On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-2430-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff and Baxter.
Plaintiff Raymond D'Ambrosio is a firefighter employed by defendant North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (North Hudson).
In March 2008, two years after responding to a fire in North Bergen and providing a report about the incident, plaintiff was charged with two disciplinary offenses, one of which related directly to that report. He responded by filing an action in lieu of prerogative writs to dismiss the charges as untimely. Defendant appeals from the order dismissing the charges and awarding attorneys' fees to plaintiff. We affirm in part and reverse in part.
North Hudson provides fire services to several northern Hudson County municipalities: North Bergen, West New York, Union City, Weehawken and Guttenberg. Plaintiff is a firefighter employed by North Hudson; on March 22, 2006, plaintiff was designated Acting Captain and in that capacity responded to a fire at 3807 Bergen Turnpike, North Bergen.
All acting company officers dispatched to a fire or rescue scene are required to complete an "After Action Report," which is used to assess the company's performance and address areas in need of improvement.
Following the March 22, 2006 North Bergen fire incident, plaintiff submitted the required After Action Report. The form completed by plaintiff states that when he arrived at the scene, he observed "Fire Blowing out Front of Building." In the section of the form that directs the officer completing the form to "Explain Actions in Detail," plaintiff wrote, "Obtained own water supply stretched 2 1/2 to side entrance Assisted advancing 1 1/2 line into Building."
On April 3, 2006, plaintiff submitted a Correspondence Report on the subject of Steve Winters, another firefighter at the scene of the March 22 fire. In this report, plaintiff states, "I saw Steve bring in 1 3/4 line into the front of the building."
Winters, the subject of the April 3, 2006 report, claimed that he sustained burns to his cheek and ear in the March 22, 2006 fire and filed a compensation claim for the injury. Plaintiff's April 3 statement was provided in response to an inquiry from defendant's insurance provider about the use of protective gear by Winters at the scene of the March 22 fire.
Winters was terminated on unrelated disciplinary charges. He appealed to the Merit System Board of the Department of Personnel and the matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) as a contested matter. During a January 11, 2008 OAL hearing, Winters introduced a two-page certification submitted by plaintiff. This document contained substantially more information than provided in the March 22, 2006 After Action Report or the April 3, 2006 Correspondence Report filed by plaintiff.
The August 10, 2006 certification signed by plaintiff and submitted by Winters at his OAL hearing states that
5. Upon reaching the gated entrance of the [North Bergen] building, I noticed Captain Shawn Miick, Captain Mike Caliente, Firefighter Steven Winters, and one other firefighter just inside the gate, which ...