An administrative law judge recommended overturning Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz’s 2014 decision to fire former Capt. James Reyes. But the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commissioners have refused to adopt his decision and want to review the records, including the transcripts for the seven days of hearings.
After a series of hearings over the past year, Judge Eric Sawyer concluded, “In this case, the preponderance of the evidence established [Patrick Reitz], in his capacity as the IFPD chief, abused his discretion in deciding to terminate [former Capt James Reyes].”
Sawyer granted Reyes’ appeal and reversed the termination, but implementation of his decision requires the IFPD commission’s concurrence, which was rejected last month.
Not only did Sawyer provide the salient testimony from both sides, but throughout his 33-page decision, he explained why he accepted, rejected or placed little weight on specific statements.
After a five-month investigation, conducted by IFPD’s consultant Kent McCurdy, Reitz met with Reyes and issued his decision to terminate Reyes’s IFPD employment. The action was official on July 19, 2014.
Reitz’s letter provided several reasons, including Reyes’ inability to meet his training requirements. But the principal reason was Reyes’ action and behavior during an incident in Pine Cove.
In January 2014, Riverside County dispatch received a 911 call regarding “an unresponsive, unconscious child.” The Riverside County Fire Department crew from Station 23 in Pine Cove was the first to respond and arrive at the scene. Several minutes later, IFPD responded with an ambulance crew composed of Reyes and firefighter Adam Rodriguez, who is also an emergency medical technician.
The RCFD crew was already in the house and Paramedic Strouse was administering CPR to the infant. Within minutes, a helicopter was requested and, eventually, the IFPD crew drove the patient to the Keenwild landing site, while Strouse continued to try to revive the baby during the ride.
Within 20 minutes of arriving at a hospital, the infant was declared dead.
Reitz felt Reyes did not take adequate or appropriate action during the incident. For example, Reitz, his investigator and IFPD’s doctor argued that Reyes should have taken command of the incident from the county. They felt he did not arrive on the scene prepared to take appropriate actions and violated IFPD conduct policies.
After receiving testimony during the hearings, Sawyer could find no factual evidence to support the chief’s decision. Further, witnesses from the county’s fire department and the Emergency Medical Services Agency disputed and contradicted IFPD’s interpretation of their policies.
Ultimately, Sawyer found “[t]he consensus of all expert witnesses in this case, including Mr. McCurdy, is that no harm or injury to the patient in question can be attributed to either PM Strouse or [Reyes].”
The fact that IFPD did not review the patient care report from Cal Fire was a major concern for Sawyer. Kent McCurdy, IFPD emergency medical services coordinator, and Dr. Gerardo Salcedo, IFPD’s medical director, both testified that it was not necessary for their conclusions. Reitz testified that he had requested the information and it was refused.
But the Emergency Medical Service Bureau Chief Phillip Rawlings, for RCFD, “persuasively testified IFPD never contacted Cal Fire for its information on this call,” Sawyer wrote.
Later, Dr. Daved van Stralen, medical director for the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency’s, testified that IFPD was misinterpreting county rules. Further, in his opinion, Reyes did nothing wrong during the incident.
This testimony was given significant weight because van Stralen is a former paramedic, who then attended medical school and his current focus is pediatric trauma.
While the opinion clearly states there was personal conflict between Reitz and Reyes, Sawyer argued that was insufficient evidence to require termination. Even Reyes’ poor performance evaluation in 2013 contradicted the termination action because Reitz gave him an above-standard appraisal for “patient care.”
“As a factual matter, it was not established respondent failed to act or perform his duties on the call in question,” Sawyer concluded.
Reitz said neither he nor the commission could comment on the decision because it is a personnel matter and is still part of the Administrative Appeals process.
“The board has spoken through its actions in initially rejecting the ALJ’s proposed decision and requesting additional written arguments from both sides to conduct its own independent hearing as required,” he said describing the next steps.