Union Alleges FDNY Not Doing Enough To Improve Rig Safety Following Accident

NY 1 - October 13, 2006

The FDNY and the firefighters union are at odds over whether or not changes need to be made to fire rigs following a May 2nd accident in which a firefighter suffered serious head trauma after falling from the door of a moving truck. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.

It started out as a routine run for Manhattan's Engine 7, but something went drastically wrong. As the truck, heading east on Duane Street turned onto Broadway, 28-year-old firefighter Thomas LaBara was ejected from the rig.

The four year veteran landed on his back, hitting his head on the pavement. For a moment he stood up, walked about ten feet and fell again, suffering serious head injuries.

An FDNY investigation revealed the cause of the accident, a faulty latch on the cab door.

"If the locking mechanism isn't working properly, we're risking the health and safety of New York City firefighters," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Cassidy says since the incident, the Fire Department has done nothing to guarantee that kind of accident doesn't happen again.

As evidence he cited in an internal memo obtained by the UFA from FDNY Chief of Safety, Al Hay. In the memo dated June 12, 2006, Chief Hay says he is not aware of any other incidents like the one that injured firefighter LaBara, but he issued a recommendation that the Department's entire fleet of Seagrave pumpers be retro-fitted with properly functioning locking devices.

"We're talking about 195 - 200 pumpers," said Cassidy. "We estimate 95 percent of them are affected by this. So it's a tremendous amount; it'll probably take some period of time, but they have not done anything five months later."

The FDNY says it hasn't done anything because it's not going to do anything. The department says it has considered the recommendation of its safety chief, but believes the accident was an isolated incident.

It says the safety of its members is paramount and reminds all firefighters to follow mandated rules to put their gear on before getting on the fire truck, and to always wear their seat belts, which the department believes could have prevented LaBara's accident.

Cassidy says he's going to call on the City Council to conduct an oversight hearing on rig safety if the problem is not fixed immediately.