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Hub firefighters quit after failed EMT test

Union challenges resignations of the 7 in court

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / September 24, 2011

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Seven new Boston firefighters chose to resign this week instead of facing termination because they failed a test to become certified emergency medical technicians.

But the firefighters union has gone to court to contest the resignations, arguing that the Fire Department has never before enforced a requirement that new hires earn a state EMT certification their first year on the job. The union asked for an injunction yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, and a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

For 15 years, new Boston firefighters have been required to become certified EMTs. The issue came under greater scrutiny last year after more than 200 emergency medics across Massachusetts falsified training records when they renewed their certificates, including almost two dozen Boston firefighters.

As part of the fallout, Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser said he required the 50 recruits hired in 2010 to sign a letter stating they would be fired if they did not earn their EMT certificate in a year.

“There was no way to hold people’s feet to the fire to get it done,’’ Fraser said yesterday. “The majority of our business is medical calls. We are taking this seriously, because it’s a serious issue. . . . Do you want someone to come to your house to respond if you are having a heart attack that’s not an emergency medical technician? I don’t think so.’’

The union accused Fraser of wasting taxpayer dollars because it said overtime pay will be required to fill the vacancies left by the seven firefighters who resigned. Even more, it alleged that the city was enforcing the regulation because Fraser has a vendetta against rank-and-file members of the fire department.

“Fraser is very mean-spirited and so is the city, so shame on them for putting these guys through this,’’ said Richard Paris, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 718. “They have families, and some of them are veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.’’

The seven firefighters were identified in court documents as Christopher McCarron, Sean Milliken, Jean Joseph, Clinton Clarke, Gabriel Clark, Theron Houlder, and Richard Berger.

But Fraser, also a military veteran, said he is being more than fair. The seven probational firefighters received EMT training at the city fire academy. They were reminded a month ago that they must earn an EMT certificate to remain employed. And the department offered a tutoring course, Fraser said, but none of the seven attended.

Finally, the department gave the firefighters the chance to resign so they could pass the EMT test and reapply to the department. If the firefighters had been terminated, they would have had to start the application process from scratch and go back through the civil service process.

“I could have fired them, but I didn’t,’’ Fraser said. “I’m being a nice guy here. I’m giving them a chance to get this done and come back.’’

The dispute underscores the growing acrimony between the union and Fraser since he was hired in 2006 as the first outsider to run the Fire Department. This summer, Fraser began a nationwide search for a new chief, a job that had traditionally been filled from within the ranks.

This latest row prompted the union to compare the commissioner to Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who drew national attention when he severely limited the collective bargaining rights of organized labor.

“Fraser does not like the union, and he is fighting the union and taking it out on these kids,’’ Paris said. “He is building a resume on the backs of Local 718. He’s like the new governor of Wisconsin.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.