PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Pawtucket’s assistant fire chief was suspended for two days without pay for not following an order to change an injury report regarding an incident that resulted in a firefighter losing a foot, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.
According to a series of letters obtained by Target 12, Asst. Chief Jay McLaughlin was suspended Wednesday and Thursday for violating the department’s rule 15: Obedience to Orders.
IAFF Local 1261 President Scott Giroux said the union is filing a grievance over the suspension.
On June 7 — the day Target 12 first reported the details in the injury report — a letter was sent to Fire Chief William Sisson from acting Director of Public Safety Tina Goncalves asking Sisson to request several changes in the report.
McLaughlin’s May 30 report about an injury suffered during a May 15 triple-decker fire on Central Avenue cited four root causes for the accident, including the decision to move a ladder truck with two firefighters still on the apparatus and a lack of a second ladder that was out of service at the time.
McLaughlin wrote that one available truck required the department’s “reserve ladder three … to do the work of two” trucks when it moved from the building’s roof to a “screaming woman” who was “calling for help” from a third-floor window.
The 25-year veteran firefighter’s left foot “was crushed between the rungs of the ladder resulting in the amputation” 15 days later, according to the report.
Goncalves’ letter said the report should be “absent any personal opinions and /or biases,” and suggested it should have several elements including a chronology of events, the state fire marshal’s report, and ladder truck maintenance reports.
Pawtucket Public Information Officer Wilder Arboleda said the city would not comment on the personnel matter, and McLaughlin said he did not want to comment on his suspension at this time.
McLaughlin did say the suspension is the only blemish on his 35-year record as a firefighter.
The injury report also stated a lack of training was one of the root causes and it recommended, “properly funding repairs so apparatus is at the ready and able to respond.”
At the time of the May 15 fire, the city’s two newer ladder trucks were out of service.
Ladder 2 went back to work the day after the incident, after about six weeks in the shop. Arboleda said Ladder 1 is expected to be available for use on Friday.
Sisson and Goncalves denied a lack of funding or training had anything to do with the injury.
Sisson also insisted a second ladder truck would not have changed how the on-scene firefighters responded to the emergency.
“Tactically [a second ladder truck] would have been placed on the other street as the house was on a corner,” Sisson explained. “Therefore, the same ladder truck that responded to this issue would have been faced with the same decision it was faced with that night.”
Sisson said a ground ladder was used to rescue two women from the building after the firefighter was injured.
The incident remains under investigation, according to Arboleda.
Goncalves has suggested the issues cited in the injury report are related to ongoing firefighter contract talks, which are currently in arbitration.