Volunteer firefighter claims he got fired for answering Metro East fire call

MADISON COUNTY • A volunteer firefighter is suing the Hartford petroleum company that fired him, alleging he lost his job because a blaze he was battling made him late for work.

Justin Wilkinson, 29, claims in the suit that the Hartford Wood River Terminal Co. terminated him on Jan. 31, one day after Wilkinson reported late to work after he responded to a fire in his position with the Rosewood Heights Fire Department.

Wilkinson’s suit was filed Thursday in Madison County Circuit Court. It claims the firing was in violation of the state’s Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act.

The act states that no public or private entity may terminate an employee who is a volunteer emergency worker because the employee “is absent from or late to his or her employment in order to respond to an emergency.”

The fuel company’s president, Matthew Schrimpf, who is also named as a defendant in the suit, denied the allegation.

“As a company, we support local fire departments and are very supportive of the volunteer force, as well as the paid force,” Schrimpf, 41, said Tuesday. Wilkinson’s “reason for termination had nothing to do with his showing up late to work because he was at a fire.”

Schrimpf declined to comment on what he asserted was the real reason.

Wilkinson declined to comment. He was hired at the company in 2012 and worked there as a fuel terminal operator.

His lawsuit, filed by East Alton attorney Christopher M. Donohoo, said Wilkinson had responded early in the morning of Jan. 30 to a five-alarm fire on Valley Drive in East Alton.

The suit contends that Wilkinson called his supervisor from the scene at 7:21 a.m. to say he was in the middle of fighting a fire and might not arrive for the start of his 8 a.m. shift.

The suit claims a supervisor gave Wilkinson the option of taking a vacation day or coming in late.

According to the suit, Wilkinson arrived at work at 9:12 a.m.

Donohoo said a company manager called his client on Jan. 31, which was Wilkinson’s normal day off, and told the firefighter that he had been fired.

Asked whether the manager had told Wilkinson he had been fired for coming to work late the morning of the fire, Donohoo said, “I wouldn’t be filing this claim if (the company) had told Justin he was being fired for something else.”

The suit seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages.

Paul Hampel covers Illinois for the Post-Dispatch.

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