YEAR IN REVIEW — FIRE DEPARTMENT
BERLIN—A workplace harassment complaint by an emergency medical technician with the Berlin Fire Company to the town in February 2012 went to a whole other level after last Christmas and as 2013 comes to a close it remains unresolved.
The EMT, Zachery Tyndall, who had been transferred from the fire company to the town and then back to the BFC after alleging he was being subjected to workplace harassment was already dealing with challenges with some of his co-workers, he alleges. But when he
drove one of three ambulances responding to the scene of a fatal traffic accident on Dec. 26, 2012, that severely injured the car’s driver and killed her passenger, things got far worse.
Tyndall allegedly requested assistance in transporting one of the victims, who was later pronounced dead at the hospital, with the help of a police officer when other responders at the scene allegedly failed to respond.
The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems conducted an investigation into the incident after allegations were raised that the failure to respond was a willful act by BFC members to block assistance to Tyndall as he tried to stabilize and transport the accident victim at and from the scene.
On March 12, 2013, four days after the MIEMSS issued a report determining that on-scene medical care rendered during the car crash had met the appropriate standard of care, Tyndall, the paramedic involved in treating and transporting the victim, was fired by the Berlin Fire Company.
Town officials who had voted to cut off the town’s funding of the fire company in response to what officials said was the fire company’s refusal to work with them to resolve multiple complaints of harassment within the ranks of the company’s firefighters and paramedics in 2012, prior to the accident. They later requested an accounting of the fire company’s finances as a condition of releasing the contributions they had blocked by placing them in the contingency fund.
When fire company leaders resisted the accounting disclosure request, more than half of the money that had been set aside for the fire company was used to fund the town’s new stormwater management utility instead, leaving $239,000 remaining in the contingency fund.
Tyndall filed an $8 million civil rights lawsuit against the fire company and several of its current and former leaders in August for their alleged roles in a campaign of sexual orientation-based harassment and intimidation. The lawsuit named several members of the fire company’s leadership for their alleged roles of either participating in or failing to halt a campaign of harassment and intimidation. In September Tyndall’s lead attorney James Otway, of the Salisbury firm Otway, Russo & Rommel, confirmed that Tyndall’s former supervisor, Norris Phillip Donohoe Sr., had been removed from the named individuals charged with abuse on the list because, “From our perspective, his involvement was less than that of the others and we wanted to focus on those whom we believe were most culpable.”
Meanwhile, a second paramedic and firefighter, Jeff Dean, also filed a claim against the fire company with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that he was targeted for retaliatory harassment and intimidation after he tried to stand up for Tyndall, with whom he had been assigned to work.
While the litigation is still being sorted out, the Town Council voted unanimously in September to transfer $200,000 from the contingency fund and immediately allocate it to the Berlin Fire Company, to partially meet the fire company’s fiscal year 2014 budget needs. It represented a portion of a request the BFC made for its expenses in the upcoming year.
In an Aug. 25 letter to the mayor and council, fire company officials requested $567,000 in funding for fire mitigation and emergency medical services for budget year 2013-2014 and another $567,000 for the contribution the town had planned to contribute for budget year 2012-2013, but withheld.
Mayor Gee Williams described the partial payment as an attempt to re-establish its relationship with the fire company by reinstating the funding process that had been suspended months ago.