Sunday, May 15, 2011

No Second Chance for 9/11 FDNY Firefighters

9/11 FDNY firefighters suffering respiratory problems, post traumatic stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression are being terminated on the charge of substance abuse, leaving them without pensions or health care.

An investigation into the treatment they were offered revealed a woefully inadequate response to the trauma they suffered. Left to cope for themselves, these firefighters were self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

In 2004, FDNY Commissioner Scoppetta (now-ex) implemented a Zero Tolerance Policy. Although the Commissioner was warned by the Oklahoma City Crisis Team there would be a major “spike” in substance abuse from such a traumatic event within this time frame, his policy ignored the underlying medical problem of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder within the ranks. Many firefighters, failing drug tests, were confronted and given the "choice" to quit quietly in order to avoid public humiliation. There was no opportunity to be rehabilitated back to the fire department. Those who chose to fight found themselves brutally prosecuted in hearings with no jury and a judge with no power. The Commissioner had the final word on all cases brought before him.

The following is an open letter to FDNY Commissioner Cassano:

Dear Commissioner Cassano:

I am writing concerning the terminations of FDNY firefighters who served on and after September 11, 2001. I understand these men were "self medicating" with alcohol or drugs, and were charged with substance abuse under the Zero Tolerance policy.

Although there is a need for such a policy, it seems, given the stress of firefighting, as well as the extreme traumatic nature of 9/11 and the failure by the fire department to address the medical needs of its firefighters, mitigating circumstances exist that call for compassion and an opportunity to rehabilitate.

Research into the FDNY Counselling Services Unit (CSU) and the circumstances surrounding the current terminations of FDNY firefighters turned up the following:

Graduate student interns were brought in to counsel FDNY veterans. Why weren't experienced, top level mental health professionals provided, knowing the unique and extreme massive trauma these first responders had been subjected to? Graduate students would not have the credentials or the experience to recognize and diagnose post traumatic stress disorder. In fact, firefighters relaying their experiences ended up traumatizing the counsellors, who broke down into tears (and had to be comforted by the firefighters.)

Nonetheless, I understand that for some the therapeutic relationship worked; however, in 6 months the internship was over, and the firefighter would be forced to start over with someone else. This goes against all the basic fundamentals of a therapeutic relationship. Using interns seems inhumane, given what these men went through.

Another issue that came up repeatedly is confidentiality of medical records. There was a general acknowledgement from all firefighters I interviewed that none could get counselling through the CSU that would remain confidential. And to back it up, there is documented loss of medical records in the legal papers of terminated members. The Counselling Unit is located over a firehouse. With the inherent stigma around counselling as a "weakness" in the FDNY, how does this location support firefighters seeking counselling?

What must also be brought under scrutiny is how the FDNY treats these first responders who are diagnosed with PTSD and are unable to work in the firehouse. I learned a firefighter who suffers from PTSD was given a light duty position answering the suicide hotlines by himself from midnight to 8 a.m. for 6 months. Another firefighter with the same diagnosis was given a position working in the press office, where he was forced to repeatedly watch 9/11 scenes replayed endlessly on television. This is appalling.

A CSU counsellor informed me recently that the suicide rate is “off the charts for FDNY”. There were 10 suicides in the last two years, all 9/11 related. In 2004 a firefighter was declared fit for duty by the FDNY medical dept. and committed suicide the next day. No one will give me the actual statistics for all the suicides. In addition, according to the World Trade Center Fatalities report, 12 firefighters have died from accidental overdose of alcohol and drugs from 2001 to 2008.

All of the termination cases I have been able to review show men with flawless, unblemished records of service prior to 9/11. Each case shows how, after 9/11, these men tried to hold it together by drinking or drugs. These men approached the Counselling Unit and were told to "take a few weeks off." A firefighter asked to see a psychiatrist and was refused. Traumatic events several years after 9/11, such as the death of a parent, caused them to "spiral out of control" and seek an escape from their pain through drugs or alcohol. Given that a recent termination hearing resulted in a harsh judicial rebuke of the CSU’s failure to provide adequate treatment, (and the firefighter was still terminated in spite of this) one has to wonder what a thorough investigation might reveal.

Currently, a 25 year veteran firefighter with an outstanding record is fighting for his pension after one charge of substance abuse. The City of New York is determined to take his benefits away from him on appeal, although the lower court ruled it too harsh a penalty after 25 years of service to the city. Why are they putting this man through this process, after all he has endured? This is worse than 9/11, to be betrayed by the city he loyally served.

Terminating firefighters for substance abuse after 9/11 is like expelling students from Virginia Tech who suffer from PTSD after seeing their classmates shot and killed. I believe having the World Trade Center fall down around you–losing as many as 50 close friends in one day–working in the toxic dust and witnessing gruesome human carnage–going to over 100 funerals–doing public relations for the City of New York–becoming sick from respiratory illness, anxiety, acid reflux, sleeplessness, depression and post traumatic stress disorder –and treated by a medical department that was not qualified or prepared–are mitigating circumstances, and should be met with compassion. As one judge stated in her recommendation for leniency, "Even the 'bravest' can be broken."

These firefighters inspired us in our darkest days with their courage. Terminating them without health care or pensions does not punish them; it destroys them. Is this to be our legacy on the tenth anniversary of September 11?

Very truly yours,
Jessica Locke

(Jessica Locke is Executive Director of the Firefighters Fund ( and author of Rescue at Engine 32, a memoir about her work with New York City firefighters after 9/11.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Equipment Fundraiser for Newton Firefighters

Would you like to work on a real movie set?  Do you need new fitness equipment?  How about a date with a bachelor firefighter?  These are just some of the valuable and fun auction items up for bid at the Equipment Fundraiser for the Newton Firefighters. The event, sponsored by the Jessica Locke Firefighters Fund, will be held at American Legion Post 440 on March 26th at 7 p.m.  Newton residents Linda McLaughlin, Linda Anderson, Nancy Dangelo Kearney, Denise Kelly, and Patty Mosca have joined together with local businesses to raise money for the purchase of new fire equipment.

"The firefighters deserve our respect and financial support,” says Linda McLaughlin. “Their work is so vital. I am thrilled and proud to be part of this event.”

Some of the items the group is looking to purchase with proceeds from the auction are: 

Zodiac Rescue Boats w/ Trailers        
Jaws of Life w/ Mass Transit capability
Air Bags
Exothermic Cutting Torches
Mobile Data Units (Laptops for Trucks)
Mustang Survival Suits 
24-volt Cordless Extrication Tools
These tools are critical components not only for fire rescues, but also for water, ice and accident rescues. "Most of the residents don't realize that a lot of the equipment Newton firefighters are using is well below par,” said Jessica Locke, executive director of the Firefighters Fund. "Just a few weeks ago, Engine 10's fuel tank dropped out from underneath the truck on the way back from an alarm.  It's over 20 years old, and shouldn't be on the road."  

The Newton firefighters are very appreciative of all the efforts being put behind this fundraiser. “We want to thank the Firefighters Fund and all the residents and businesses who have given so much time and effort to help us," says Tom Lopez, President of the Firefighters Union Local 863.  “With the tough fiscal climate it has been difficult, if not nearly impossible to meet the growing list of capital needs in the fire department over the last several years. It is with great hope that with the money raised, we will be able to meet some of the most critical goals in order to keep the citizens and firefighters of Newton safe.”

Auction items include a Reebok Mountain Bike; a year’s pass for unlimited car washes at the Quick & Clean Car Wash in Waltham; a four-day weekend getaway in Stowe, VT; a Pilates Reformer Exercise Machine;  and a private party for 20 children at the W. Newton Cinema.  BOA President Scott Lennon will be the event auctioneer.  

Available for purchase will be a Newton Firefighters calendar, created by the Graphic Arts Department at Newton North High School, with photography by Linda McLaughlin and Nancy Dangelo Kearney.  

"The students did a beautiful job, and the firefighters went the extra mile to give us some great photos," said McLaughlin.

Comic Tony V will be part of the evening's entertainment. Named “Funniest Person in Massachusetts” by Showtime television, Tony V has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and several sitcoms, including Seinfeld.  There will also be a bagpipe band, DJ, dancing and appetizers. 

 "Everybody's been so great about providing us with donations for the auction. This fundraiser will show the firefighters how appreciative the community is of their everyday sacrifices," says Locke.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at  For more information please call 617-924-9999 or contact jessica

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why Chief LaCroix of Newton FD Should Be Retired

Some time ago 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. 

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. 

Five of Newton's fire trucks do not meet National Fire Protection Association standards. Residents cannot afford any of this equipment to fail - today, tomorrow or next month. Residents, please -  call your mayor and your aldermen and let them know that Chief LaCroix should be retired, for the safety of all.



Monday, September 28, 2009

Passionate, Patriotic Poetry 9/11

Poets World-Wide, a group of poets from around the world have written a book of poems about 9/11 to honor and remember the victims and their families. In the spirit of giving, all profits from the sale of this book, published by Pat Simpson at Passion for Publishing, will be donated to the Firefighters Fund.

Poets contributing to this work include: Patricia Ann Farnsworth-Simpson, John Henson, Sarah True, Mary Ann Duhart, Ive S. M. Evenson, Christina R. Jussaume, P.F. Kosak, Joe Hartman, Michael L. Schuh, William Garret, Helen McMan, Katherine Stella, Erich J. Goller, Dorian Petersen Potter, J. Elwood Davis, Joseph S. Spence, Joree Williams, Kathleen Charnes-Zvetkoff, Linda Mills, Jacquelyn Sturge, Robert Hewett Sr., and Daveda Gruber. A video presentation of these poets can be seen at:

The Firefighters Fund is deeply grateful to these creative writers for using their gifts to help firefighters affected by the tragedy of 9/11.

Book title: Passionate, Patriotic Poetry 9/11

ISBN: 978-0-557-10909-8

Purchase a copy at:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Firefighters Fund Brings Towns, Restaurants and Residents Together to Honor Firefighters on 9/11

      Chef Rodney Moreira & staff at Porcini's, Watertown     

 The staff at Stellina Restaurant, Watertown

The Firefighters Fund, local restaurants, and resident volunteers join forces to honor first responders on the eighth anniversary of 9/11.

“It is important to, in some small way, pay tribute to the firefighters who risk their lives every day to ensure the safety of every community and every American,” said Jessica Locke, director of The Firefighters Fund and a Watertown resident.  “More than one hundred of these brave men and women die in the line of duty each year. We must always remember the sacrifices they make, and never take their service for granted.”

Ms. Locke approached local restaurants, asking them to donate meals to their local firefighters on September 11th.  Many local community residents joined in the effort and also contacted restaurants and pledged to help deliver the meals to the firehouses.

This year, twenty-three firehouses will be served, with firefighters enjoying special meals provided by restaurants including:  Cabot’s in Newton; The Stockyard in Brighton: Il Casale, Conley’s Pub and Grille, and TCBY from Belmont; Porcini’s, Stellina, and Not Your Average Joe’s in Watertown; Jake’s Dixie Roadhouse, Sadie’s Saloon and Eatery, The Chateau, John Brewers’ Tavern, Watch City Brewery, and The Skellig for Waltham stations; and Outback Steakhouse in Bellingham. In addition, a group of residents from Newton are cooking the dinners for six firehouses in their community.

“The response from the community was overwhelming. Each restaurant contacted gave an immediate ‘yes’ to our request,” Locke continued.  “I know it will mean a great deal to these firefighters to know that people are thinking about them on this historic day.”

Ms. Locke created The Firefighters Fund in 2006 to offer alternative healthcare to firefighters suffering from the emotional and physical consequences of working at Ground Zero. She has provided Alexander Technique sessions to first responders in New York City since 9/11, and more recently started a program in Newton. For several years, Ms. Locke has also worked closely with the Newton Fire Department to educate local residents about aging and unsafe equipment, substandard living conditions and other problems affecting the health and safety of the Newton firefighters and the community.

"People don't know how difficult this job is; the stress these men and women are under, and the challenges they face on a daily basis. We need to let them know they are appreciated,” said Locke.

The Firefighters Fund hopes that an annual Firefighter Appreciation Day will be created to promote the message that the safety of each community is dependent on the dedication of its first responders, and that they should be valued – and thanked – for their service..

Ms. Locke concludes: “They are there for us 24/7.  We need to be there for them as well.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Book about Captain Patrick "Paddy" Brown

I never had the opportunity to meet Captain Patrick "Paddy" Brown of Ladder 3, because he died on September 11, 2001. But I had certainly heard of him.  He had quite a reputation for being one of the most honored and decorated firefighters in the history of the FDNY.  The mention of his name always pained my heart, as though his death had some personal meaning I had yet to understand.

As such, I was not surprised to hear from a woman who had gathered a collection of stories from people who had known, and in many instances worked with Captain Brown.  She had been his fiancĂ©e. I read the book by Sharon Watts, which hinted at a childhood and young adulthood marred by betrayals of trust, similar to my own. It revealed how he had transformed a difficult and troubling past into a life of determined goodness, sacrifice and dedication – with human failings, to be sure, but when you read of his trials, very understandable.

For anyone who would like to explore the foundations of a true hero, Sharon’s book is a delicate and lovingly compiled scrapbook of memories of a man who should never be forgotten.  The book’s title is Miss You, Pat and you can find more information, including how to purchase, at