Attleboro mayor responds to firefighter op-ed

Says union official is making baseless claims

ATTLEBORO FIREFIGHTERS do an excellent job keeping the public safe. They are well trained professionals and I, along with the entire city, appreciate the work they do.

I feel I have to address the recent opinion column written by Attleboro fire union president Paul Jacques. Contrary to what the union president states, any firefighter who misses work due to COVID-19, regardless of whether it was deemed job-related, loses no pay, sick time, or other benefits. The union president’s claims could easily be backed up with the pay stubs of firefighters, but they are baseless claims.

In the recent group of positive tests, all firefighters who tested positive were granted injured-on-duty status, except for one. That one person had no discernible connection between the workplace and contracting the virus. Still, as I mention above, that firefighter was granted leave without loss of pay, sick leave, or other benefits. The union president is describing a situation that seems to extend to many firefighters in the city when in fact there is only one firefighter in question.

As the union president acknowledged, without a discernible connection, the state Legislature would need to make COVID-19 “presumptively” job related in order for a firefighter to be deemed injured on the job (similar to other statutory diseases, such as cancer). Without such presumption language in the law, there must be some evidence that the virus was contracted while in the performance of one’s duties. I should note that Attleboro is handling these matters similarly to many municipalities throughout the Commonwealth.

Until that time, it will be the policy of the city of Attleboro to grant injured-on-duty status or workers’ compensation to employees who are injured on the job and there is a demonstrated reasonable connection to getting injured on the job. I am not asking for proof; proof is a high, almost unachievable standard. I am just seeking a reasonable connection. It is not going to be the policy of the city to approve injured-on-duty status or workers’ compensation to anyone who is injured off duty.

A few other things need clarification. City officials will always meet with the fire union as necessary. Generally, the fire chief and/or the personnel director attend such meetings as my designee; I am always kept updated and involved in the decision making process.

The fire union president is free to conduct news interviews when he is off-duty. When firefighters are on-duty, they are working as firefighters.

Finally, in line with COVID-19 protocols, non-authorized personnel are not allowed in the city’s fire stations or other city buildings. When visitors are allowed, the fire chief or the mayor determines whether to grant permission.

Additionally, the nature of correspondence I had with a firefighter’s wife was not as the union described it; that correspondence should be made public by the union. I stand by everything I said.

I have been present at City Hall almost every workday during the pandemic. I do not seek out interviews with the media but I have responded to interview requests from the media – safely, remotely, and outside of City Hall walls.

Meet the Author
Some other inaccuracies and mistruths in the op-ed are not even worth addressing. Again, I am proud of, and thankful for, the work our firefighters and the rest of our city employees do on a daily basis – particularly during this very challenging year.

Paul Heroux is the mayor of Attleboro.