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Lack of payment idles new Hub firetruck

Actor's foundation may be short funds

A ''fireground rehabilitation unit'' designed to provide relief services to firefighters sat in the garage at Specialty Vehicles Inc. in North Attleborough yesterday. The company is awaiting a $205,000 payment from the foundation headed by actor Denis Leary. A ''fireground rehabilitation unit'' designed to provide relief services to firefighters sat in the garage at Specialty Vehicles Inc. in North Attleborough yesterday. The company is awaiting a $205,000 payment from the foundation headed by actor Denis Leary. (Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe)
By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / February 5, 2009
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In October, North Attleborough truck dealer Mark Hooper proudly rolled out a freshly painted Boston Fire Department support vehicle to his parking lot and had a professional photographer document his firm's work on the shiny red 2008 Chevrolet.

Yesterday, that truck remained idle in his parking lot 30 miles from Boston because a firefighter foundation run by actor Denis Leary has not met a commitment to pay the $205,000 bill, said Hooper and city fire officials.

Leary plays a firefighter on television and has been active in supporting fire departments around the country through his Leary Firefighters Foundation. His representatives did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

The delay is frustrating Fire Department officials who say they need the truck to replace a 12-year-old "fireground rehabilitation unit," which responds to all active fires and provides drinking water and other support for working firefighters. The current truck has nearly 200,000 miles on it.

The Fire Department is under increasing pressure to beef up its maintenance and replacement cycle for the vehicles firefighters operate, after Lieutenant Kevin M. Kelley died in the crash of a ladder truck in Mission Hill that investigators believe was caused by faulty brakes.

While not a front-line firefighting vehicle, the new truck is nonetheless a key piece of equipment, fire officials said.

"It goes to every single-alarm fire and above to rehabilitate firefighters, because firefighters can get overcome by heat injury. It does provide an important function," Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr. said in a telephone interview yesterday. "Certainly, we're frustrated we have not received the vehicle. We thought we would have it back in no later than October of last year."

Leary was critical of the Fire Department's vehicle replacement cycle in January, telling the Boston Herald that Kelley's death probably would not lead to meaningful changes. He told the tabloid that his foundation was planning to supply a truck to the Fire Department, but he did not reveal that the department had been waiting for it for months.

"It's the same old story," Leary, who stars in the television series "Rescue Me," told the paper's Inside Track column. "They'll panic and replace a lot of the equipment right now, but what we need is more money for firefighters everywhere. That would be the solution. We need somebody to step up and finally make a deal where they're going to give these guys - forget about how much pay they deserve - [proper] equipment and training facilities."

Of his foundation's truck donation, he said, "it's us as private citizens with a celebrity at the front trying to replace equipment that, of course, needs to be replaced by the city or state itself or the federal government."

Neither Lys Hopper, executive director of the New York-based foundation, nor Leary's publicist Carrie Gordon returned calls yesterday seeking comment.

Fraser said Hopper met with him in Boston in 2007 and offered to buy a piece of equipment for the department. Fraser said he told Hopper the firefighters could use some new support equipment, and Hopper told him the purchase of a fireground rehabilitation unit would fit within the foundation's budget.

Fraser added that he has the money in his budget now to buy the vehicle, but that the department cannot purchase the one that's ready to roll in North Attleborough because of the contract between the company, Specialty Vehicles Inc., and Leary's foundation.

The foundation's 2007 financial disclosure, the most recent available, showed it had $2.6 million in assets and $2.7 million in committed grants to be paid out, including the commitment to Boston.

The foundation in 2006 purchased a high-speed fire rescue boat for the city, prompting Mayor Thomas M. Menino to declare Leary Firefighters Foundation Day in the city. In 2004, Leary's foundation donated a tactical command unit to the Fire Department in a ceremony on City Hall Plaza. The foundation also has donated equipment to the Worcester Fire Department.

Hooper said foundation representatives have told him they are strapped for cash because donations have slowed down with the economic downturn.

After the Globe began inquiring about the vehicle yesterday, Hooper called back to say he had again heard from the foundation, and that he expected to have financing set up and the truck delivered within two weeks.

Fraser said he also had been hearing from foundation representatives about why the truck had not yet been delivered, and that he had one response for Leary: "Pay for the truck."

John C. Drake can be reached at jdrake@globe.com.

Denis Leary, who plays a firefighter in a television series, has been active in supporting fire departments around the country through his Leary Firefighters Foundation. The foundation told the dealer it is short of cash because of a falloff in donations.

Leading role

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