Utica, NY - We don't normally cover incidents about our hose-dragging brethren, but this outrageous story needs some attention.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Utica Fire Chief Russell Brooks was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood and bone marrow disease that typically gets worse slowly, according to WKTV. The World Trade Center Organization diagnosed his illness as being from his response to the World Trade Center after the terrorist attack.
On December 6th, 2016, Chief Brooks filed an application for General Municipal Law 207a benefits, which are benefits for firefighters that give them full pay and benefits after a line-of-duty injury or illness, including 9/11 related illnesses.
After going months without a response, Chief Brooks got a lawyer involved. On April 11th, he finally received a response that the city was seeking advice for an independent review of records.
On Friday, the chief received a call requesting his presence at City Hall. When he arrived, he found Robert Palmieri and two lawyers there who told him that his request was denied because, they say, he hadn't responded to 9/11 in the capacity of a city employee. Chief Brooks says that the mayor at the time had sent him and 11 fire department employees to assist in the 9/11 response.
Chief Brooks was told that he was being placed on a leave of absence, which requires him to use up his sick leave time, and that he had until the end of the day to turn in his city-issued vehicle and cell phone. He was also told that he was not allowed to present himself as the Fire Chief, and that Assistant Chief George Clark would be assuming his duties.
Former Mayor David Roefaro is supporting Chief Russell Brooks' account:
"Though many of the details are still unfolding, the public is owed an immediate and detailed explanation by the mayor as to his personal decision to place this well-respected, long-serving and credible public servant and Fire Chief on leave.
Even more important, sicknesses related to 9/11 have proven to take many, many years to show themselves, which is why I have always supported the law that gave 9/11 first responders access to special federal dollars and healthcare, should they develop an illness years later. The mayor might want to take a look at why this kind of legislation exists and also the general rules of public employment, decorum and law."
And what does the now non-Chief Russell Brooks think of the situation? Chief Brooks told Greg Mason with Utica Observer Dispatch that he was blindsided.
“It wouldn’t have meant me getting a penny more. I wouldn’t have benefited from it at all financially,” Brooks said. “They completely ignored the application.”
"It's political, it's typical Utica politics."
This treatment of a life-long public servant is unacceptable. Let's spread the word and demand accountability for Utica putting money before this hero.