A single mother of twins says she was fired last week from her job as a McDonald's manager in Olean, New York, after paying for the meals of several firefighters.
Heather Levia, 23, told HLN affiliate WIVB that she decided to take $83 from her own pocket to cover the cost of the 25 breakfast sandwiches "... because I appreciate everything they do." The rescuers had just put out a house fire in subzero temperatures, she said.
When another fire department came in a little bit later and ordered $70 worth of food, Levia said she texted her boss and then called the corporate office to see if the company could cover the cost. But she was allegedly told no by both of them, even though she says they regularly pay for the meals of police officers.
Several of her co-workers decided to pitch in to cover the tab, according to WIVB. When word spread to the firefighters, Levia said, they called to complain to her boss because they thought the fast-food restaurant made her feel obligated to pay with her own money.
Levia said she was fired after her next shift. The reason she said her boss gave was that she cursed at a superior. Levia denied the claim, explaining to WIVB that "I did say this is 'freaking' ridiculous. But it was not implied to anybody."
When reached by HLN, the local McDonald's restaurant denied Levia's allegations.
"We are aware that certain allegations have been made concerning the reasons for Heather Levia's termination," the restaurant said in a prepared statement. "Out of respect for Ms. Levia and her privacy, it would not be appropriate to comment in detail on the reasons she is no longer employed by our organization. Still, it should be pointed out that the allegations are absolutely not true. We would never penalize an employee for showing appropriate gratitude for the work of our firefighters."
The statement, which was sent on behalf of owner/operator Tom Meyers, also said that the organization "has always valued the employees who serve our customers every day. We likewise continue to be an ardent supporter of our police and fire departments, along with other first responders. They are always welcome in our restaurants, and we will continue to support them in the future."
The Allegany County Fire Department told WIVB that it was thankful for the gesture and that firefighters never expect free meals.
"It was a shock. We certainly regret the fact she lost her job. We can't speak on corporate policy because we don't know the background of it," Gordon Scott, the media officer for the Allegany Fire Department, told WIVB. "It was a sad affair because a gentleman lost a home. And it's even worse because we know now that this gal apparently lost her job because of it."
Levia, who said she has already received several job offers after working eight years at McDonald's, says the fast-food chain wrongly terminated her.
"I wish the communities would change and help each other out," she told WIVB. "I wish that things didn't have to be the way they are. And if losing my job is going to speak out to the community, then that's what it's going to do."