A volunteer firefighter in Illinois says he was fired by his employer because he was late to work the day of a massive fire. Justin Wilkinson's employer, meanwhile, says that's not the reason he was fired.
Matt Schrimpf, the CEO of Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil Company, says Wilkinson arriving late to work was not the reason he was fired, but declined to elaborate because of a lawsuit. Meanwhile, Justin Wilkinson is unemployed, he says because he risked his life to fight a five-alarm fire.
"When we got here the fire was fully involved. The fire had already made it up into the attic," said Rosewood Heights Fire Chief Tim Bunt, describing a challenging five-alarm fire that destroyed a house in the 400 block of Valley Drive January 30th. "There was a 20 to 25 mile-per-hour wind. It was in the 20s. We had to deal with the ice. Our closest water supply was about 1000 feet away."
Bunt said propane tanks exploded and a car caught fire.
During the early morning firefight, Wilkinson, an 11-year volunteer, called his supervisor at Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil company to explain he might be late for work because of the fire.
"The employer basically said you can either take a vacation day or come in late. He (Wilkinson) decided to come in late," said attorney Chris Donahoo. "He went to work that day and showed up about an hour and 10 minutes late, worked that day, and the next day he was called and terminated."
That's why Donahoo filed a complaint on Wilkinson's behalf in the Third Judicial Circuit Court in Madison County last week, claiming the oil company unlawfully terminated his client from the job he held for 18 months. There is an obscure Illinois law, the Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act. That law says if a volunteer is late, or absent from work because they responded to an emergency, they can't be fired. Wilkinson is seeking $50,000 dollars in damages.
"It's sad, it really is," said Justin Wilkinson. "I couldn't believe it. Why?"
"How I really feel about it, I probably can't say on film," said Fire Chief Bunt. "I'm angry. I feel responsible for him losing his job because I used him that day."
Wilkinson is following in the footsteps of his father, who was also a volunteer firefighter. Even though the married father of two says firefighting cost him his job, he still wants to serve his community.
"How great of a feeling it is for me to help people out," Wilkinson said.