Garden City Park firefighter’s expulsion vacated by New York Supreme Court order

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Garden City Park firefighter’s expulsion vacated by New York Supreme Court order
The Garden City Park Fire Department headquarters is seen on Jericho Turnpike in Garden City Park. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

A state Supreme Court judge has ordered the Garden City Park Water and Fire District to reinstate a firefighter who was expelled. 

Judge Diccia Pineda-Kirwan’s decision on Nov. 8 reversed the district’s termination of Jensen Thomas, accepting the firefighter’s argument that disciplinary action he received was disproportionate. 

In February, the district’s Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to remove Thomas, a 31-year-old EMT who was a firefighter in the district since 2008 and a captain since 2016, on grounds of violating district by-laws, engaging in disrespectful conduct and damaging district property.

Thomas said that he was unfairly treated. He testified that he was subject to disparate treatment by the district and that other firefighters who caused more or similar damage to the department were not reprimanded the same way.

The incident in question stems from a discussion between Thomas and Third Assistant Chief John Janus that took place during a 2019 Christmas party. Janus opposed Thomas’ candidacy for third assistant chief in that year’s election, which Thomas lost. After the conversation escalated to an argument, Thomas was ordered to leave after cursing and raising his voice, which he agreed to do after initially refusing. 

Upon leaving, Thomas went to the district headquarters and threw a television remote, kicked a wall and slammed a door, damaging the wall, for which he was expelled. 

Thomas said his discipline was disproportionate to the charges.

Since the ruling in November, Thomas said that he has still not been reinstated and is unsure why. 

“They are simply refusing to reinstate me,” Thomas said in an interview. “This could be done very quickly, but it has not happened yet. I respond to calls and the department needs manpower whenever an emergency situation arises. I can be there. They are dragging their feet.”

Without being reinstated to his company, Garden City Park Engine Company 3, Thomas would be ineligible for the vacant lieutenant position he seeks to run for in upcoming elections. 

Thomas testified that he was aware of incidents that include other firefighters vomiting on a couch, throwing a vacuum cleaner and breaking a picture frame. Also during his testimony, Thomas said a captain in the department cut a piano in half with a saw used for fire rescue operations. Thomas alleged that no punishments were handed out for each instance, aside from paying for damages.

“The court order shows the bias by the Board of Fire Commissioners because other members have broken department equipment and nothing has been done to them,” Thomas said.

According to the order, Thomas did not contest any of the charges and was said to be remorseful for his actions, which included a previous incident of insubordination and acting in an aggressive manner where he tried to strike another firefighter with his car, which resulted in a four-month suspension and yearlong probation. 

Thomas, who is Indian, is one of two firefighters of color in the district, along with Chief Salju Thomas. The two are not related.  According to the order, the chief described abusive behavior toward Jensen Thomas regarding his race, where firefighters put an insulting sticker on his helmet and an ex-chief referred to him as “Obama.” 

Judge Pineda-Kirwan said the mistreatment regarding Thomas’ race “appears to have evaded the district’s disciplinary process.”

The judge also said that “expulsion is a penalty which shocks one’s sense of fairness” regarding the treatment Thomas received in relation to other offenders in the district. 

Chris Murray, Thomas’ attorney, said, “We are very happy with the court’s decision. The judge clearly saw through the district’s behavior and its unfair treatment of Mr. Thomas, who just wants to serve his community.” 

Chief Roland Sarracco and the district declined to comment.

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