Commissioner: Providence fire capt. terminated for insubordination

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A veteran Providence fire captain is out of a job for what Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare is calling a “failure to take responsibility for his subordinates.”

Dennis Tucker, who worked for the city’s fire department since 1988, was terminated last week after a three-member city trial board unanimously voted to approve the dismissal recommendation made by Pare.

“He was absolutely adamant that it wasn’t his responsibility to manage his firefighters that may or may not have been taking excess sick time,” Pare told WPRI.com.

But records obtained by WPRI.com show that while Tucker’s refusal to enforce disciplinary action on his subordinates contributed to his termination, an angry email Tucker sent to Pare – and then forwarded to every member of the fire department – was a key reason for Tucker’s discipline.

In a 10-page decision, the trial board found that an email Tucker forwarded to the entire fire department on Oct. 29 threatened Pare with legal action if he or any of his subordinates were to become injured was a “deliberate effort to undermine the leadership of the fire department and sow the seeds of dissent within the ranks of the department’s sworn personnel.”

The report shows that Tucker and several other high-ranking members of the department were asked to discipline a group of firefighters the city believed was abusing the fire department sick-time policy or face a suspension. Tucker then filed an injured-on-duty claim, arguing that he was “stressed and hypertensive” since being reprimanded. When Pare ordered him back to work, Tucker sent the email.

“Commissioner Pare entirely mischaracterized the basis for the discipline,” Paul Doughty, president of Local 799 of the International Association of Firefighters, told WPRI.com. “At the end of the day, it was simply for sending a mean email to the commissioner of public safety.”

Fire department policy requires a three-member trial board that consists of the city’s Probate Court judge, human resources director and the commissioner of public safety to consider employee termination cases. Pare said he recused himself from Tucker’s case and appointed the deputy public safety commissioner to sit on the trial board.

A 27-year veteran in the department, Tucker was slated to earn a base salary of $74,673 in the current fiscal year. Counting callback overtime, records show Tucker earned $120,000 during the 2014-15 fiscal year. Pare said the city will also try to block Tucker from earning his pension, arguing that he didn’t “serve the city honorably.”

Tucker did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Tucker’s termination comes as the city and the firefighters’ union remain locked in a legal battle over the Elorza administration’s decision to reorganize the fire department Aug. 2.

The two sides are in a dispute over how much firefighters should be paid for Elorza’s decision to move the fire department from four platoons to three, which required firefighters to go from working an average of 42 hours per week to an average of 56 hours per week.

The change, Elorza has said, would ultimately allow Providence to save $5 million a year because the city would be able to meet the contractually-required 94 workers on duty at all times without having to bring in firefighters from other platoons and pay overtime for the extra hours. Those savings have not been realized in the current fiscal year.

The union contends that while the platoon changes are considered a management right, the current contract with the city calls for firefighters to be paid overtime for working more than 42 hours in a week. The Elorza administration gave them an 8% pay increase for the 14 hours that were tacked on to the schedule.

The two sides are currently in arbitration over how much the firefighter will be paid moving forward, but the city has also asked the state Supreme Court to declare that they shouldn’t be in arbitration at all. Elorza has said he is hopeful a settlement can be reached.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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