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April 13, 2013

Judge rules against city in fire-chief case

PLATTSBURGH — The City of Plattsburgh has lost a lawsuit over the January 2012 exam for fire chief.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller ruled that the city set qualifications for the exam specifically to exclude members of the Plattsburgh City Fire Department.

Muller said an exam with broader qualifications must be scheduled and that the city and Mayor Donald Kasprzak can’t appoint a chief until the new test is given.

The judge also faulted Clinton County Personnel Department Director Alan Gibson for being a party to the “unreasonable qualifications” established for the January 2012 exam.

“They tried to back us into a corner, and it didn’t work,” Plattsburgh Permanent Firefighters union President Terry Feazelle said.

TRAINING AT ISSUE

The judge said that including courses certified by the National Fire Protection Association and Department of Defense as qualifications for the position but excluding New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control-certified courses was “unreasonable ...arbitrary and capricious (and an abuse of discretion.”

Because, as proven at trial, the National Fire Protection Association does not offer courses nor certify course results, the only way to qualify to take the examination based on certified courses was to complete them through the Department of Defense, he noted in his ruling.

City firefighters who wanted to take the exam hold certification from the state; they do not have the federal certification.

“This was an unreasonable restriction on eligibility to take the examination,” the judge’s ruling said.

“Setting qualifications to take the examination, which effectively excluded all members of the Plattsburgh Fire Department, was unreasonable.”

The city and county were permanently enjoined from issuing the results of the January 2012 examination. They must issue new qualifications that include Office of Fire Prevention and Control-certified courses.

AS EXPECTED

Kasprzak declined to comment on the case, deferring to Councilor and Mayor Pro Tem James Calnon (I-Ward 4), who serves on the city’s Public Safety Committee.

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