A judge reinstated a Staten Island firefighter who lost his job over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to a decision that could help other smoke eaters.
Timothy Rivicci – who filed suit after he was terminated in March – will be reinstated to his full duties at Engine 158 and granted a religious exemption from the jab, according to a decision handed down on Tuesday by Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio.
Rivicci will also receive back pay and compensation for lawyers’ fees, the judge ruled.
“When I heard the judge’s decision I was extremely, extremely grateful,” said the 31-year-old firefighter who’s been with the agency since 2016. “I felt like my life was taken away when all of this started and he gave me back my life.”
Porzio found the city’s decision firing Rivicci “arbitrary and capricious” because it didn’t explain its decision nor did it engage in dialogue to work out a solution with him.
The judge said people are still contracting COVID despite being vaccinated and the guidelines for quarantine and isolation are the same for people with or without the vaccine.
“This is not a commentary on the efficacy of vaccination, but about how we are treating our first responders, the ones who worked day-to-day through the height of the pandemic,” Porzio wrote. “They deserve better.”
Rivicci said he and his wife – who was a city teacher – were both fired for not getting the jab for religious reasons. The pair are born-again Christians.
“The whole time we weren’t able to pay our mortgage and we weren’t sure how we were going to get back on our feet,” Rivicci told The Post. “I don’t know what we would have done. We could have lost the house if not for this decision.”
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After having no income for almost a year, they fell behind on their mortgage and their home is now in forbearance, Rivicci’s lawyer Christina Martinez told The Post.
“Tim was really punished for taking a stand in what he really believed in and sticking to his guns,” Martinez said. “And he was without pay for almost a whole year. He almost lost his house.”
Rivicci was in Staten Island court Tuesday – supported by a group of firefighters from his engine – when the judge announced the ruling from the bench, Martinez said.
Martinez said the judge wished her client luck before telling him, “Now go fight some fires.”
Martinez said it was very emotional for Rivicci, his family, and his coworkers.
“His family was crying and the firefighters gave a standing ovation” to Rivicci when he walked out of the courtroom, Martinez said. “They buried us in hugs.”
Martinez said they are “thrilled” by the decision and she’s hopeful it will set a precedent that could help other firefighters who were fired over the vaccine mandate.
According to court records, there were 1,960 FDNY employees who had applied for exemptions as of Jan. 11. Only 15 medical and 5 religious exemptions were granted among fire operations members.
“This is going to help a lot of firefighters,” Martinez said.
Last month, NYPD cop Alexander Deletto won a similar lawsuit when a judge ruled he should be allowed to keep his job.
“The FDNY respectfully disagrees with this ruling and is considering its options,” a spokesman with the city Law Department said in a statement. “The religious accommodation decision by the FDNY and the citywide appeal panel was rational and lawful.”
The Law Department rep said the vaccine mandate exemption for athletes and performers is very different than an exemption would be for city employees. This is because New Yorkers can choose whether or not to attend a game or performance while they cannot choose who responds to their 911 calls.
“Unvaccinated firefighters can threaten the health and safety of fellow first responders and the public they closely interact with, including the most vulnerable.”