The lawyer for former Jerusalem Township Fire Chief Harold Stanton, who was fired by township trustees at a meeting on Tuesday, filed an appeal on his client’s behalf in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas on Wednesday.
“We’ve asked for reinstatement, back pay and benefits,” said Kevin Greenfield, Stanton’s lawyer.
Trustees had suspended Stanton on March 5 for allegedly permitting Jim Gray, who is not a member of the fire department, to actively participate on emergency calls.
Trustees have, on several occasions, discussed the matter with Stanton. On Feb. 23, Gray again came to the scene of a house fire on Clubhouse Boulevard to lend a hand. As a result, Stanton was suspended.
Stanton defended himself on March 12 at a public hearing, saying he did not know Gray was assisting firefighters on Feb. 23.
After the hearing, trustees delayed a decision on whether or not to fire Stanton until the meeting on March 19, when they unanimously voted in favor of letting him go.
Trustees have said that it is a liability issue and violates Ohio law.
“If something should happen to anyone who is not a Jerusalem Township firefighter and who is acting as a firefighter, we have no insurance to cover them,” Trustee Joe Kiss told The Press Wednesday. “Anyone who gets hurt on the scene and who is not one of our people, who is insuring them? Not only do we not want citizens to get hurt, we don’t want any of our firefighters to get hurt as a result of non-firefighter personnel being on the scene. It’s clearly about liability situations.”
Trustees said in a letter to Stanton on March 5 that is failure to follow instructions constitutes misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and misconduct in the performance of his official duties as fire chief.
Greenfield, just minutes after filing the appeal, reiterated Stanton’s claim that he did not know Gray was at the scene.
“I don’t know how you can find someone guilty of malfeasance and misconduct when they weren’t even aware they had done anything wrong,” said Greenfield. “There was absolutely no evidence at the hearing that the chief even knew that this individual was present during this time. So I don’t know how you can be guilty of misconduct when he’s engaged in an emergency situation and has no knowledge of anything. That’s really what I find pretty amazing, that trustees could reach that conclusion.”
Kiss said that Stanton, as fire chief, is responsible for securing the scene of an emergency call.
“If a chief is not responsible for securing the scene, doesn’t he appoint someone to be responsible?” said Kiss. “Why didn’t the fire chief tell other firefighters that non-department personnel, like Gray, were not permitted to give assistance?”
Kiss said three firefighters testified under oath at the hearing that they saw Gray on the scene.
Greenfield blamed Kiss for Stanton’s firing because Gray is the brother of former trustee Joe Gray, who oftentimes got into heated arguments with Kiss.
“I believe a lot of this is politics,” said Greenfield. “There’s a lot of bias and prejudice involved here. I don’t think trustees could get that out of their minds and look at the facts of the case. If they did, I strongly believe there would have been a different outcome. Stanton knew Jim Gray, and trustees hated his brother.”
Kiss said Stanton’s dismissal has nothing to do with his previous disagreements with Joe Gray.
“It’s not about Joe Gray and Joe Kiss at all. There was turmoil. We had troubles. It’s public record. But that was then, and this is now. I have nothing bad to say about Joe. None of the other trustees, David Bench and Ron Sheahan, worked on the board with Joe. The real issue is we have people putting people at risk, and it continued to happen,” said Kiss. “It truly is an unfortunate situation that has taken place. Tough decisions have to be made sometimes. Unfortunately, we, the trustees, were put in a situation where tough decisions had to be made. Not everyone is happy about it.”
Gray is not licensed to assist firefighters in the township, where he had been a firefighter several years ago before he resigned, according to Kiss. He had reapplied to the fire department in 2012, but trustees did not hire him, according to Kiss.
Asked why trustees did not hire Gray, Kiss said, “All three trustees felt it was in the best interests of everyone not to hire him.”
Bench and Sheahan, reached by phone, would not comment for this article.