusta firefighter fired in May for calling in sick to work a second job at Gold Cross EMS got a break Wednesday from the city personnel board, which overturned his termination.
Adam Krebs, awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star after surviving a 2005 IED blast in Iraq, said he “had no idea” that calling in sick could result in his termination, after he and fellow firefighters arrived at the same emergency call on the day he’d feigned illness.
“This is beyond what I imagined it would be. I would have used some other means,” such as available vacation time, to take off work, said Krebs.
But his absence, for which he was paid while simultaneously being compensated by Gold Cross, the city’s ambulance provider, caused Fire Chief Chris James to have to close Engine Co. 3 on Reynolds Street due to a shortage of personnel, James said at Krebs’ personnel hearing.
James said Krebs, who was commended by the Augusta Commission in February for his role in the rescue of toddler John Thompson, had resigned his job previously to take another one, then promised James exemplary service when he asked for his job back.
“He assured me that he would be dedicated, that he would do a great job,” James said.
His lie about being sick caused James to question Krebs’ “honesty and his dependability,” the chief said.
Board members took issue with a section of the city’s personnel manual calling for “termination” for the offense of taking paid leave to work a second job.
Board member Ronnie Masters, citing his experience as a retiree from Georgia State Patrol, said James’ punishment “didn’t fit the crime.” James, Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant and city Staff Attorney Jody Smitherman stated however that they had no other option under the personnel manual, which recommends only “termination” in a chart listing punishments for various offenses.
“I made the decision based on what was allowed and appropriate in the policy,” Bryant said. “We’re applying consistently what we have in our policies.”
Krebs, who was represented by attorney Ed Enoch and spoke briefly at the hearing, said he was only vaguely aware of the department’s staffing shortages, which James said were causing him to periodically shut engine companies and had nearly eclipsed the department’s overtime budget.
Board member Bob Finnegan questioned why faking sickness to work elsewhere was included in the manual with a handful of egregious offenses, such as attempting to overthrow the government and dealing drugs, for which termination was the only option.
Bryant, hired this spring, said sections of the manual, approved by the commission in 2010 “leave a lot to be desired... My Personnel, Policies and Procedures Manual has marks all across it of things that should be revised.”
“For whatever reason” the commission had approved the zero tolerance policy, Smitherman, a primary author of the manual, said. After the meeting, Commissioner Joe Jackson said he did not recall any commission discussion about that particular policy item during prolonged debate over its approval.
After a brief discussion, board member Thomas Atkins motioned for Krebs to be reinstated. He was seconded by J.R. Riles. Finnegan, Masters, board chairman Chip Barbee and member Charles Evans joined Aishia Leverett, Riles and Atkins in approving the reinstatement, while members Willie Mazyck and Latasla Gardner voted no.
Smitherman said she’d have to “consult with the client” before deciding whether the city will appeal the ruling.
Another decorated employee wasn’t as fortunate Wednesday. Blythe recreation specialist Angelo Collier, recently named employee of the month prior to his termination for selling a prescription to another employee, said he was attempting to help a fellow employee with a back injury when he accepted $30 for his Motrin 800 prescription. The board upheld his termination. Collier was demoted in 2010 for his role in the sale of Recreation community service hours to probationers.