Firefighter fired after worker's comp fraud investigation
Sources said Lt. John Moree's injuries had nothing to do with fighting the fire that led to the department's first line-of-duty death in four decades
By Steven Goode and Dave Altimari
The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD, Conn. — A city firefighter has been fired following an internal investigation into alleged workers' compensation fraud, Hartford's fire chief said Tuesday.
Lt. John Moree, a 21-year veteran of the department who city records show has been unable to perform firefighting duties since July 2015, was seen on surveillance video loading building materials onto a vehicle at a home improvement store, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Hartford Fire Chief Reginald Freeman said in a statement Tuesday the investigation found "clear evidence of workers' compensation abuse" and the department would not "tolerate fraud or abuse of programs that exist to protect employees."
Moree declined to comment Tuesday.
Payroll records show that Moree last worked as an active firefighter in July 2015. He has been on light duty since February 2016 working at fire headquarters.
Moree, 54, was placed on workers' compensation on July 24, 2015, and stayed on it for more than seven months, according to city payroll records. It is unclear what injury or injuries he suffered that led to duty restrictions, although sources said it had nothing to do with fighting the fire that led to the department's first line-of-duty death in four decades. Kevin Bell, a six-year veteran of the department died in October 2014. Bell worked at Engine Co. 16 on Blue Hills Avenue and Moree was his commanding officer.
Moree and Bell entered the burning house and went up the stairs to a second-floor room. Moree ordered Bell to spray the room with the firehose so they could assess the scene. They didn't realize that another crew of firefighters had entered from the other side of the room and Bell sprayed several of them knocking the masks off two of them, according to details contained in the recently released state police Fire and Explosion Unit's investigation into Bell's death.
Fire officials ordered everyone out of the home. Moree, who called for a "mayday" that went unacknowledged, would later tell investigators he searched for Bell but couldn't find him. Moree fled the building nearly three minutes after the first of a series of orders to evacuate the house.
After he exited the building, Moree told investigators he tried for several minutes to reach Bell on the radio.
More than two minutes after Moree began trying to reach Bell by radio, he told Deputy Chief Leigh Shapiro that Bell could not be found. A special tactical team re-entered the burning home and found Bell unconscious on the second floor.
State Police records describe a chaotic scene inside the house with low visibility, heavy smoke, firefighters yelling for help and garbled radio transmissions.
The fire led to scathing reports on problems with the department's equipment and training and on the mistakes that led to Hartford's first line-of-duty death in four decades. Among conclusions reached by a department board of inquiry were that there was a failure to properly search the room in which Bell was trapped and that no one heard Moree's mayday distress call while the firefighters were still in the building.
In the aftermath, the department implemented changes, including improvements in communications, firefighting procedures and a marked increase in training.
Moree received his base salary of $1,682 weekly while he remained out on workers' compensation , getting a slight raise to $1,707 weekly in January of 2016, city payroll records show.
Moree's pay status changed as of Feb. 19, 2016 when he was taken off workers' compensation and placed on transitional duty that allowed Moree to work at desk jobs but not in a firehouse responsible for responding to fires. Transitional duty is for firefighters who are eligible to return to work but are unable, because of their injury, to physically fight fires.
Moree has remained at that designation and has been working at fire headquarters since then, sources said. His weekly salary increased to $1,733 in July.
Now that he is fired, Moree will still be eligible to receive his pension, but he would not be eligible to receive payment for unused sick time or retiree's health insurance.
Vincent Fusco, president of the Hartford Firefighters Association Local 760 was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Moree's firing was the second termination at the department in less than a week. Freeman fired firefighter Jimmy Ngo on Friday after conducting an internal investigation into his involvement in an alleged drug deal that police said resulted in a shooting that wounded Ngo in April.
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