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  • Newton Firefighters in the News
    Jun 09, 2011

    May 09, 2011

    Jan 13, 2010

    Nov 27, 2009
    Wicked Local Newton
    Posted Nov 17, 2009 @ 04:09 PM

    Newton —

    The renovated Fire Station 4 has a lot of enhancements — bigger doors for the trucks, separate bathrooms for male and female firefighters, an absolutely enormous refrigerator. But the most important improvements are something basic, especially for firefighters.

    “We now have better ventilation and a sprinkler system,” said union President Tom Lopez as he led a tour of the building. “Health and safety are huge for us, as well as the morale [the new station] brings.”

    The $2.9 million reconstruction of Station 4 is the first of what Mayor David Cohen said would be a citywide rehabilitation of firehouses. Station 7 on Eliot Street is next on the list to be repaired.

    Over the past several years, firefighters have criticized the city for failing to improve the stations, frequently citing leaky roofs, poor exhaust ventilation and the lack of sprinklers.

    At a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, Cohen thanked “all the members of the fire department who advocated so long and so well for this improvement,” especially the inhabitants of Station 4 themselves, who had to deal with construction for months.

    “[Their] patience and inconvenience is now being rewarded with this facility,” Cohen said.

    Mayor-elect Setti Warren said the city needs to better fund its Fire Department.

    “We need to make sure every person in the Fire Department has proper equipment, proper manning and proper training,” Warren said.

    Training should be easier than in the past: The station’s old kitchen is now a handicapped-accessible training center that can be used for CPR instruction, HAZMAT training and other classes. The room can also be set up as a second dispatch area and serve as the response headquarters in case of a citywide emergency, Lopez said.

    The kitchen has been moved to the second floor and leads into a spacious dining room on one end and a lounge with armchairs on the other. Visitors looking at the area for the first time were impressed; one, an abutter of the station, demanded the firefighters hold barbecues and invite the neighborhood.

    The second floor was completely reorganized. Instead of one main bunkroom and locker room, a series of two-bed bunkrooms with their own lockers line a square hallway. That contains bathrooms — both male and female — as opposed to the unisex ones previously at the station.

    The garage saw less work, but the doors were widened and lengthened to 12 and 14 feet, respectively. Now the ladder truck can fit inside, Lopez said.

    Oct 10, 2009
    Wicked Local Newton
    Posted Oct 10, 2009 @ 01:58 AM
    Last update Oct 10, 2009 @ 08:03 AM

    Newton —

    Unlike Mayor David Cohen, Setti Warren is holding off on asking for rides on one of Newton's fire engines. And that's fine by the firefighters.

    The firefighters' union endorsed Warren Friday, becoming the first municipal union to make an endorsement. Union president Tom Lopez said Warren's background in FEMA helped him connect with emergency responders, and he thought Warren would be able to repair relations between City Hall and the fire department, which have been strained under the Cohen administration.

    "There's been a lot of difficult problems in the last seven years," Lopez said. "There are serious issues of neglect in the fire department."

    Warren said he would try to get federal money, including grants and Homeland Security dollars, to help pay for fire department equipment. He also wanted to tap colleges for improvements to the fire department.

    "It's vitally important, if Newton is going to be successful, to have first responders have their training and equipment be first rate so they can protect the citizens of the community," Warren said.

    Oct 10, 2009
    GateHouse News Service
    Posted Oct 07, 2009 @ 08:00 AM
    Last update Oct 08, 2009 @ 09:26 PM

    Newton —

     Next week, Mayor David Cohen plans to announce the city’s ambulance service for the next three years. But some people want Newton’s next mayor to make the decision instead.

    The Newton Firefighters have advocated bringing the ambulance service in-house, instead of contracting out to a private firm. The city currently uses AMR, which has also applied for the upcoming three-year contract along with Fallon and Cataldo.

    At the beginning of September, the Aldermen voted, 20-2, to support a resolution asking the mayor to delay signing the three-year contract by six months. With Cohen’s term in office ending Jan. 1, the move would effectively leave the decision to either Ruth Balser or Setti Warren, depending on the outcome of next month’s mayoral election.

    The delay would also give the firefighters time to prepare their own proposal to handle ambulance service.

    Alderman Greer Tan Swiston, who voted for the resolution, said it was a no-brainer that could wind up saving the city money if firefighters can provide ambulance service cheaper than an outside contractor.

    “I really don’t understand what the controversy is in resisting this request, and why it took a request from the Aldermen to even consider this,” Swiston said. “We’re in tough economic times; we need to come up with creative ways to keep the city running.”

    But mayoral spokesman Jeremy Solomon said the firefighters could have put out a proposal when the public bidding process took place earlier this year.

    “The mayor is soley focused on what’s best for the city of Newton, not what’s best for the union or any other entity,” Solomon said. “He needs to preserve public safety and the integrity of the search process.”

    The bids are being reviewed by a selection committee, but the buck stops with Cohen, Solomon said. Though the committee may make a recommendation, it’s the mayor’s call.

    “Ultimately, his responsibility is to protect public safety,” Solomon said. “If he feels a different choice is the best way to do that, then he has the responsibility to go against the recommendation of the search committee.”

    The committee is made up of several city officials, including Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Pooler, Fire Chief Joe LaCroix, Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Proia, Police Chief Matthew Cummings, Police Captain Paul Anastasia (who is charge of the dispatch center), Health Commissioner David Naparstek, Director of Clinical Services Linda Walsh and Assistant City Solicitor Eileen McGettigan

    Also on the committee are two residents with medical experience — Dr. Barry Tils, the medical director for ambulance services in Newton and a doctor at Newton Wellesley Hospital; and Dr. William Baker, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Boston Medical Center. Both Tils and Baker said in e-mails that they would not comment on the selection process and deferred to the mayor’s office.

    Solomon would not say if Cohen had pushed for the committee to select AMR over the other bidders, a charge leveled by firefighter union President Tom Lopez. But, he said, that wouldn’t matter in any case.”

    “[Cohen’s] not an advocate, he’s the decider,” Solomon said.

    Lopez, who is not on the selection committee, said he was upset that the contract would be going to an outside provider without further review of in-house ambulance service. He said the department did not put out a bid in the spring because the chief did not think the city would consider in-house service.

    To make matters worse, Lopez said, the selection committee was not informed that the Aldermen had passed their resolution — which is nonbinding, like all resolutions to the mayor — until a few weeks after the fact. No Aldermen sit on the selection committee.

    Alderman Stephen Linsky, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the resolution was public knowledge. The only way that the board can communicate is through the mayor’s office, he said.

    “I don’t know how we address it except through the mayor,” Linsky said.

    Like Swiston, Linsky hoped Cohen would reconsider signing a three-year contract now. An extension would give the next mayor a fresh start, he said.

    “It doesn’t make sense for a long-term contract to be signed in the twilight of the mayor’s term,” Linsky said.

    May 01, 2009
    Wicked Local Newton

    Newton —

    All decorative stickers on fire helmets were verboten for a few days last week, before the fire chief grandfathered in the dozens of cancer ribbons, 9/11 memorials, Italian flags and angry-looking bulldogs that adorn Newton jakes’ headgear.

    In an interoffice memo sent out Wednesday, Fire Chief Joseph LaCroix told firefighters that “helmets are to be cleaned of any patches, pins, paint or stickers.” Only reflective trapezoids that were originally part of the helmet are still allowed, LaCroix said, although he’s looking into purchasing EMT and American flag stickers that would meet safety codes.

    “That’s the only way to be consistent,” LaCroix said. “The problem is everyone’s doing whatever they want ... there’s a 9/11 sticker that looks like it belongs on a car bumper.”

    But according to Union President Tom Lopez, LaCroix sent out a second memo on Monday that allowed stickers like the above that were already on helmets to stay attached. Most new stickers will have to go through the chief, Lopez said.

    “He’ll allow memorial stickers, but everything else needs to get his approval,” Lopez said. “He wants to make sure there’s nothing offensive in nature.”

    Fire helmet decoration became a hot issue a month ago when the department told firefighter Richard Busa to stop wearing his helmet, which was completely covered by a painting of the American flag. Referring to a TAB blog post about Busa’s helmet that called for him to “hammer out a policy that has some credibility — and then enforce it uniformly,” LaCroix said the memo would put all firefighters on the same standard. He said not everyone would agree with the policy, but they would at least be on the same page, and would modify their helmets as a unit.

    “If you’re patriotic, I’m all for it, but let’s do it right and not make a spectacle of it,” LaCroix said.

    But firefighters have many different decorations already on their helmets. At least half the helmets in Station 3 Wednesday had stickers, ranging from 3-inch circular decals supporting Engine 4, to a red 6 placed over a large W to commemorate the six Worcester firefighters who died in1999, to the aforementioned bulldog clad in firefighter gear and brandishing an axe. 

    Lopez said last week that the majority of firefighters had at least one type of sticker, or a red patch of paint if they were in ladder companies. He said LaCroix had made it clear in the past that small stickers, especially memorial ones, were acceptable and he did not see a reason for changing the policy. He was glad on Monday when the second memo came out.

    “I think he saw what was heading down the road and said ‘The heck with it,’” Lopez said

    May 01, 2009
    GateHouse News Service

    Newton —

    A new year, a new fire station?

    As contractor bids come in for Station 4, four architects will present their plans for renovating Fire Station 7 in Upper Falls on Jan. 12. The field was narrowed from a dozen applicants who responded to the city’s initial request for qualifications in November.

    A report released in 2007 declared all six of Newton’s fire stations in need of urgent renovation, with a total cost between $14 million and $21 million. Station 4 in Newtonville was determined to be the station that could be renovated quickest, with the 20,000-square-foot Station 7 next in line. The city is looking to renovate a station a year.

    Station 7 was built in 1955, the same year as stations 3 and 4. Firefighters will need modular housing during its renovation.

    The four firms interviewing for the job — Durland-Van Voorhis Architects, the Galante Architecture Studio Inc., Winter Street Architects and Knight Bagge and Anderson — have varying portfolios. New Bedford-based Durland-Van Voorhis has renovated one fire station, a combined fire/police facility in Somerset, while Salem-based Winter Street Architects has worked on fire stations in Ayer, Scituate and Weymouth, and Cambridge-based Galante has designed fire stations in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

    Charlestown-based Knight Bagge and Anderson has no fire stations in its online portfolio, but has renovated numerous educational buildings. The firm has worked with the city of Newton in the past, most recently last spring to renovate the Brown School’s doors and windows.

    May 01, 2009
    GateHouse News Service
    Posted Jan 14, 2009 @ 12:00 AM

    Newton —


    “Man down!” The cry went up as firefighter Mark Cadman led the rescue, quickly recovering the injured subject — a partially peeled potato accidentally dropped in the wastebasket — and administering first aid, washing it off before placing in the pot for that night’s dinner.

    Three other firefighters were laughing along with Cadman as he nonchalantly went back to preparing the meal. Joe Yerardi sat at the far end of the kitchen table, and Jim Pomeroy was getting the main course of ham out of the refrigerator. At the other end of the table, closest to Cadman, Lt. Richard Geary was chuckling at his antics and the allusion, intentional or not, to the accident that put him out of commission for 18 months.

    But these were the people Geary can joke with, the ones he spends 24-hour shifts with, the crew that he was waiting to return to through long months of rehabilitation and getting up to full strength.

    “These guys are the ones that saved my life,” Geary said.

    Just a Dumpster fire

    It didn’t start out as a life-threatening call. On May 15, 2007, Geary and the Engine 13 crew responded to a Dumpster fire at the Boston College campus. Geary checked on his team as they opened a hydrant, and then walked around the front of the truck.

    “That’s when the world went to ‘s’ in a handbasket,” Geary said.

    The fire truck rolled over Geary, pinning him to the ground and breaking his shoulder in two places and fracturing his arm and ribs. Yerardi, the truck’s driver, feared the worst.

    “I thought he was dead,” Yerardi said.

    Geary was alive, but “in a black cloud,” slipping in and out of consciousness. He remembered talking to Cadman and Pomeroy and other firefighters who came to his aid, giving him oxygen and using the Jaws of Life to lift the truck off him.

    The rescue took only a few minutes, Pomeroy said, but it felt like a half-hour. Even though Geary was sometimes conscious and making light of the situation, the firefighters knew the accident was anything but minor.

    “I knew he was all right when he said his ass was on fire, but that was because he was being burned by the exhaust under the truck,” Pomeroy said. “It was said in a joking manner, but I knew he was serious.”

    Even as he was in shock from his injuries, Geary was able to pull off a quick quip.

    “I told the chief that I wasn’t coming in to work the next morning,” Geary recalled.

    Human or mechanical error?

    It would be several days before Geary could even leave the hospital. And while he was recuperating, controversy raged over what caused the accident. Two accident reports — one from a city-hired contractor and one from state police — attributed the accident to operator error, while a report from the firefighters’ union blamed faulty equipment.

    To Geary, there’s no question what caused the accident.

    “I know what failed that night — the apparatus,” he said. “It wouldn’t have occurred if the blocks were of the proper size and made of the right materials.”

    The 24-year-old Engine 13 also contributed to the accident, Cadman said.

    “You see what it took to get that piece of s--t out of service — it almost took a life,” he said.

    But Geary said that while the equipment may have failed, the quick reaction of his men was exactly what he expected.

    “You could say that one thing went wrong, but 99 things went right,” he said.

    Geary kept in touch with the crew over the months of recovery and therapy, letting them know how he was doing. Although he missed working at the station, he wanted to wait until he was at full strength to come back. Geary wasn’t feeling up to snuff until coming out of surgery in September. Returning before he was fit would endanger himself and anyone he was working with or rescuing, Geary said.

    “You know what the job is, and you need to be capable to return,” he said.

    What made patience difficult, Geary said, was having his life interrupted for so long.

    “When you’re starting out, you’re looking at this as a 35-, 40-year career,” he said. “It makes a big difference in how you lay out your life. Anything that comes to threaten those plans isn’t welcome.”

    And he doesn’t like thinking about the injury now, preferring to just get back to work and move forward. Pomeroy said that in many ways, firefighters have to ignore the dangerous nature of the job.

    “You can’t continuously think about it, you won’t be able to function,” Pomeroy said.

    Getting back into the swing of things

    Despite the long absence, Geary said returning to work a week ago was mostly easy.

    “The toughest part has been fitting back into my turnout gear,” Geary joked, with roars of laughter coming from the other jakes in the room.

    And the rapport between Geary and his crew seems unharmed by his 18 months away. On Sunday afternoon, the four were watching the NFL playoffs — disinterestedly, due to the lack of Patriots presence — with Geary munching on pistachios donated by a neighbor. The only calls coming over the loudspeaker were for emergencies outside of Station 3’s coverage area, like medical aid on Thurston Road and a rollover on Route 128, which gave the group plenty of time to banter amongst themselves.

    Conversation ranged from the football game to ribald remarks about a TV chef to ragging on one another. When Geary said he missed calls like an earlier assignment to clear snow off fire hydrants, the reaction was politely skeptical.

    “Yeah, right,” Cadman said.

    Geary said firefighters in an engine or ladder crew naturally bond with each other just by virtue of sharing so much time together. Over years of 24-hour shifts, they learn about each other’s lives and share in the important events.

    “We follow each other through romance, getting married, having kids,” Geary said.

    “Divorces,” Yerardi interjected. “Bail bondsmen.”

    “You come on to the department and you’re the red-ass, then 20 years later you’re calling the new guy ‘red-ass,’” Geary said with a look at Pomeroy, who with three years at the station is the youngest crew member.

    The biggest change Geary has seen since returning is the level of animosity between firefighters and City Hall, which was bad when he left. But the conflicting accident reports and a no-confidence vote in Chief Joseph LaCroix have ratcheted up the mistrust, with firefighters saying the administration is still not meeting basic equipment needs.

    “When I was injured, we were asking ‘Can it get any worse?’” Geary said. “And I’m back now and it is worse.”

    Geary frequently talked about making the best of a bad situation, a concept he and his crew seemed familiar with. While taking potshots at their oven, which was scavenged from a nursing home, or the paint flaking off the kitchen ceiling into the food — “It adds flavor,” Cadman said — they were at home with each other, and Geary was clearly happy to be back at that home.

    “It’s all about who you’re with,” Geary said.

    Page Last Updated: Jun 09, 2011 (11:14:04)
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