ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Ten Lehigh County 911 dispatchers, including some supervisors, have lost their jobs after drinking on the job.
The alleged incident happened on New Year's Eve in the county's communications center in downtown Allentown.
According to multiple sources, a 911 supervisor on duty on December 31 brought in to work an eggnog drink containing rum.
Three supervisors and seven 911 dispatchers drank the alcoholic drink at midnight, the sources told WFMZ's Josh Rultenberg.
One source with knowledge of the situation said it was a "midnight toast," amounting to "half a shot" per person, then everyone went back to work.
The source says, shortly thereafter, an anonymous complaint was filed. Last week, the employees alleged to be involved in the incident received an email and were told they needed to come in for questioning about the incident.
The source says everyone admitted to taking part in the toast because they, including the supervisor who brought in the drink, thought there would be little to no repercussions.
However, on Tuesday night, the supervisors that were working on New Year's Eve were immediately fired with no other option for recourse, the source said. Two were city supervisors and one county, with 35 years of experience, the source said.
Rick Molchany, the county's director of general services, confirmed the resignations, saying "we believe there was a violation of a longstanding county policy."
The source says between Tuesday and Wednesday, the seven remaining 911 dispatchers were given the choice to either be terminated or resign, despite several having a perfect record prior to the alleged incident. The source says all seven chose to resign.
He did not give the specific reason why the employees were let go.
"Due to that violation, we needed to take swift action," Molchany said.
Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong says what happened at the county communications center can never be tolerated.
"That is a black and white issue. It is not a gray," Armstrong said.
"If something like that would happen later, and we said well this time we only did a suspension, well then you didn't really say this is not allowed and this is not policy."
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said the dispatch center properly handled all 911 incidents at the time of the alleged drinking, so the incident does not rise to the level of a crime. His office is not involved as of Thursday morning, but Martin said that could change if it appears the center is not adequately staffed. He said he's most concerned about the effects on police, fire and public safety from losing 10 employees.
Molchany said the budget allows for 53 employees at the center, but after the resignations, 40 operators work at the center. The center is in the process of hiring six employees. The employees are expected to be hired by the beginning of February, Molchaney said.
Molchaney said there will be mandatory overtime for employees in the meantime.
Molchany said County Executive Phillips Armstrong supported the decision.
Allentown Fire Chief Jim Wehr also confirmed the firings, and expressed concern on how they might affect the communication center's operations.
"It's gonna be a chore on the management team to make sure everything is covered," Wehr said. "I'm just hoping it doesn't affect call times at all. I'm hoping that we don't see any negative that they had to let that many people go. I'm hoping that those in charge can cover it until they can get new hires in there."
The Lehigh County communications center has been dispatching emergency services calls for the city of Allentown and the rest of the county since last summer. The two merged because of lack of state funding. The city of Bethlehem and Northampton County were forced to come together for the same reason.
The source says the majority of the dispatchers that were let go handle emergencies for Allentown including police, fire and EMS. The source also says the center, prior to the mass firing, was already down several dispatchers. Now, a city employee tells 69 News the residents of Allentown and the rest of the county are at a "severe safety disadvantage."
Mayor Ray O'Connell said he will have a meeting Thursday on how to bring a quick resolution to the issue.