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  1. #1
    MembersZone Subscriber tyler101's Avatar
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    Default When is a firefighter not a firefighter?

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=46&id=46983

    Steven Burgess thought he was a firefighter the night The Station nightclub burned to the ground. He went as a concertgoer, out on a date.

    But as the fire consumed the club, the Cranston firefighter joined West Warwick's Fire Department, fire hose in hand, as they fought the blaze -- standing close enough that the heat burned his clothes and singed his eyebrows off.

    The City of Cranston saw it differently. While he acted heroically and deserved praise, the city said, Burgess was no firefighter that night; he was a private citizen doing what he could to help.

    Cranston denied his request for injured-on-duty status when he sought treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder stemming from the events of that night, Feb. 20, 2003.

    Surprised, Burgess and the fire union appealed to an arbitrator, who agreed with the city last summer -- Burgess deserved praise, the arbitrator said, but not city coverage.

    "It was kind of shocking. I thought you're here to serve and protect life and property, 24 hours a day," Burgess said of the result.

    Now, Burgess said, something eats away at him. The next time, would he be so quick to jump in and help? Will other firefighters rush to throw themselves into danger when off-duty, knowing that their families will not be covered if something happens to them?

    He says he would do the same thing again. But there is a tinge of doubt.

    "There's a line there now, that you never understand why it's there -- you think, where did this come from? What happened?"

    STEVEN BURGESS had seen fire before, but always from behind the relative safety of his firefighter's mask.

    But when the flames shot up during the first moments of Great White's set, his blood turned to ice.

    Burgess, now 36, was there to see a band from his youth, hang out with some friends he knew at the club. He had played there before as a member of the Newport-based rock band, Those Guys, and knew the layout and the staff well. He'd been around the club before in a professional capacity as well, having spent 1996 to 2000 as a West Warwick firefighter before joining Cranston.

    Within 20 seconds of the fire starting, he knew the flames were more than a fire extinguisher could handle. He told a bartender friend of his to leave immediately, and then turned to his date.

    "You're not going to believe what you're going to see. I want you to get out of here," he told her.

    He led her into the club's kitchen, and opened a side door out just as the crowd at large began to realize that something had gone horribly wrong, and began streaming toward the front door.

    Burgess told his date to go across the street, and headed back to the kitchen door. He opened it, thinking to lead others out that way. He was immediately overcome by smoke, and pulled back.

    "If I went back in, I knew I wasn't coming out," he said.

    He ran along the burning building to the front entrance, where he joined several others in dragging survivors through the club's broken windows. Burgess sliced up his hands and arms on the glass.

    Moments later, the first West Warwick fire truck arrived.

    Burgess ran up to the truck. He saw a friend, Lt. Roger St. Jean, from his days in West Warwick.

    "There's 100 people trapped up against that door," Burgess said he told St. Jean.

    St. Jean looked over the situation, and then told Burgess to "grab a line" for himself and another firefighter, and keep water on the door to keep it cool.

    That "order," the union later said, transformed Burgess from a private citizen to a firefighter doing his job.

    He ran to the West Warwick truck, unfurled a hose line, and began shooting water onto the building's front door.

    Burgess stood 15 feet from the fire and held his line. "It was amazing how hot that was," he said, having never been so close before without his gear on.

    Soon the truck ran out of water. As more firefighters arrived on-scene, Burgess ran to secure other water sources and pump water to the front lines.

    As better-equipped firefighters -- including a contingent from Cranston -- arrived by the truckload, he found a West Warwick battalion chief, and told him that he was going to go look for his date.

    He wandered for close to an hour, until he found her across the street at the Cowesett Inn, tending to burn victims. Medical personnel wanted to keep him at the inn because of his cuts and heat exposure, but he persuaded a firefighter at one of the back doors to let him leave. Steven Burgess went home.

    THE ISSUE of where the line between on-duty and off-duty falls is not new; firefighters generally know that if they help a person on the side of the road, any injuries they incur will not be covered.

    But Burgess' case is different, his union said. The scope of the disaster aside, Burgess joined a firefighting operation in progress, and was ordered to "grab a line" by a West Warwick fire officer.

    "You cannot neglect a fire officer's order to help," said Paul Valletta, president of Local 1363 of the International Association of Firefighters in Cranston. During Burgess' arbitration, Valletta cited several provisions of state law that he said meant Burgess could have faced prosecution if he had not helped when asked.

    Chief Robert Warren of Cranston said he would have been "disappointed" had Burgess not helped, and Chief Charles D. Hall of West Warwick, said that if he had learned that Burgess had been there and not joined the firefighting, he would have taken him to task.

    "In our profession, there's an unspoken duty to perform. Refusal to act, to me, is almost a chargeable offense. If he had not assisted? I think I would have had something to say about it," Hall said.

    Burgess said he knows this ethos well. If he hadn't helped, his fellow firefighters in Cranston would never have looked at him the same way.

    "I would have been alienated. My next 20 years would have been real tough."

    But helping took its toll.

    IT WAS the morning after the fire, and Burgess had not slept. He sat in his chair, the television on, as the phone calls started to trickle in.

    He had the day off, and he spent it in that one spot, He sat and stared at the television for 24 hours straight, ignoring the phone and the messsages that flooded his answering machine as concerned friends and family called to check on him.

    He was rattled -- shocked, he said. The idea of seeing a fire truck made him nauseous.

    He took one day off, to clear his head, and was told by the Fire Department that he would be placed on injured-on-duty status. He took the day, and then returned to work.

    "I kind of forced myself to come back. I almost threw up on the way there," he said.

    He tried to bury himself in the job. But as the months went on, the images of the inside of that club never went away.

    "I had a problem every time I got in the shower. I kept trying to wash it off. It wouldn't come off," he said.

    He went to counseling, and to his family doctor, where he was prescribed antidepressant medication. He was curious, however, as to why he had to pay his copays for the doctor visits and the medication. Wasn't he on injured-on-duty? Doesn't the city pick up those costs?

    It was then that Burgess learned that the city had denied his claim.

    "I didn't understand. I had assumed everything was taken care of," he said.

    PAUL G. GRIMES, director of administration for Mayor Stephen P. Laffey, said that he was impressed by Burgess' actions, but after consulting with the city's labor lawyers, believed that giving Burgess injured-on-duty status would be a precedent-setting blurring of the line between on- and-off duty.

    "It was very clear that the right thing to do was to keep that line of off-duty in place," Grimes said. Just because the incident was the famous Station nightclub fire and not an injury incurred assisting a stranded motorist is no reason to respond differently.

    "It's a very emotional subject. It's emotional for everybody in the state of Rhode Island. But that shouldn't color our decision," he said.

    "Maybe it makes us the bogeyman -- but I think reasonable people understand."

    Additionally, Grimes said that the union's argument that he was ordered to assist is specious. A West Warwick lieutenant has no jurisdiction over a Cranston firefighter.

    Then the negotiations began. The union and the Laffey administration have notoriously bad relations, but Valletta said that "with all the fights I've had with this administration, it never crossed my mind that they would deny it."

    "They should have been giving this kid commendations, and instead they turned their back on him," he said.

    Valletta said he understood the administration's argument that it feared setting a precedent. But the city can make exceptions when it chooses; in 1983, Cranston paid the funeral expenses of a firefighter who was killed responding to an accident on his way to work.

    Valletta offered to sign a letter saying that if the city gave Burgess injured-on-duty status, it would not set any sort of legal or anecdotal precedent. Grimes refused, saying the letter was a smokescreen.

    "Does it really not set a precedent? It's almost like a dance. Of course,it sets a precedent," Grimes said.

    "If we would have granted him injured-on-duty status, boy, that be a tough one to prove against if he goes for a disability pension," he said.

    Burgess vehemently denies that he would ever want a pension -- he said it was hard enough for him to swallow his pride and ask his doctor about a potential stress disorder, and to talk to reporters now.

    The union filed a grievance against the city, and took the issue to arbitration. The arbitrator said that he sympathized with Burgess, but last summer denied the union's position. The city's contract with its union, arbitrator Lawrence Katz wrote, defines the line between on- and off-duty -- clearly.


  2. #2
    Forum Member DennisTheMenace's Avatar
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    Shouldn't the Club's insurance be covering these costs?
    Be for Peace, but don't be for the Enemy!
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    Quote Originally Posted by nyckftbl View Post
    LOL....dont you people have anything else to do besides b*tch about our b*tching?

  3. #3
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    Now, this should be an interesting thread.

    I guess I'll start things off. As an employee of the city, I guess my feeling is that the city has no obligation to cover medical bills incured when he was not working. As has been discussed in threads here regarding similiar situations, he was not acting as a employee, but as a private citizen.

    I know that in our department, it is made clear when you join that should you decide to assist at an emergency outside of our area that we are not dispatched to, you are on your own as insurance will only cover our responses. The only exception is that should you act in our district, and we are later dispatched, any injuries that may have occurred before the dispatch are covered.
    Last edited by LaFireEducator; 01-18-2006 at 02:09 PM.

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    In my eyes, you act on your own, your on your own. Assisting in removing those from a situation yes, but once a department arrives, let it go, and allow those properly equipped, and protected. Find another way to assist the FD in the operations if the IC sees fit, in this case he was instructed to pull a line..........the question begs, did this place him in service, and if so, should the IC not be held accountable for injuries sustained to this FF as well as placing a FF in service who is not properly protected to any of the states/departments regulations. This one will go to 20....Mr. Garcia...stay away
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  5. #5
    Forum Member MIKEYLIKESIT's Avatar
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    Default Typical Bull ****

    Did his department respond on mutual aid ? If so, shouldnt he be covered? Sounds like the city is being cheap and vindictive. I would have liked to hear all the moaning from the peanut gallery if he did nothing to assist. This was a once-in-a lifetime event for these departments. (hopefully) and special situations should be handled as such.
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  6. #6
    MembersZone Subscriber voyager9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyler101
    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=46&id=46983
    As better-equipped firefighters -- including a contingent from Cranston -- arrived by the truckload, he found a West Warwick battalion chief, and told him that he was going to go look for his date.
    The article says that Cranston (his employer) was dispatched, I assume, for mutual aid. This may not help things if the city does not have a "if dispatched"-type clause.

  7. #7
    Fire Chaplain IACOJRev's Avatar
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    I think I'm going to make myself very unpopular here, but I agree with the city's stand (at least, based on the information provided here)

    The City of Cranston saw it differently. While he acted heroically and deserved praise, the city said, Burgess was no firefighter that night; he was a private citizen doing what he could to help.

    Cranston denied his request for injured-on-duty status...
    If the West Warwick FD "recruited" him to work that night they should be the ones liable for any claims that he has. It's obvious that this wasn't the case of a by-stander simply helping people get out because the article states:

    But as the fire consumed the club, the Cranston firefighter joined West Warwick's Fire Department, fire hose in hand, as they fought the blaze -- standing close enough that the heat burned his clothes and singed his eyebrows off.
    and
    Burgess ran up to the truck. He saw a friend, Lt. Roger St. Jean, from his days in West Warwick.

    "There's 100 people trapped up against that door," Burgess said he told St. Jean.

    St. Jean looked over the situation, and then told Burgess to "grab a line" for himself and another firefighter, and keep water on the door to keep it cool.

    That "order," the union later said, transformed Burgess from a private citizen to a firefighter doing his job.
    NO, that "order" transformed Burgess from a private citizen standing around to a private citizen helping the West Warwick FD. Cranston's got nothing to do with it. Period.

    I say PAY UP WEST WARWICK!!!

    As better-equipped firefighters -- including a contingent from Cranston -- arrived by the truckload, he found a West Warwick battalion chief, and told him that he was going to go look for his date.

    He wandered for close to an hour, until he found her across the street at the Cowesett Inn, tending to burn victims. Medical personnel wanted to keep him at the inn because of his cuts and heat exposure, but he persuaded a firefighter at one of the back doors to let him leave. Steven Burgess went home.
    According to this, he stopped working when his department arrived, checking out with Warwick's leadership, not Cranston's.

    ...Chief Charles D. Hall of West Warwick, said that if he had learned that Burgess had been there and not joined the firefighting, he would have taken him to task.

    "In our profession, there's an unspoken duty to perform. Refusal to act, to me, is almost a chargeable offense. If he had not assisted? I think I would have had something to say about it," Hall said.
    Then YOU cover his claim and provide for his needs, Hall!!!

    My beef isn't with the pencil pusher, Mr Grimes at Cranston. My beef is with Chief Hall for not stepping up to the plate.
    Resident Chaplain of the IACOJ

  8. #8
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    1) Shouldn't the Club's insurance be covering these costs?

    Da ya honestly think any nightclub owned by two local brothers in the U.S. covers sufficient insurance TO COVER 100 FREAKING DEATHS, never mind all the injuries & other liabilities?

    "Hi Geico, yeah, um how much is the premium for a one billion dollar insurance policy?"

    2) The Mayor of Cranston is a mutt. He recently billed the Union for the use of apparatus when the Union gave a presentation on firefighting equipment & basic tactics to the City Council.

    3) I don't know about the career guys, and this is a different state, but under Connecticut's worker's comp law for Volunteer Firefighters, this situation would have been black-and-white that it was covered by worker's compensation by the volunteer's home department.

    Which I guess means know your local laws 'cause they can be quirky.

  9. #9
    Forum Member fireguy919's Avatar
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    Our fire department insurance would have covered this. As well if I was on vacation something happened and I help and would be sued they would cover that as well. Sounds like to many politicians looking a saving a buck instead of taking care of the ovis. I remember watching that the crews where short handed as they arrived. IMO they should give this guy a pat on the back for standing up to help out. And take care of it. Just sad how the wording can hurt one person so bad.
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  10. #10
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    Default friggin mutts

    perfect example of a mutt ****ing a brother. If W.Warwick wouldn't of stepped up to the plate for the expenses, his own department should of. What every happened to loyalty? Maybe the local should think about stepping up and covering expenses. I mean, the dues go SOMEWHERE...


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  11. #11
    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    Ok, I'll stir some more crap. Was he at the bar drinking? Would he still be considered "on-duty" IF he had been drinking? There's a few unknown's in this issue. Will be interesting to see how far this goes.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

  12. #12
    FIGJAM lutan1's Avatar
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    I'd argue that he should be compensated....
    Luke

  13. #13
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    As I sit and think this out. If the firefighter had approched his departments crews onscene when they arrived and then went to an officer of his department and said I'm here and ready to work (according to the story they had arrived before he said he was leaving). His own firefighters and officers could have covered this. Sounds crooked I know but it may have prevented this. I know he was going to find his girlfriend but a slightly cooler head may have helped. Most of us have seen some horrible things and still had to keep cool heads until the incident was under control or over. This is one reason we learn and train to keep cool heads and keep thinking at all times. The only ones that are really going to protect our interests are our own. The city I worked for would have only allowed the claim if the incident had been inside the city limits. Even I HATE to admit that the city was probably right legally and only in that sense although the first responding city should have stepped up.

    LaFireEducator,
    None of us know that he was actually drinking and apparently hadn't been there that long but we still don't know that.
    Last edited by FireLt1951; 01-18-2006 at 05:42 PM.

  14. #14
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    Didn't we just have a thread a month ago where the off-duty majority of the posters thought the firefighter drinking at the bar wasn't a firefighter, which exempted him from needing bunker gear and was off-duty acting as a private citizen?

    Why is this any different, though being asked to pull a line by the W. Warwick officer could be interpreted as an "official" request for assistance by the courts (I don't see it, but maybe). I somehow doubt though that Cranston showing up mutual aid later in the incident would have an affect as my assumption is that the rig that arrived from his department was staffed with "on-duty" firefighters. Now, if there had been a recall of off-duty personnel and they were sent to the scene, maybe he would have fallen into that catagory. Does anyone know if this was the case?

    Still see it as a private citizen. I know in my situation here, that would be the case.

  15. #15
    Forum Member MIKEYLIKESIT's Avatar
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    Default Give me a break

    I am sure all of you would just stand there with your thumbs up your *** if faced with the same situation. Actually...Maybe some of you would
    IAFF-IACOJ PROUD

  16. #16
    Forum Member Dave1983's Avatar
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    Angry

    Someone should be picking up the tab. West Warwick probably, but I belive his own city has a stake as they were there mutual aid. So, would they have covered him if he had waited till his own department showed up? This whole thing stinks, and a brother is left out in the cold for trying to do the right thing.
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  17. #17
    Forum Member HeavyRescueTech's Avatar
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    where do you draw the line? if joe citizen is ordered to pull a hose line by a fire officer (say they were buddies growing up), should the hosting department have to pay for any mental or physical injuries he should sustain?

    now, the firefighter mention above was fighting the fire with no gear. I doubt he was in uniform. was he representing cranston FD? did he arrive on a cranston unit? was he directed by his department to respond directly to the scene? and why should cranston pay his bills, considering they didn't send him to the scene that caused his injuries?

    to the best of my knowledge, career firefighters work assigned shifts. they must respond to all calls that happen during their shift. They are not required to respond to calls (even big fires) that occur when they are not on shift (the exception being if an official call back is requested). In fact, I would imagine some departments do not allow a career FF to respond to calls when he is not scheduled to be on shift. I would imagine they have this policy for this very reason, among others.

    I have always said that I will do what I can to the best of my ability when I am in POV or in civilian gear. Similar to my opinions of cops going into burning buildings with no gear, if you go in you are being very heroic, but you might also be on your own should something bad happen. It's a choice that anyone who does "lend a helping hand out of the goodness of their heart" needs to consider before they act. what can happen if they do get injured or, knock on wood, perish while performing an act outside their job description?

    Sucks to be FF Burgess, but he made a decision, and a heroic one at that. Unfortunately, now he has to deal with the consequences.
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    Interesting topic! Quick question- how many of your workers' comp funds are state run? Bones, if you are drinking in quarters (notice i said if you are, NOT IF YOU SHOULD BE) are you still technically on duty?

    Where is George? George [or any other PO's] what happens if you get injured while trying to stop the imminent commission of a felony off duty out of district?

    For the rest of the posters- Do your towns pay claims arising from M/A? What if he was a vol, instead of a career (the whole on/off duty concept).

  19. #19
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    Angry He should be covered...

    Not to quote a movie, but Donald Sutherland said it well. "It's a funny thing about firemen. Night and day, they're always firemen." Of course he should be compensated. Not all of the firefighters who died on 9/11 were "on duty". I realize that the city placed a call advising all off-duty firefighters report to duty, but they never said to report to duty and run to the towers. Plus, anybody who thinks that the first in engine was able to handle the situation should thank their union for fighting against drug testing, because you're smoking crack if you think that a four man engine company is going to be capable of handling a fire with ONE HUNDRED VICTIMS. The FD Lt. knew him personally and knew that he was capable of assisting. This guy should be commended for his actions. A few years back, a local firefighter was killed while off duty assisting on the side of the road at an auto accident. His city tried to do the same thing, but the governor of Florida passed legislation making it law that a firefighter injured or killed while performing the functions of a firefighter is automatically covered by worker's compensation. Rest in peace, Firefighter Shane Kelly.

  20. #20
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    I believe there is a morally right answer (to the firefighter) and a financially right answer (to the taxpayers) and they are not the same. Our department has a policy that if we come upon an emergency scene and we are hurt performing work we are trained to do, then we are covered by the city's workman's comp.

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