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FFs Face Losing 30 Percent Pay; Possible Layoffs

The Eagle Tribune via YellowBrix

January 04, 2011

HAVERHILL — The new year started unhappily for the 29 Haverhill firefighters accused of lying to obtain their emergency medical technician recertifications.

On Friday, Mayor James Fiorentini notified the firefighters named last year by the state as participants in the EMT training scandal that they face unpaid suspensions and possibly even losing their jobs.

Fire Chief Richard Borden has recommended the mayor suspend 22 of the firefighters without pay for 624 hours each — the equivalent of approximately 26, 24-hour shifts. That equals about 30 percent of their annual pay.

Borden recommended the other seven firefighters implicated in the scheme be given unpaid suspensions of approximately 300 hours each. It was recommended those seven firefighters receive shorter suspensions because they were not up for EMT recertification in the year they allegedly participated in the scheme, officials said.

A letter from Borden to one of the firefighters reads, in part, "I am recommending that … Mayor James J. Fiorentini take disciplinary action against you, which at a minimum would include 624 hours of suspension and could result in further disciplinary action up to and including your demotion and/or termination.’’

The Haverhill firefighters are among more than 200 firefighters statewide who have been suspended from working as EMTs by the state for allegedly falsifying records that they completed EMT recertification when they did not actually attend the required training courses.

Reached on his cell phone yesterday, Greg Roberts, president of the Haverhill firefighters union, declined comment. He has refused repeated requests to comment on the EMT scandal over the last year. Roberts was re-elected union president in November and began serving his second, one-year term on Saturday.

EMTs are required to take refresher courses every two years. The courses cover basic skills and new procedures. In Haverhill, firefighters receive an extra $1,500 per year if they are EMTs, and some receive more money for additional medical training.

Haverhill police Chief Alan DeNaro led the city’s EMT investigation. DeNaro invited each of the 29 firefighters to give him their side of the story during his investigation, but they all declined, the mayor said.

Former Haverhill firefighter Jeffrey Given was fired two months ago for allegedly facilitating the scheme locally by collecting money from and obtaining the signatures of colleagues who were then recertified as EMTs without undergoing the required training. According to authorities, Given collected money and signatures of firefighters and then passed them to another person, Leo Nault, who provided the recertifications. Given, Nault and three others were recently indicted by a Suffolk County grand jury for their parts in the scheme. Nault is a former paramedic at the Trinity EMS ambulance company in Haverhill who was responsible for holding the training sessions.

Fiorentini said the city did not consult with the state Attorney General’s Office or state Public Health Department before taking action against the Haverhill firefighters.

“My understanding is that the attorney general’s EMT investigation is over,” the mayor said yesterday. “At some point we had to proceed on our own. We can’t tolerate this kind of abuse.” Combined, the Haverhill firefighters face more than 17,000 hours of lost wages.

First step

Borden’s recommendation is the first step in disciplining the firefighters. Each has been notified of a date on which they can appeal Borden’s recommendation at a local hearing.

Fiorentini said yesterday that to hear the appeals, he plans to appoint a hearing officer that the city has not used in the past. The first hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 14 and the last one is in mid-February, he said.

Fiorentini downplayed the timing or significance of notifying the firefighters on New Year’s Eve.

“We proceeded when the evidence was ready,” he said. “There’s never a good time for something like this.”

The mayor also said not every firefighter involved has received a disciplinary letter yet. Those who have not yet been notified will receive their letters this week, he said.

Fiorentini said if he supports the fire chief’s recommendations, the suspensions would be staggered over the next year or two. He said officials are working on a plan to accommodate the suspensions without having to pay other firefighters excessive overtime to fill in for the suspended firefighters or close fire stations.

“Public safety won’t be compromised,” he said.

Firefighters facing suspension include: Jeff Akstin, Joseph Cahill, Timothy Duff, Alexander Fredette, Robert Gariepy Jr., James Graham, James Hinds, Peter Humphrey, Robert Irvine, James Jardine, Andrew Lafferty, William Laliberty, Christopher Link, Jeffrey Moriarty, Stephen Ryan, George Sarrette, Scott Stempien, Paul Weinburgh, Brian Wildes, Marc Wunderich, Mark Young, Michael Zaino, Scott Batchelder, Keith Grant, Lance Pettis, Justin Poore, Timothy Riley, Michael Sullivan and Eric Sullivan.

Sarrette, Lafferty and Weinburgh are former presidents of the firefighters union. Sarrette and Lafferty were suspended by Fiorentini for 10 days last year for violating Haverhill’s sick leave policy after a private investigator videotaped them doing strenuous or recreational activities on the same day that they had called in sick.

The list includes several senior officers, including Laliberty, who is a deputy chief and was runner-up to be fire chief several years ago.