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Ex-firefighter worries commission's discussion of his PTSD could hurt him in job hunt

FARGO--Scot Kelsh, a former Fargo firefighter, says he's worried that the city Civil Service Commission's open discussion of the post-traumatic stress disorder he developed on the job will hurt him as he seeks work.

FARGO--Scot Kelsh, a former Fargo firefighter, says he's worried that the city Civil Service Commission's open discussion of the post-traumatic stress disorder he developed on the job will hurt him as he seeks work.

"It's caused me a lot of consternation and anxiety. There's still a stigma attached to mental illness," even though the issue has been much-discussed for soldiers coming back from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Kelsh said Wednesday.

"I don't know what the impact is yet ... on the potential of getting another job in the salary range I need to meet my obligations and make a living," he said. "I'm sure this is something that will pop up if somebody Googles my name now."

Kelsh's Grand Forks attorney, Margaret Morley, said she was shocked by the commission's open discussion of her client's PTSD during a hearing Tuesday.

"I was very upset and sick to my stomach," Morley said. "But it's not a courtroom hearing. I can't object. I can't ask for something to be stricken from the record. In a proceeding like that, my role as an attorney is not the same" as in a court of law. "I felt as if my hands were tied. ... My heart just sank for my client."

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Morley said she had worked closely with Assistant City Attorney Nancy Morris to get Kelsh's private information redacted from documents requested in an open records request.

"I was disappointed. I fought very hard for my client to be sure these things were redacted. You're in the room and you heard it (the PTSD diagnosis) as clear as day," Morley said.

The medical information should have remained confidential, she said. "If I go in to the doctor for a sore throat, that's nobody's business but my own."

She said she could not comment on whether any legal action might be taken over the release of Kelsh's medical information. She also wouldn't say whether she and her client have decided to appeal the Civil Service Commission's ruling to the City Commission.

Morris could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Kelsh was terminated from his employment with the city Feb. 2, after several months of working a temporary job and about six weeks of applying for other city jobs.

He had gone to the Civil Service Commission hoping to get the termination reversed. But the commission voted 5-0 to uphold the city's action because it was not done for political or other improper reasons.

Kelsh began working as a Fargo firefighter in August 2009. In his written appeal to the commission,he said the job took a toll on him. He said that was particularly true of several incidents he responded to in August 2015, which he said included traumatic situations involving attempted suicides and a drug overdose.

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Kelsh said his health issues were exacerbated in September 2015 when supervisors, after years of good evaluations, said he needed remedial training as a firefighter, emergency medical technician and a driver. Kelsh said he sought help for the medical issues that manifested themselves after that meeting. He was then placed in a temporary office job.

Kelsh said he sought the Civil Service Commission hearing hoping to get relief, and "it's kind of going the wrong way."

"And frankly, it's illegal," for the commission to have discussed his diagnosis openly, Kelsh said. He said he's tried to avoid reading comments online "because some of them are negative."

But other people have reached out and offered support, he said.

Morley said closing comments in the hearing made by Civil Service Commission Chairwoman Jane Pettinger are important to remember.

"She called him a hero. That's big. And Mr. Kelsh is a hero," Morley said. "Anyone who puts those boots on, and goes in, and does the work he did is a hero. And the fact that he does have a long and glowing record of service ... to not only the city of Fargo, but the state of North Dakota."

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