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Emails: ‘Zero money’ for basic Pawtucket Fire Dept. maintenance in months before amputation accident

Target 12

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Emails between department of public works personnel and fire department administrators in Pawtucket indicate there were apparent problems funding basic maintenance services and larger repairs for most of this year.

One of the emails obtained from a Target 12 public records request was sent in late January from a DPW employee to Fire Chief William Sisson.

“Just a heads up,” the email said. “I still have zero money to operate on basic services.”

The emails potentially support an accident report that said maintenance issues contributed to an accident that caused a veteran firefighter to lose his foot.

Acting Director of Public Safety Tina Goncalves, who received a similar email about “zero money” in early March, said budget statistics show the city spent $512,000 on fire department maintenance last fiscal year, more than twice what was budgeted.

“There were no funding issues,” Goncalves said. “We actually went over budget by thousands of dollars.”

The emails sent between January and June include a number of other indicators there were funding problems.

“Can you wait on pump repairs until Monday for engine 3,” Goncalves wrote on February 27. “I’m trying to find funds.”

A May message from the DPW requested purchase orders “so I can pay the vendors.”

“We have some monies that are over 90 days old,” the DPW employee wrote. “This may cause us to be shut-off from our vendors.”

Another series of messages indicated Goncalves delayed replacing a motor in one of the city’s six fire engines until the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

An accident report by Assistant Fire Chief J. McLaughlin stated a lack of funding for equipment repairs was one of the contributing causes to a May 15 accident involving a firefighter whose foot was amputated 15 days later.

McLaughlin’s report said with two ladder trucks in the shop at the time of the Central Avenue triple-decker call, the city’s backup Ladder 3 was forced to do the work of two trucks.

The firefighter was injured when the truck was moved with him still on the ladder in an attempt to rescue two women trapped on the third floor and “screaming” for help.

McLaughlin’s report said moving the apparatus with the firefighter still on the ladder was also one of the “root causes” of the accident.

The women were rescued with a ground ladder, and Sisson insists a second ladder truck would not have changed the outcome because Ladder 3 was in the best position to help the women.

“What happened at the fire scene is an ongoing investigation,” Goncalves said.

McLaughlin was later suspended without pay for not following orders to add a number of elements that Goncalves said would complete his report.

“My integrity is not for sale,” McLaughlin said. “I am not rewriting that report. It’s accurate.”

McLaughlin’s report also stated a lack of training and standard operating procedures contributed to the May accident, points that were disputed by Sisson.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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