A Delaware County judge has ruled that three Orange Township firefighters — two of them supervisors — were improperly fired two years ago following an investigation into allegations of harassment, hazing and bullying.

Pending the outcome of appeals, Capt. John Hodges, Lt. Dave Martin and firefighter Bradley Belville will return to full-time employment with no loss of rank, full benefits and reimbursement of back pay since their firing in 2019. In addition, their records will be expunged, according to the June 4 order filed in Delaware County Common Pleas Court by Judge David M. Gormley. 

According to a 34-page investigative report, the inquiry began in September of 2019 and involved mistreatment of a part-time firefighter who sought to become full time at Station 361 at 7700 Gooding Blvd., where he and others say he was repeatedly harassed.

According to the report, he was called names and obscenities and forced to wear a garbage can strapped around his shoulders. He was often hit in the groin, causing him to flinch and cover himself when colleagues approached.

Arbitrator: Conduct was ‘normal firehouse behavior’

The culture of harassment was pervasive and not directed solely at the one firefighter, Martin told investigators, but “more of a group thing if anyone messed up,” according to the original report.

An arbitrator agreed with Martin in August, noting that the conduct was “normal firehouse behavior” that had been previously tolerated.

Further, township officials had not placed the firefighters on notice for the conduct, nor had progressive discipline been used, according to the arbitrator.

Orange Township trustees vote to appeal judge’s ruling

Gormley denied the township’s motion to vacate the arbitration decision. The township was sent a bill Tuesday for $831 in court costs for its failed motion to vacate the arbitration decision.

Orange Township did not immediately respond to a request for how much back pay the three will be paid. Trustees voted unanimously June 7 to appeal Gormley’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The part-time firefighter had told investigators that he initially took the abuse because he wanted to “fit in” and be part of the brotherhood.

The firefighter is not being named, in part, because, according to the initial report, the conduct was serious and might have involved criminal conduct including sexual assault and battery and The Dispatch does not name victims of sexual assault.

From www.dispatch.com