firefighter, crew, fire, fear, amnesia, physical distress, training, active, grievance, Houston, Texas, disability, global transient amnesia, professional, safety, mental fortitude, strength, daily tasks, training, discrimination

This Weeks Wacky Wednesday The Firefighter Who Feared Fire

While the title might sound like a children’s book about a firefighter who overcomes his fears and thus proves that the child’s fear of the dark or monsters can be conquered, it isn’t. This was an actual legal case, City of Houston v. Proler, that occurred in 2014. The firefighter in question was not a rookie who suddenly realized during their first practical experience actually fighting a fire that it was not for them. Instead, it was a captain of a firefighting crew.

The Fear

The captain had refused to enter a burning building, in a job which calls for it, because he appeared to be afraid. After that initial incident, he was sent to work at the training academy. He spent some time there and then went back to firefighting fulltime. It was two years after the first incident that he had a similar problem. He was at a house fire and was not able to give orders, take orders, or put on his equipment. He was also said to have signs of physical distress.

Because of this second incident, he was eventually diagnosed with global transient amnesia. Naturally, those who were in charge did not want to have him in the field, so once again, he was sent to work at the training academy. For anyone who has a fear of fire, as he seemed to, this would likely be the end of the case. Most would have been happy to have a new assignment where they did not have to deal with fires.

However, he wanted to continue as an active firefighter. The captain filed a grievance and after the case was examined by a hearing examiner, they ordered that he have the ability to return to his old job and continue being an active firefighter. However, the city did not agree with this decision and they appealed the case. The captain then sued the city claiming that he was being discriminated against because of a disability.

The Outcome

This case went to trial, and a jury found that the city of Houston was discriminating against the captain because of the disability. This would have meant that he would have the ability to return to his normal duties, which had the potential to put civilians and other firefighters at risk. The Texas court of appeals even agreed with the juror’s decision.

However, when the case eventually went before the Texas Supreme Court, cooler heads prevailed. Strangely, the city was not able to successfully argue that the captain was not able to perform the duties of someone in his position. They were able to look deeper into the issue of whether the captain was actually disabled according to the law in Texas, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. They looked at whether he would be able to perform tasks associated with daily life rather than tasks that were in his job as a firefighter.

They found that he was not disabled when it came to performing those daily tasks when compared with the general population. This means that in the eyes of the law, he was not considered disabled.

The situation itself is very strange. It seems that a firefighter who may have believed they wanted to do the job had a disconnect that allowed fear to take a deep and strong hold. It might have been any number of things that made him want to return to the job, even though he must have known he would not be able to perform as a professional. However, any job where the lives of people are at stake should only be performed by those who have the mental fortitude to do it properly.