An independent arbitrator has upheld the firing of a Bourne firefighter, ruling there was just cause for the firing of firefighter/paramedic Nicholas S. Reis last summer.
Mr. Reis was let go following two incidents dating to March 2018.
The first instance involved him being late for the start of his work shift. One week later, he showed up inebriated for a paramedic refresher class.
Robert M. O’Brien, an attorney from Milton, was hired by the American Arbitration Association to evaluate the case.
Mr. O’Brien issued a decision dated Monday. The decision was made in the aftermath of a June 14 hearing on Mr. Reis’s termination, over which Mr. O’Brien presided.
The attorney determined that Bourne Fire Chief Norman P. Sylvester was justified in terminating Mr. Reis’s employment with the Town of Bourne.
“This Arbitrator finds that there was just cause for firefighter/paramedic Nicholas Reis’s termination on July 3, 2018,” Mr. O’Brien said.
On March 14, 2018, Mr. Reis reported late for his 8 AM shift. Mr. Reis explained that he overslept because his alarm did not go off. By not showing up on time, or notifying a department officer he would be late, “Firefighter Reis was derelict in his duty as a Bourne firefighter,” Mr. O’Brien said.
When Mr. Reis arrived at work that day, he had a large cut on his head. He said the cut was the result of an altercation he had the night before with his roommate. Assistant Fire Chief David S. Cody questioned whether Mr. Reis was fit for duty and refused to let him go to work. Another firefighter was called in to replace Mr. Reis.
The next day Mr. Reis was cleared to return to work, but was placed on administrative leave pending an evaluation by a counseling center.
The following week, on March 21, Mr. Reis attended a paramedic refresher course in Hyannis along with Deputy Fire Chief Ryan M. Haden, Lieutenant Gilbert N. Taylor and firefighter/paramedic Brian C. Rooney. The session began at 9 AM. When Mr. Reis arrived, he was intoxicated.
Mr. Reis admitted to drinking heavily the night before because he thought the class was going to be cancelled due to an expected snowstorm. However, the snowstorm missed Cape Cod and the class was not cancelled.
Mr. Reis’s alcohol problems stemmed from several personal traumas dating back to 2015, according to Mr. O’Brien. In late 2017, Mr. O’Brien wrote, Mr. Reis had reached out to Chief Sylvester for help with alcoholism. In early December 2017, he entered a recovery program that he completed successfully. He returned to work roughly two weeks later.
In the second incident, Chief Sylvester and Asst. Chief Cody had to go to Hyannis to physically remove Mr. Reis because his behavior was disrupting the paramedic refresher class. In his written decision, Mr. O’Brien referred to testimony that Mr. Reis “was talking out loud and was talking over the instructor.”
After the incident Mr. Reis was placed on administrative leave and never returned to the department, Mr. O’Brien said.
Local 1717, the firefighters union, argued that under the current collective bargaining agreement, Mr. Reis should have been allowed to enter a rehabilitation program since a blood alcohol test on March 21, 2018, was the first time he had tested positive in nearly six years with the department.
The union contended that, after successful completion of the program, Mr. Reis should have been returned to work with the Bourne Fire Department as required under a section of the CBA.
However, Mr. O’Brien pointed out that on March 22, 2018, Mr. Reis was admitted to Gosnold Treatment Center. He was discharged April 3, 2018. Two weeks later he was admitted to the On-Site Academy in Westminster for roughly three weeks.
The On-Site Academy is a nonprofit residential treatment and training center for critical incident stress management. The academy’s website states it offers a program for emergency personnel such as firefighters “who are themselves temporarily overwhelmed by the stress of their jobs.”
On April 24, 2018, a hearing was held to determine whether there was just cause to either punish or dismiss Mr. Reis because of the two incidents the previous month. Attorney James B. Lampke of Hingham presided over the hearing.
On June 26, 2018, Mr. Lampke’s report was released. The report said the department would be justified in taking serious disciplinary action against Mr. Reis, “up to and including termination of his employment.” On July 3, 2018, Chief Sylvester fired Mr. Reis.
Union grievances of Mr. Reis’s termination were filed with Chief Sylvester and former Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino. Both grievances were denied, and the union submitted the matter for arbitration. A hearing was held June 14, with Mr. O’Brien presiding.
In rendering his decision in favor of the Town of Bourne, Mr. O’Brien said there were mitigating circumstances involved in the case. Until the tardy instance and the drunken episode, Mr. Reis had an unblemished record with the department.
“The Department agrees that he was a very competent member of the Department,” Mr. O’Brien wrote. “Also, the Department nominated him for fire fighter of the year in Massachusetts.”
In addition, Mr. Reis admitted to his mistakes, and did not operate a vehicle or respond to a call while intoxicated, Mr. O’Brien said.
Showing up late for work could be excused, Mr. O’Brien said, particularly since it was the first time for Mr. Reis. However, arriving for the paramedic refresher course intoxicated and disrupting the class was far more egregious, Mr. O’Brien said.
Mr. O’Brien said that, in his opinion, Mr. Reis was on duty as an employee representing the Town of Bourne at the paramedic refresher course. When he showed up intoxicated, he “committed substantial misconduct.”
“Firefighters in Bourne are held to a high standard of conduct,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Reporting to duty under the influence of alcohol violates this public trust.”