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Medford firefighters denied pay for on-the-job injuries

Posted by Travis Andersen  December 2, 2009 08:26 AM

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The head of the union representing Medford firefighters says he's filed a grievance on behalf of two members who were denied payment for medical bills stemming from on-the-job injuries, after they refused to provide the department with the results of their HIV and hepatitis screenings ordered after the incidents.

"I filed arbitration this morning," Rick Jordan, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1032, told the City Council at a public meeting on Tuesday.

Lieutenant Brian Cronin, a 30-year veteran of the department and one of the parties to the grievance, was pricked by a needle in April 2008 while cleaning the public bathroom in the community room at Station Five, located at 0 Medford St.

He was transported to Lawrence Memorial Hospital and underwent blood tests for HIV and hepatitis three months, six months, and one year after the accident.

Since the dispute with Cronin first surfaced in the department, the union has voted to stop cleaning the public bathrooms in the Station Five community room, which two Alcoholics Anonymous groups use regularly, among other organizations.

Cronin told the council that no one has cleaned the bathrooms since June.

"This is absolutely disgusting," said City Councilor Paul Camuso, echoing the sentiments of his colleagues, who expressed disbelief that Fire Chief Frank Giliberti would refuse to pay Cronin's medical bills.

He has an outstanding bill of $607 for the tests, Cronin told the council on Tuesday. He said Giliberti informed him that he would only pay the bill if Cronin provided the test results to the department.

Cronin refused, citing state and federal privacy laws, and his bill was referred to a collection agency.

"I get two calls a day now from Glenn Associates," Cronin told the council, adding that Giliberti demanded the test results on the advice of Meditrol, Inc., a Chicopee-based firm that administers the department's on-the-job injury claims.

Gil Barrett, a Meditrol vice president, said that federal law allows employers and claim administrators to access test results, provided there's a "legitimate business interest" in knowing the outcome.

"The chief needs to be aware of that from a public safety point of view," Barrett said.

Giliberti confirmed that, calling the dispute with Cronin the first "snag" of its kind in his 11 years as chief.

"You think I want firefighters contracting some type of contagious disease and being exposed to the public?" Giliberti said, adding that Cronin is a friend and "one of my best employees."

The council unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday urging, among other things, that the city pay Cronin's bill immediately and that Mayor Michael McGlynn dispatch cleaners to the Station Five public bathrooms.

McGlynn could not immediately be reached.

Jordan said that if Giliberti takes the claims of Cronin and another firefighter all the way to arbitration, then the American Arbitration Association - which hears all disputes between the city and the union - would receive between $1,000 and $1,200 per day to adjudicate the case, to be split evenly between both sides. And that's on top of attorney fees.

"I would hope it wouldn't go that far," Giliberti said.

Jordan noted that while he couldn't say what a typical arbitration hearing costs the city, "[It] costs us anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 if it's just a one-day quickie."

The other firefighter in the grievance - who has declined to be named publicly - was tested for HIV and hepatitis under similar circumstances, Jordan said.

He told the council that at least one firefighter has refused medical treatment in the aftermath of the dispute, fearing that he wouldn't be compensated.

"I just want my people to have peace of mind," Jordan said.

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