Zero-Tolerance Drug Policy Swept Up 9/11 Hero

     BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Glen Merkitch has scores of medals attesting to his heroic accomplishments with the New York City Fire Department, but he has emotional baggage from them too.
     Merkitch details both in a petition for reinstatement filed Friday in Kings County Supreme Court, noting that dealing “constantly … with horrific images of death and destruction” has made it difficult to recover emotionally from rescue work he performed though off duty when the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001.
     This pressure resurfaced for Merkitch in August 2011 when the son of his best friend who was killed in the 9/11 attacks came to visit him, according to the complaint.
     After he failed a random drug test on Aug. 15, Merkitch faced disciplinary charges, and the chief of the New York City Fire Department yanked his most recent medal, saying it would not “look good” to honor a firefighter facing disciplinary charges.
     To “spare himself, his family and the FDNY the time, expense, labor and stress of a disciplinary trial, when the penalty of termination was essentially pre-ordained,” Merkitch resigned in March 2013.
     “He sincerely regrets and apologizes for his inappropriate conduct and the embarrassment it has caused the FDNY and his family,” his petition states.
     Merkitch concedes that the FDNY has a “zero-tolerance policy” when it comes to drug use, but insists that the cocaine found in his urine was an “isolated” incident stemming from the emotional visit he received.
     The former fireman drafted a letter to the FDNY’s commissioner in February 2014, and his wife sent a package outlining her husband’s accomplishments earlier this year.
     Commissioner Daniel Nigro nevertheless denied Merkitch reinstatement this past June.
     Nigro wrote that, “regardless of [his] personal feelings about the rights and wrongs of the situation,” the “laws and regulations” governing the FDNY “preclude me from reinstating someone who resigned while facing disciplinary charges,” according to Merkitch’s petition.
     Merkitch contends that he would be the first person to get a special dispensation, noting that Nigro “ignored his explicit and sole authority” when he reinstated the former commissioner’s son, Joseph Cassano, as an emergemcy medical technician after he resigned amid allegations that he made racist comments on his Twitter account.
     Merkitch wants his job back, and his day in court next month.
     After Sept. 11, Merkitch volunteered to work at Ladder 3 in Manhattan, a fire house that saw most of its members join the death toll of 2,606 who died in the World Trade Center during the attacks.
     “Understandably, working there was emotionally very difficult,” his petition states.
     Merkitch enjoyed an “exemplary record as an aggressive, productive and heroic fire fighter,” he says.
     After transferring to Ladder 120 in Brooklyn, Merkitch received a unit citation for his performance at a fire on Fulton Street.
     For his “heroic acts” in that fire, Merkitch got an FDNY Class 3 Medal, the Thomas B. Crimins Medal by the FDNY and the Liberty Medal by the New York Post.
     Merkitch also was inducted into the prestigious FDNY Honor Legion in October 2007.
     He says he applied for and was accepted to serve Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan in 2008.
     There is only one such company in each of New York City’s five boroughs, and they perform rope and water rescues. “They are generally recognized as the most aggressive units in the FDNY,” his petition states.
     Merkitch’s work with that company earned him another Unit Citation for a night dive rescue in 2009. It was this honor that the chief allegedly withdrew after Merkitch failed the drug test.
     He is represented by Michael Block with Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo in Manhattan.

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