Connecticut Firefighter Struggles Years after being Injured

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. --

A former New Britain firefighter said he continues to struggle with medical and financial problems, nearly 16 years after getting seriously hurt on the job.

Robert Caffery said he always felt he got a raw deal from the city.

NBC 30 took another look at his pay and the price of bravery.

On Easter weekend in 1992, Caffery said he was in a burning house on Oak Street when his equipment stopped working. The only way of breathing was to take my mask off, he said.

Diagnosed with RADS, reactive airway dysfunctional syndrome, he's since suffered ongoing complications from the condition and his medications.

Now, he said, he is asking the city for more help.

I'm just looking for fairness. Im not looking to rob the city of anything. Im not looking for a give out," he said.

Right after the incident, a city report shows his equipment malfunctioned.

Two days later, he said, the report was changed to show no failure.

Unable to work, Caffery retired on disability two years later.

TThe city and firefighters' union cut a deal for him to get half pay, the minimum for which the union contract called, plus five years of health insurance. Caffery said he was angry but took the deal.

"Actually, I would even accept that if I was in my right mind. At the time they asked me to sign these documents, I think I was taking like 15 medications a day, narcotics, all kinds of medicines."

In another setback, Caffery's workers' compensation settlement came in at just $95,000.

Again, he signed the deal, freeing the city from any further obligation.

But now, after years of financial and medical problems, Caffery is hoping the city will increase his monthly disability pay, from half pay to full pay.

Mayor Tim Stewart said he didn't get the compensation he deserved from the very beginning.

Stewart said a clause in the union contract allows the city to revisit disability cases to see if injured workers can go back on the job. He said he believes that clause also applies to people who remain on disability, and he plans to take Caffery's case to the fire commission for a potential pay hike.

He's been the victim of not only bad luck, but people not coming to his assistance when he needed them most, and I think over time his situation has worsened and there's been no remedy for that for him," Stewart said.

Stewart, who was a firefighter with Caffery, has helped him in the past. In 2001, as an alderman, he successfully pushed to get Caffery back on the city's health plan, two years after his city insurance ran out.

Now, he said, taking up the case again is the right thing to do.

"If there's something that we can do as a city to help him, Ill do everything I can."

Stewart said Caffery also has the option of taking a pension escalator buyout to forego future raises in exchange for a lump sum of cash.

"I've said it a thousand times; the only thing I really did wrong was show up and go to work," Caffery said.

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