Last week on NewTV, a story ran regarding the aged and dangerous Newton Fire Department apparatus. Numerous safety concerns were raised about the failing brakes on 24-year-old Ladder 3, as well as the city's continued failure to meet national safety standards. Fire Chief LaCroix refuted this story, submitting the following statement: “Under no circumstances would I send our firefighters on vehicles that were unsafe.”
His actions, unfortunately, differ from his statement.
In January of 2007 two firefighters were injured on 24-year-old Ladder 4, when Lacroix returned it to service as a spare. In April 2007, he put the same apparatus back in service, which injured two more firefighters. In May 2007, 24-year-old Engine 13 malfunctioned and ran over Lt. Richard Geary, severely injuring him. In the fall of 2008, 24-year-old Ladder 3 had a complete loss of its braking system while on a call to Boston College. And to this day, it still has a chronic brake fade problem.
None of these trucks should have been on the road in the first place; they fail to meet NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards, which states that any truck 20 years old, or older, and built prior to 1991, should be removed from service permanently.
Chief LaCroix goes on to say, “My highest priority as Chief of the Newton FD is to protect the safety of our firefighters and our residents.”
Let’s look at all the times where this was NOT his priority:
He denied receiving reports of missing and broken flashlights, when in fact he had received many. He took three months to procure new flashlights, and only after public scrutiny at a Board of Aldermen meeting.
After an investigation of the Engine 13 accident exposed the use of substandard chock blocks, it would be another year and half before regulation chock blocks were finally ordered and made available for all apparatus.
Lacroix ignored Dept. of Transportation regulations regarding highway safety vests, until forced by the union to comply.
After four firefighters at Station 3 had asbestos fall on them from the ceiling, Lacroix refused to evacuate the station. He ignored repeated requests – and national standards – to implement a Rapid Intervention Team, until union and media pressure forced him to act.
Not one Newton firehouse has a smoke or carbon monoxide detector. Yet Chief Lacroix has had $98,000 available since October of 2006 to purchase and install these devices.
He ordered the emergency buttons on firefighters’ radios to be permanently turned off, limiting their ability to call for help.
This is certainly enough evidence to contradict the claims that firefighter safety is LaCroix’s highest priority.
City spokesperson Jeremy Solomon responded to the NewTV story by stating that firefighters’ concerns regarding faulty equipment will be addressed by department brass. However, as I mentioned previously, firefighters have submitted numerous reports about faulty equipment which were ignored by LaCroix.
The adversarial relationship that now exists between the chief and the firefighters has destroyed morale. His slow and media-pressured responses to safety concerns causes undue stress and does not serve his firefighters or the community he is sworn to protect.
The Newton fire department has only 14 apparatus; barely enough to provide the proper coverage for a city of 18 square miles and 80,000 people. Six of the 14 trucks do not meet National Fire Protection Association standards. Residents cannot afford any of this equipment to fail - today, tomorrow or next month. Lacroix needs to step up - or step down. Residents, please - call your mayor and your aldermen and let them know that the current situation is unacceptable. Newton needs to comply with all standards set by the NFPA for the safety of all.
(Jessica Locke is Executive Director of the Firefighters Fund (www.firefightersfund.org) and author of Rescue at Engine 32, a memoir about her work with New York City firefighters after 9/11.)