Union: Vid shows rig isn't safe

NY Daily News - October 11, 2006

by JONATHAN LEMIRE

Showing a startling video of a Manhattan firefighter tumbling out of the door of a moving FDNY truck, the firefighters union accused the city yesterday of forcing the Bravest to use unsafe rigs.

But the FDNY adamantly denied that there is a problem with the department's trucks, blamed the firefighter for falling and called the incident captured on tape an "unfortunate fluke."

The surveillance footage from the night of May 2 shows Firefighter Thomas LaBara falling from the rear door of Engine 7 and slamming his head off Duane St. in lower Manhattan.

LaBara, 28, is then nearly hit by an oncoming car before he stumbles to the sidewalk and collapses, the video from a camera at the nearby Federal Building shows.

"This is a firefighter that could have died, yet the FDNY has done nothing to correct the problem," said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "Firefighter safety is apparently not their priority."

LaBara suffered severe head trauma and has been unable to return to work, Cassidy said.

Cassidy passed out a memo from the FDNY's chief of safety indicating that when fire truck doors are not fully closed, they still give the appearance of being locked - potentially misleading the firefighters inside.

He also claimed that Seagrave - the main supplier of FDNY trucks and a target of union criticism in the past - has corrected the problem for its newest trucks, a tacit acknowledgment that the FDNY rigs aren't safe.

"But the FDNY has done nothing to fix the apparatus already in the fleet," Cassidy said. "This equipment is simply not adequate for our firefighters."

The top FDNY spokesman, Frank Gribbon, rejected Cassidy's charges, defended Seagrave and said the department's investigation concluded that LaBara had inadvertently hit the latch that opened the door.

"There's nothing defective about the door," Gribbon said. "Those latches have been used literally millions of times by firefighters on apparatus across the city, and this was a one-time accident."

Gribbon noted that LaBara should have been wearing his seat belt.

"This is a regrettable incident, but an unfortunate fluke," Gribbon said. "Safety comes first."