Saturday, 2:15 PM
Bodybuilding firefighter defies order to return to work
By Walter V. Robinson and Christopher Baxter, Globe Correspondents
A Boston firefighter who competed as a bodybuilder while on disability leave did not show up for work this morning despite being ordered back on the job by the fire commissioner.
Firefighter Albert Arroyo had been told to report for work as a fire inspector at 7 a.m. at the municipal building at 1010 Massachusetts Avenue. Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr. warned Arroyo that if he did not return to work he could face termination.
"He has not communicated at all with the department," said a Fire Department spokesman, Steve MacDonald, who spoke to reporters outside the municipal building. "The commissioner has assigned the personnel chief to begin investigating why he did not show."
Arroyo, a firefighter since 1986, is assigned to the department's Fire Prevention Division, where he is responsible for inspecting homes and businesses to ensure that they comply with city fire codes. He filed for a disability pension in April after Dr. John F. Mahoney concluded that he was "totally and permanently" disabled from a back injury. On May 3, just 15 days after the doctor decided Arroyo could no longer work, the firefighter competed in a national bodybuilding competition and finished eighth.
On May 21, Fraser, citing the bodybuilding, asked the Boston Retirement Board to reject the application. The board, in turn, wrote Mahoney to ask if he stood by his diagnosis. Mahoney, without answering that question, responded on June 23 that he did not know Arroyo was a bodybuilder. The Fire Department quickly shifted Arroyo from injured leave at full pay and tax-free, to sick leave. Last Thursday, Fraser ordered Arroyo to show up today for his job as a fire inspector.
Mahoney, a neurologist at Caritas Carney Hospital, defended his diagnosis in a story published today in the Globe, saying he did not know Arroyo was a bodybuilder. Arroyo paid 13 visits to Mahoney, including five examinations in the 13 months before the doctor concluded in April that Arroyo was "totally and permanently" disabled from a back injury.
Although Mahoney said Arroyo doffed his shirt during appointments, the neurologist at Caritas Carney Hospital insisted he never noticed Arroyo's muscular physique until he saw Arroyo's photo in the Globe a week ago.
"If someone is doing bodybuilding and doesn't tell me, how the hell would I know?" said Mahoney when the Globe asked him Friday about Arroyo, a professional bodybuilder since 2003.
Mahoney said he noticed nothing amiss when he examined Arroyo, who looked to him like any patient who has "lost some weight and was working hard on his physical therapy and being fit."
He added: "When I saw that picture in the paper, I didn't recognize him as the man who came to my office."
Mahoney's assertion that he had no idea Arroyo was a bodybuilder prompted a sharp rebuke yesterday from Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-supported watchdog agency.
"Dr. Mahoney's statement that he did not notice Mr. Arroyo's bodybuilding physique with his shirt off is not believable," Tyler said. Such a "go along" attitude by Mahoney and others, Tyler, added, "contributes to abuse of the disability retirement system, and those abuses are costing taxpayers millions of dollars."
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