A fire inspector living with multiple sclerosis says he still has what it takes to serve the public. But his boss argued David Sackett can no longer perform essential job functions.
Sackett left a job in the corporate world to pursue his dream of being a firefighter and a paramedic. He said he began serving the Oswego community as a firefighter and paramedic in 2005.
However, Sackett was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 2010. The disease affects muscle movement. Sackett said he informed his colleagues about his condition. He said when the physical demands of being a firefighter became too difficult, the fire district accommodated his request to become a fire inspector.
"It's a little bit different atmosphere going through and inspecting a building and checking fire extinguishers and alarm systems than going into a building that's on fire," Sackett said.
But Sackett is now fighting to keep his job.
Earlier this year, Chief Rick Neitzer notified the Board of Fire Commissioners for Kendall and Will Counties that Sackett was physically unfit to perform the duties of a firefighter-paramedic. His argument included input from doctors. The chief also wrote Sackett disobeyed a direct order by not participating in a physically-demanding test for firefighters that targets a firefighters climbing, crawling, carrying and chopping skills.
"I cannot do all the things that a firefighter-paramedic needs to do on the street, but I wasn't on the street. I was in the bureau," Sackett said.
According to the Oswego Fire District's operational manual, fire prevention personnel are exempt from taking the "essential job function test."
Neitzer declined to comment due to pending litigation. But in papers filed with the fire commission, the fire district argues the role of a fire inspector is temporary.
Sackett said he was never told his fire inspector position was temporary. He said he has been on unpaid administrative leave since March.
Linda Mastandrea is a disabilities rights attorney who has no connection to the dispute. She said employees facing similar situations should be up front with their bosses about their disabilities.
"Nobody has a right to employment, per se. But an employee with a disability does have a right to be accommodated for their disability assuming that they can perform the essential functions of the job," Mastandrea said.
She said employees who feel they're being discriminated against can file a complaint with the state
Sackett said he is considering his legal options, but he's waiting to hear the future of his job.
The Oswego Fire District offered Sackett a position as a non-sworn civilian fire inspector. But Sackett said the job would come with a pay cut and no pension.
"I just want to get back to doing what I was doing for as long as I can do it," Sackett said.
Sackett will face the fire commission on October 21 to learn his current employment fate.