Fired firefighter fights back

An East Newark volunteer firefighter who was fired for “conduct unbecoming” and “insubordination” this summer is contesting his dismissal.

The former firefighter Edmund McKeown, a resident of Kearny, has retained attorney Jennifer L. Casazza, of the Mark Law Firm in Basking Ridge, who has filed a notice of tort claim, which puts the borough on notice of her client’s intent to sue for “wrongful termination.”

McKeown has six months to follow through with an actual lawsuit under rules of the court.

The tort claim names the borough, Mayor Joseph Smith and Fire Chief Kenneth Graham as potential defendants in a future lawsuit.

The claim says that McKeown’s difficulties began after he “reported the failure of the Fire Department to conduct service ladder testing as required by state law and OSHA (U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration) regulations.”

On May 15, 2015, after observing that new sod had been planted in the backyard of the borough firehouse, Mc- Keown mentioned that the Fire Department should have re-directed the money used for the sod “to pay for the required and uncompleted inspection,” the claim says.

McKeown “was instructed to stop complaining,” which he refused to do because of the “safety issue,” at which point “a [borough fire] captain and lieutenant “began screaming at Mr. McKeown, starting that he was a ‘wannabe firefighter’ and a ‘pussy firefighter,’ ‘’’ the claim says.

“At no point did the fire chief advise Mr. McKeown that the ladder inspections were being addressed or try to calm Mr. McKeown down, as there was no need to do so,” the claim says. And, it says, “A majority of the firefighters did not witness the incident.”

Later that day, the claim says, McKeown wrote a letter to the mayor “detailing the Fire Department’s safety issues.”

On June 5, McKeown was issued a notice of disciplinary charges for conduct unbecoming and insubordination, allegedly occurring on May 31. The claim alleges that the charges were “improperly substantiated in retaliation for Mr. McKeown’s complaints” and that he was subsequently terminated on the chief’s recommendation following a hearing held July 8 by the mayor and Borough Council.

The claim also alleges that the mayor “made false statements” to The Observer about the May 31 incident. Those statements injured the firefighter’s “character and standing within his profession.” The claim seeks a jury trial and legal costs for “emotional distress, pain and suffering and loss of reputation,” along with “defamation, slander and outrageous conduct” by the defendants.

The Observer Staff