Attleboro firefighter hospitalized with COVID-19; city disputes whether he was injured on duty

SE Mass

ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) ─ An Attleboro firefighter is now fighting for his life after potentially contracting COVID-19 while on the job, according to the city’s firefighters union.

Attleboro Firefighters Local 848 President Paul Jacques tells 12 News the 29-year-old recently tested positive and was admitted to Sturdy Memorial Hospital due to the severity of his symptoms.

“We try to reach out to him every day to see how he is doing,” Jacques said. “He’s a young guy, he’s 29 years old. The last text we got from him says, ‘This is my mother’s number. I am going downhill. You might want to start talking to her.’ For us, that pulls on the heart strings. It’s very serious.”

Jacques said another firefighter also tested positive around the same time and has been quarantining.

The firefighters are two of several members of the Attleboro Fire Department to contract the virus in recent months. Back in September, Mayor Paul Heroux said nine firefighters and two dispatchers tested positive.

Jacques claims Heroux is refusing to recognize both firefighters as “injured on duty,” and without that status, any medical expenses they incur as a result of contracting COVID-19 will not be covered.

“We go into buildings, burning buildings, every day,” Jacques said. “We respond to all sorts of accidents and it’s in our minds, and in our hearts ─ there is a sense of security knowing if, God forbid, something happens we are protected, and if, God forbid, we perish, our families are taken care of.”

“You have that thought in the back of your heart when you go into these situations, that helps you perform your duties better,” he continued. “For Mayor Heroux to tarnish that security is unconscionable.”

In response to the accusation, Heroux said he’s not denying anyone benefits, and the reasoning behind the denial of the status is that there is no evidence that the firefighter contracted COVID-19 while on duty.

“If a connection can be shown through contact tracing that this fire fighter caught it on the job, he will be classified as injured on duty,” Heroux said in a statement. “The fire union likes to say that it is in the contract, but it is not in the contract.”

Heroux said COVID-19 is not listed as a presumptive communicable disease in the contract, and the state hasn’t passed legislation that would classify it as presumptive.

“The reason that the state has not passed it is because this virus is far too widespread to assume that people can only catch it at work,” Heroux said. “There is no reason for us to assume that this firefighter caught this at work without any evidence.”

But Jacques disagrees, stating the union has strong infectious disease presumptive language in their contract to protect members who are exposed to COVID-19, among other illnesses and hazards.

“However people want to interpret the language and look at different wording to benefit their side of their argument…they’re missing the whole point that there is a member in the hospital who is suffering,” Jacques said.

Heroux has as the Attleboro Health Department to provide the fire department with a list of all of the addresses in the city where someone has tested positive for COVID-19.

He said if that firefighter went to one of those addresses while on duty, then he “can identify that as a reasonable link that it was caught on the job.”

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