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Nov
15

Zero Tolerance Part Three: FDNY Counseling Unit

Aug
16

Zero Tolerance Part Two: Judicial Recommendations Being Ignored

Jun
24

FDNY Zero Tolerance Policy Cartoon

Please sign the petition on our home page!

Jan
02

Mayor Bloomberg: 9/11 FDNY Firefighters Deserve Rehabilitation, not Termination

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

I am writing concerning the terminations of the 9/11 FDNY firefighters and the current Zero Tolerance Policy for substance abuse.

I have been a volunteer working with these firefighters since 2002. I am deeply troubled by this policy and the terminations, knowing how incredibly heroic these men are and how selflessly they served the City after 9/11.

The current Zero Tolerance policy does not recognize the unprecedented events of 9/11 and does not address the obvious problem of Post Traumatic Stress disorder within the fire department. The punishment of termination and loss of benefits is harsh, severe and inhumane, considering the context of what these men have been through.

The stigma surrounding counseling is overwhelming within the fire department. The culture is one where firefighters are strong, and they handle things on their own or internally. If a firefighter sought counseling, it meant he was weak and couldn’t be relied upon at a fire. The motto is “I got it”. They do not want their fellow firefighters to detect a dent in their armor. They feel they are supposed to be able to handle even the most traumatic events on their own. That’s what they do. They handle things.

These firefighters attended over a hundred funerals, lost countless friends and colleagues, were exposed to dangerous toxins while cleaning up the World Trade Center site and still did their jobs. But they are not flawless, and as one compassionate OATH judge stated, “Even the bravest can be broken.”

Men who did make their way to the Counseling Services Unit were met with student interns, instead of top level medical professionals. Records were lost, confidentiality was violated. Men looking for help were met with staff equally traumatized and ill-equipped to deal with the situation. The student interns were not qualified to diagnose or treat PTSD.

This coupled with the fact that the Counseling Services Unit was located over a firehouse (which meant confidentiality was impossible to achieve), it is reasonable to conclude any efforts to bring these men to the CSU after 9/11 would fail, leaving these men to deal with the events and their stresses on their own.

The suicide rate within the FDNY is currently the highest ever in the department’s history. This is perhaps the most troubling issue, and the biggest indicator something is terribly wrong. The effects of a Zero Tolerance policy that strips a firefighter of his job, his benefits and his pension with no offer of rehabilitation or a second chance can only add to the increase in this statistic.

So much senior talent was lost to the FDNY on 9/11. Would it not make sense to preserve the senior talent that is still there? Let us not waste the valuable experience these men bring to a job where experience means the difference between life and death.

I would like to ask that you authorize the FDNY Commissioner to change the penalty for substance abuse from one of termination to one of rehabilitation and give these firefighters a second chance. The policy does not work, it is cruel, and it does not take into consideration the contribution and sacrifices these men made, the horrors that they have been through or the culture of the organization they love. Stripping these men of their jobs, their benefits and their retirement dismisses everything they have done in their careers and their commitment to the job. It unfairly penalizes both them and their families.

Mr. Mayor, I respectfully ask that you amend this policy. Put firefighters back to work who can be rehabilitated, and grant those who cannot work the rights to their benefits and their pension. It is just the right thing to do.

Sincerely,

Jessica Locke
Executive Director, Firefighters Fund

May
15

No Second Chance for 9/11 FDNY Firefighters

9/11 FDNY firefighters suffering respiratory problems, post traumatic stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression are being terminated on the charge of substance abuse, leaving them without pensions or health care.

An investigation into the treatment they were offered revealed a woefully inadequate response to the trauma they suffered. Left to cope for themselves, these firefighters were self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

In 2004, FDNY Commissioner Scoppetta (now-ex) implemented a Zero Tolerance Policy. Although the Commissioner was warned by the Oklahoma City Crisis Team there would be a major “spike” in substance abuse from such a traumatic event within this time frame, his policy ignored the underlying medical problem of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder within the ranks. Many firefighters, failing drug tests, were confronted and given the “choice” to quit quietly in order to avoid public humiliation. There was no opportunity to be rehabilitated back into the fire department. Those who chose to fight the charges found themselves brutally prosecuted in hearings with no jury and a judge with no power. The Commissioner had the final word on all cases brought before him.

The following is an open letter to FDNY Commissioner Cassano:

Dear Commissioner Cassano:

I am writing concerning the terminations of FDNY firefighters who served on and after September 11, 2001. I understand these men were “self medicating” with alcohol or drugs, and were charged with substance abuse under the Zero Tolerance policy.

Although there is a need for such a policy, it seems, given the stress of firefighting, as well as the extreme traumatic nature of 9/11 and the failure by the fire department to address the medical needs of its firefighters, mitigating circumstances exist that call for compassion and an opportunity to rehabilitate.

Research into the FDNY Counselling Services Unit (CSU) and the circumstances surrounding the current terminations of FDNY firefighters turned up the following:

Graduate student interns were brought in to counsel FDNY veterans. Why weren’t experienced, top level mental health professionals provided, knowing the unique and extreme massive trauma these first responders had been subjected to? Graduate students would not have the credentials or the experience to recognize and diagnose post traumatic stress disorder. In fact, firefighters relaying their experiences ended up traumatizing the counsellors, who broke down into tears (and had to be comforted by the firefighters.)

Nonetheless, I understand that for some the therapeutic relationship worked; however, in 6 months the internship was over, and the firefighter would be forced to start over with someone else. This goes against all the basic fundamentals of a therapeutic relationship. Using interns is inhumane, given what these men went through.

Another issue that came up repeatedly is confidentiality of medical records. There was a general acknowledgement from all firefighters I interviewed that none could get counselling through the CSU that would remain confidential. And to back it up, there is documented loss of medical records in the legal papers of terminated members. The Counselling Unit is located over a firehouse. With the inherent stigma around counselling as a “weakness” in the FDNY, how does this location support firefighters seeking counselling?

What must also be brought under scrutiny is how the FDNY treats these first responders who are diagnosed with PTSD and are unable to work in the firehouse. I learned a firefighter who suffers from PTSD was given a light duty position answering the suicide hotlines by himself from midnight to 8 a.m. for 6 months. Another firefighter with the same diagnosis was given a position working in the press office, where he was forced to watch 9/11 scenes replayed endlessly on television. This is appalling.

A CSU counsellor informed me recently that the suicide rate is “off the charts for FDNY”. There were 10 suicides in the last two years, all 9/11 related. In 2004 a firefighter was declared fit for duty by the FDNY medical dept. and committed suicide the next day. No one will give me the actual statistics for all the suicides. In addition, according to the World Trade Center Fatalities report, 12 firefighters have died from accidental overdose of alcohol and drugs from 2001 to 2008.

All of the termination cases I have been able to review show men with flawless, unblemished records of service prior to 9/11. Each case shows how, after 9/11, these men tried to hold it together by drinking or drugs. These men approached the Counselling Unit and were told to “take a few weeks off.” A firefighter asked to see a psychiatrist and was refused. Traumatic events several years after 9/11, such as the death of a parent, caused them to “spiral out of control” and seek an escape from their pain through drugs or alcohol. Given that a recent termination hearing resulted in a harsh judicial rebuke of the CSU’s failure to provide adequate treatment, (and the firefighter was still terminated in spite of this) one has to wonder what a thorough investigation might reveal.

Currently, a 25 year veteran firefighter with an outstanding record is fighting for his pension after one charge of substance abuse. The City of New York is determined to take his benefits away from him on appeal, although the lower court ruled it too harsh a penalty after 25 years of service to the city. Why are they putting this man through this process, after all he has endured? This is worse than 9/11, to be betrayed by the city he loyally served.

Terminating firefighters for substance abuse after 9/11 is like expelling students from Virginia Tech who suffer from PTSD after seeing their classmates shot and killed. I believe having the World Trade Center fall down around you–losing as many as 50 close friends in one day–working in the toxic dust and witnessing gruesome human carnage–going to over 100 funerals–doing public relations for the City of New York–becoming sick from respiratory illness, anxiety, acid reflux, sleeplessness, depression and post traumatic stress disorder –and treated by a medical department that was not qualified or prepared–are mitigating circumstances, and should be met with compassion. As one judge stated in her recommendation for leniency, “Even the ‘bravest’ can be broken.”

These firefighters inspired us in our darkest days with their courage. Terminating them without health care or pensions does not punish them; it destroys them. Is this to be our legacy on the tenth anniversary of September 11?

********************************************************
(Please call Commissioner Cassano (718-999-2004) and Fire Chief Kilduff (718-999-2010) and respectfully give them your opinion on this matter. The commissioner has acknowledged receipt of this information.}

(Jessica Locke is Executive Director of the Firefighters Fund (www.firefightersfund.org) and author of Rescue at Engine 32, a memoir about her work with New York City firefighters after 9/11.)

Jan
08

National Mentoring Month: Firefighters are the best Mentors!

There are so many stories of young kids hanging around firehouses and being taken in and mentored by firefighters. Many ended up becoming firefighters themselves, including the extraordinary Captain Patrick Brown of the FDNY. This being National Mentoring Month, we would like to bring attention to the Over My Shoulder Foundation, co-founded by Dawn Carroll and Grammy Award Winner Patti Austin.  OMS is a unique media-based project whose goal is to raise awareness of the impact of mentoring. From Patti Austin: “Our goal is to break down barriers that separate generations of people and cultures. Through mentoring, we all are increasingly interdependent on each other, rather than independent individuals. And, because of people’s interdependency, the foundation hopes to foster respect, diversity, culture, and individuality.”

 Jessica Locke’s story of volunteering at a firehouse after 9/11, and having her life transformed by the firefighter “family” she encountered, was featured on the OMS website blog:  http://www.overmyshoulderfoundation.org/911-a-mentoring-story/

This excerpt from Rescue at Engine 32 describes the moment when Jessica realized she had not adopted a firehouse, but rather, that a firehouse had adopted her:

“First, what was going on in this firehouse was not an accident. There was a structure here that allowed young men without any life experience to gain self-esteem through earning acceptance into the firehouse.

Second, by keeping my mouth shut, my ears open, and working hard, I had accidentally stumbled into that structure;

Third, it was starting to work for me. My own sense of worth was being restored from scratch. The harder I worked and demonstrated my commitment, the more respect I earned. Once it was earned, they continued to honor it. I didn’t have to start over again each time I arrived. And it was this newfound self-esteem that was making me less afraid of being in the world … less afraid of trying something new.

I felt all of five-years-old, looking up to all these men to help me find my way. This firehouse was more nurturing than any household I had ever been in. I was not crazy to want to be here. This was the most intelligent thing I had ever done for myself. I was being re-parented from the ground up. Never having experienced self-esteem, I wasn’t really sure what it felt like. But now I knew. I can only describe it thusly:  It is real, like a mountain fortress growing slowly inside you, lifting you up higher and higher from within. There is no fear. It prompts you to give more and do more, because you are safe inside. It is absolutely wonderful.”

Thank you to my firefighter mentors at Engine 32!

Oct
15

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation Awards Grant to Firefighters Fund

The Jessica Locke Firefighters Fund has been selected to receive a Harvard Pilgrim Community Spirit 9/11 Mini-Grant to provide Alexander Technique lessons to firefighters. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care created  the Community Spirit 9/11 Mini-Grants Program to commemorate the first anniversary of September 11, 2001 through a special contribution to its Foundation.  The Foundation administers this special fund and distributes the Mini-Grants to non-profit organizations that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Health Plans Inc. and Dell Perot employees nominate.  Since 2002, hundreds of Harvard Pilgrim, Health Plans Inc. and Dell Perot employees have had their Mini-Grants approved — benefiting schools, social service, and cultural and other community-based organizations where their employees live and work. 

Oct
06

Fire Bracelets now available online!

The Firefighters Fund is very excited to announce our “Fire Bracelet” (designed and created especially for us by a firefighter’s wife) is now available for sale on this website.  For every bracelet sold, a generous donation is made to the Fund. It makes a lovely gift for any woman or child. Check it out under the “Fire Bracelets” tab!

Aug
31

A Book about Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown


I never had the opportunity to meet Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown of Ladder 3, because he died on September 11, 2001. But I had certainly heard of him.  He was one of the most honored and decorated firefighters in the history of the FDNY.  The mention of his name always pained my heart, as though his death had some personal meaning I had yet to understand.

As such, I was not surprised to hear from a woman who had gathered a collection of stories from people who had known, and in many instances worked with Captain Brown.  She had been his fiancée. This book by Sharon Watts hinted at a childhood and young adulthood marred by betrayals of trust, similar to my own. It revealed how he had transformed a difficult and troubling past into a life of determined goodness, sacrifice and dedication – with human failings, to be sure, but when you read of his trials, very understandable.

For anyone who would like to explore the foundations of a true hero, Sharon’s book is a delicate and lovingly compiled scrapbook of memories of a man who should never be forgotten.  The book’s title is Miss You, Pat and you can find more information, including how to purchase, at www.missyoupat.org.

Mar
10

Equipment Fundraiser for Newton Firefighters

Would you like to work on a real movie set?  Do you need new fitness equipment?  How about a date with a bachelor firefighter?  These are just some of the valuable and fun auction items up for bid at the Equipment Fundraiser for the Newton Firefighters. The event, sponsored by the Jessica Locke Firefighters Fund, will be held at American Legion Post 440 on March 26th at 7 p.m.
 Newton residents Linda McLaughlin, Linda Anderson, Nancy Dangelo Kearney, Denise Kelly, and Patty Mosca have joined together with local businesses to raise money for the purchase of new fire equipment.
“The firefighters deserve our respect and financial support,” says Linda McLaughlin. “Their work is so vital. I am thrilled and proud to be part of this event.”
Some of the items the group is looking to purchase with proceeds from the auction are: 
• Zodiac Rescue Boats w/ Trailers        
• Jaws of Life w/ Mass Transit capability
• Air Bags
• Exothermic Cutting Torches
• Mobile Data Units (Laptops for Trucks)
• Mustang Survival Suits 
• 24-volt Cordless Extrication Tools
These tools are critical components not only for fire rescues, but also for water, ice and accident rescues. “Most of the residents don’t realize that a lot of the equipment Newton firefighters are using is well below par,” said Jessica Locke, executive director of the Firefighters Fund. “Just a few weeks ago, Engine 10′s fuel tank dropped out from underneath the truck on the way back from an alarm.  It’s over 20 years old, and shouldn’t be on the road.”  
The Newton firefighters are very appreciative of all the efforts being put behind this fundraiser. “We want to thank the Firefighters Fund and all the residents and businesses who have given so much time and effort to help us,” says Tom Lopez, President of the Firefighters Union Local 863.  “With the tough fiscal climate it has been difficult, if not nearly impossible to meet the growing list of capital needs in the fire department over the last several years. It is with great hope that with the money raised, we will be able to meet some of the most critical goals in order to keep the citizens and firefighters of Newton safe.”
Auction items include a Reebok Mountain Bike; a year’s pass for unlimited car washes at the Quick & Clean Car Wash in Waltham; a four-day weekend getaway in Stowe, VT; a Pilates Reformer Exercise Machine;  and a private party for 20 children at the W. Newton Cinema.  BOA President Scott Lennon will be the event auctioneer.
 
Available for purchase will be a Newton Firefighters calendar, created by the Graphic Arts Department at Newton North High School, with photography by Linda McLaughlin and Nancy Dangelo Kearney.
 
“The students did a beautiful job, and the firefighters went the extra mile to give us some great photos,” said McLaughlin.
Comic Tony V will be part of the evening’s entertainment. Named “Funniest Person in Massachusetts” by Showtime television, Tony V has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and several sitcoms, including Seinfeld.  There will also be a bagpipe band, DJ, dancing and appetizers. 
 ”Everybody’s been so great about providing us with donations for the auction. This fundraiser will show the firefighters how appreciative the community is of their everyday sacrifices,” says Locke.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.firefightersfund.org.  For more information please call 617-924-9999 or contact jessica @firefightersfund.org.

Oct
01

Why Chief LaCroix of Newton FD Should be Retired

Some time ago on NewTV, a story ran regarding the aged and dangerous Newton Fire Department apparatus. Numerous safety concerns were raised about the failing brakes on 24-year-old Ladder 3, as well as the city’s continued failure to meet national safety standards. Fire Chief LaCroix refuted this story, submitting the following statement:  “Under no circumstances would I send our firefighters on vehicles that were unsafe.”  

His actions, unfortunately, differ from his statement.  

In January of 2007 two firefighters were injured on 24-year-old Ladder 4, when Lacroix returned it to service as a spare. In April 2007, he put the same apparatus back in service, which injured two more firefighters. In May 2007, 24-year-old Engine 13 malfunctioned and ran over Lt. Richard Geary, severely injuring him. In the fall of 2008, 24-year-old Ladder 3 had a complete loss of its braking system while on a call to Boston College. 

None of these trucks should have been on the road in the first place; they fail to meet NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards, which states that any truck 20 years old, or older, and built prior to 1991, should be removed from service permanently.  

Chief LaCroix goes on to say, “My highest priority as Chief of the Newton FD is to protect the safety of our firefighters and our residents.”   

Let’s look at all the times where this was NOT his priority:  

He denied receiving reports of missing and broken flashlights, when in fact he had received many. He took three months to procure new flashlights, and only after public scrutiny at a Board of Aldermen meeting.

After an investigation of the Engine 13 accident exposed the use of substandard chock blocks, it would be another year and half before regulation chock blocks were finally ordered and made available for all apparatus.

Lacroix ignored Dept. of Transportation regulations regarding highway safety vests, until forced by the union to comply. 

After four firefighters at Station 3 had asbestos fall on them from the ceiling, Lacroix refused to evacuate the station. 
He ignored repeated requests – and national standards – to implement a Rapid Intervention Team, until union and media pressure forced him to act. 

Not one Newton firehouse has a smoke or carbon monoxide detector.  Yet Chief Lacroix has had $98,000 available since October of 2006 to purchase and install  these devices.

He ordered the emergency buttons on firefighters’ radios to be permanently turned off, limiting their ability to call for help. 

This is certainly enough evidence to contradict the claims that firefighter safety is LaCroix’s highest priority.

City spokesperson Jeremy Solomon responded to the NewTV story by stating that firefighters’ concerns regarding faulty equipment will be addressed by department brass.  However, as I mentioned previously, firefighters have submitted numerous reports about faulty equipment which were ignored by LaCroix.

 The adversarial relationship that now exists between the chief and the firefighters has destroyed morale. His slow and media-pressured responses to safety concerns causes undue stress and does not serve his firefighters or the community he is sworn to protect. 

Five of Newton’s fire trucks do not meet National Fire Protection Association standards. Residents cannot afford any of this equipment to fail – today, tomorrow or next month. Residents, please -  call your mayor and your aldermen and let them know that Chief LaCroix should be retired, for the safety of all.

Sep
05

The Firefighters Fund Brings Towns, Restaurants and Residents Together to Honor Firefighters on 9/11

The Firefighters Fund, local restaurants, and resident volunteers join forces to honor first responders on the eighth anniversary of 9/11.

“It is important to, in some small way, pay tribute to the firefighters who risk their lives every day to ensure the safety of every community and every American,” said Jessica Locke, director of The Firefighters Fund and a Watertown resident. “More than one hundred of these brave men and women die in the line of duty each year. We must always remember the sacrifices they make, and never take their service for granted.”

Ms. Locke approached local restaurants, asking them to donate meals to their local firefighters on September 11th. Many local community residents joined in the effort and also contacted restaurants and pledged to help deliver the meals to the firehouses.

This year, twenty-three firehouses will be served, with firefighters enjoying special meals provided by restaurants including: Cabot’s in Newton; The Stockyard in Brighton: Il Casale, Conley’s Pub and Grille, and TCBY from Belmont; Porcini’s, Stellina, and Not Your Average Joe’s in Watertown; Jake’s Dixie Roadhouse, Sadie’s Saloon and Eatery, The Chateau, John Brewers’ Tavern, Watch City Brewery, and The Skellig for Waltham stations; and Outback Steakhouse in Bellingham. In addition, a group of residents from Newton are cooking the dinners for six firehouses in their community.

“The response from the community was overwhelming. Each restaurant contacted gave an immediate ‘yes’ to our request,” Locke continued. “I know it will mean a great deal to these firefighters to know that people are thinking about them on this historic day.”

Ms. Locke created The Firefighters Fund in 2006 to offer alternative healthcare to firefighters suffering from the emotional and physical consequences of working at Ground Zero. She has provided Alexander Technique sessions to first responders in New York City since 9/11, and more recently started a program in Newton. For several years, Ms. Locke has also worked closely with the Newton Fire Department to educate local residents about aging and unsafe equipment, substandard living conditions and other problems affecting the health and safety of the Newton firefighters and the community.

“People don’t know how difficult this job is; the stress these men and women are under, and the challenges they face on a daily basis. We need to let them know they are appreciated,” said Locke.

The Firefighters Fund hopes that an annual Firefighter Appreciation Day will be created to promote the message that the safety of each community is dependent on the dedication of its first responders, and that they should be valued – and thanked – for their service..

Ms. Locke concludes: “They are there for us 24/7. We need to be there for them as well.”

Jun
19

Firefighter Friday: Jessica Locke on Runaway Engine 13 (part one)

(Boston Globe)

POLICE REPORT FLAWED IN ENGINE 13 ACCIDENT

Two years after Lt. Rich Geary was severely injured by runaway Engine 13, questions still surround the discrepancies in the 3 investigative reports submitted after the incident. Recently, however, errors in the Newton Police report have come to light, substantiating that mechanical error was to blame and not human error as previously reported.

The Newton Police report claims that the driver, Joe Yerardi, failed to note “warning signs” that the vehicle was not in “pump gear” mode. According to the police, green indicator lights in the cab and on the outside panel serve as this warning.

In fact, the green indicator lights are the signal that the driver is in “pump mode” and is “okay to pump”.

Police are not qualified to assess mechanical problems of fire apparatus pump operation. Based on testimony of witnesses and facts presented in a video of the investigation, the Police report coming to a conclusion of “human error” was clearly outside their area of expertise.

The Police report (PD) states:

“”We have determined that Engine 13 was not in pump gear position. Furthermore, the operator failed to appreciate the warning signs that the engine was not in pump gear position, but in fact in drive gear position. These warning signs are identified as the green indicator light in the front cab, the green indicator light on the side pump panel and absence of water pressure. Therefore, the operators failure to recognize these signs was a contributing factor in this accident.”

Ralph Craven, (RC) a nationally recognized emergency vehicle maintenance & safety investigator who submitted his own report [RC report] on the Engine 13 investigation on May 30, 2007, refuted this conclusion by the Newton Police. He states in a letter of 2/25/09:

“The PD report indicates that the green lights were a warning sign that the pump was not in gear. This is an incorrect statement, as green lights are indicators in a functioning apparatus that the driver is in pump gear. In the RC report several tests were performed and the lights did in fact illuminate while the pump was in the road position, which is a mechanical malfunction of this apparatus. Mr. Yeradi stated in the RC report that when he shifted in the cab, the green light illuminated and he exited the cab.”

The malfunction of the lights is verified in a video of the investigation. In addition, Lt. Geary told police he checked “the pump gear” in the cab. It was his responsibility as the officer to verify and report on any malfunction of the truck. In an interview he stated the green light was on. Photos of the cab taken by State Police Reconstruction Unit the night of the incident show that the pump lever is in the correct position.

Another error in the Police Report was in regard to water pressure.

Craven writes: “Officer Babcock stated another warning sign was a lack of water pressure. Both the AJL report [investigator hired by the City of Newton] and the RC report agree that there was a failure in the lockup for the automatic transmission. There would be no water pressure indicated on the gauge with this failure.”

Craven goes on to say in his letter that there was no way for Yerardi to know that lack of water pressure with green indicator lights on would mean he was in wrong gear unless he was a trained mechanic and had crawled under the truck to look. Other reasons why there might be lack of water pressure include a worn pump, a sticky gauge or “tank to pump valve” not open.

The Police Report also accused Yerardi of failing to follow proper reporting procedures:

“The failure by members of the Newton Fire Department in following established departmental procedures relative to identifying equipment problems and writing equipment repair request were evident in the investigation. All complaints of faulty equipment for Engine 13 were verbal and no member of the Newton Fire Department documented a written request for repair or attempted to take Engine 13 out of service. The problems in not reporting and reacting to equipment failures on Engine 13 was a contributing factor in this accident.”

Craven refuted this also:

“Mr. Yerardi stated they told the Deputy Chief of the pump problem, getting it into gear, and told him not to rely on them for water. Mr. Yerardi also informed his Captain of the pump problem. The City of Newton does not have a Formal Maintenance Program as indicated by the mechanics and Mr. Yerardi did in fact follow established procedures because he informed his Captain and Deputy Chief. It was their responsibility to take the vehicle out of service. Mr Yerardi acted within his scope of authority and responsibility.”

Craven summarizes: “The City supplied a piece of equipment that was insufficient and did not meet the standards. The vehicle was rife with mechanical failures that were reported up the channels but the City did nothing about them. Mr. Yerardi was doing his job with equipment that did not meet the standards, was broken and, not repaired and maintained according to professional standards. Mr. Yerardi simply had nothing to do with this accident other than the fact that he was assigned to be the driver the night of the accident.”

National Fire Protection Agency standards state: “The fire department assumes full liability of retaining known deficient apparatus in service. To knowingly operate or approve of the operation of a vehicle that could kill or injure the public or a firefighter severely exposes the fire department officials to liability.” NFPA standards recommend that any apparatus 20 years old or older and built prior to 1991 should be removed from service permanently.

Engine 13 was 24 years old and was being used as a spare. In the past, Newton FD Chief LaCroix authorized 24 year old Ladder 4’s return to service after it injured two firefighters. The apparatus injured two more before it was finally decommissioned. LaCroix denied knowledge of the previous injuries to the media. LaCroix still continues to allow operation of 24 year old Engine 10 which is in full service at this time.

(Jessica Locke is Executive Director of the Firefighters Fund (www.firefightersfund.org) an organization that provides assistance to FDNY firefighters suffering from exposure to Ground Zero, and author of Rescue at Engine 32, a memoir about her volunteer work with these firefighters after 9/11.)

Jun
19

Firefighter Friday: Jessica Locke on Runaway Engine 13 (part two)

(Boston Globe)

ENGINE 13 REPORT DEFIES COMMON SENSE

Recently released video of the investigation into Engine 13 casts serious doubt on the report issued by Jack Laine of AJL Associates, which claimed human error on the part of the driver. The accident – which took place on May 15, 2007 – severely injured Lt. Rich Geary when the truck took off under its own power, running him over.

The report by AJL states:  “{Engine 13} was indeed in the “Road position” otherwise the truck under discussion, also known as engine #13 would not have moved.  In our opinion, human error is the major underlining factor in this accident.”

However, there is no explanation of the “human error” in the report. 

Though Laine never comes out and says it, the crucial point of his conclusion centers around the green indicator lights in the cab: Did the driver put the pump shift lever into the correct position, which turns the lights on…or not? 

The video clearly shows the truck malfunctioning. With the pump shift lever in the correct position, the green lights illuminate even though the truck transmission fails to “lock up” to produce water pressure.  This is what the driver stated happened the night of the accident, and what was witnessed by Lt. Rich Geary prior to the accident.  In addition, State Police photos taken the night of the accident show that the pump shift lever is in the correct position.

(The Police Report erroneously stated that the green light was a warning sign to the driver that he was in the wrong gear, and blamed the driver for ignoring it, thus their conclusion of “human error”.)

In an interview after the reports came out, Laine was asked directly what the driver did.  Laine replied, “He made a mistake.”  When asked what that mistake was, he said, “I don’t know what he did.”  In another interview with a TAB reporter, Laine said, “He had a lapse of judgment.” Laine offered no further information as to the driver’s actions. 

In the video, Laine is shown agreeing with Ralph Craven (the investigator hired by the Newton Firefighters Association), that there were numerous mechanical problems with the apparatus. Laine goes so far as to say in reference to Engine 13,  “it did not make the shift” and “there is an issue with the system”.  There is no reference to driver error.

 On camera, Laine suggests the possibility the gear malfunctions were caused by the towing of the rig out from the embankment after the night of the accident.  However, he is immediately refuted by Mr. Craven , who informed Laine that the apparatus suffered the same mechanical defects prior to the incident and were reported by two separate drivers.  Laine responds: “I haven’t talked to anybody at the scene with any of that information.”

 Laine never interviewed the driver.  Further, according to Ralph Craven, Laine never did any of his own tests on the pump transmission. Witnesses at the scene of the investigation stated that Mr. Craven was “running the show”. 

 Laine said in an interview with the TAB that he stood by the cab while Mr. Craven was underneath the engine.  However, in that same interview he said that he did not see anyone, including Craven, conduct an inspection to verify the unaligned gears.

 This is an erroneous statement, as Mr. Craven was not only taking measurements of the unaligned gears, but Laine referenced Mr. Craven’s measurements in his own report.

 Laine’s report indicated that Engine 13 should have been taken out of service because of mechanical issues.  It also recommended that the vehicle be decommissioned, because it did not meet applicable National Fire Protection Association Standards.

Laine was paid $1855.95  by the City of Newton for his investigation.