N.H. FF recants theft accusations of fellow firefighters
"I made accusations I have no way of backing up ... I feel as if I started a war between the aldermen and fire department," said Richard McLaughlin
The New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER, N.H. — A longtime member of the Manchester Fire Department is taking back claims that "multiple members" who live out of state are collecting multiple-alarm pay each year for fires they don't respond to, saying he made them "in anger."
The claims by Richard McLaughlin, who identifies himself as a 33-year veteran of the department, sparked an investigation by city officials. But over the weekend McLaughlin sent a follow-up email to Mayor Joyce Craig, Assistant Fire Chief Ryan Cashin, Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza and others with the subject line "Mea Culpa," saying he painted the department with a "pretty broad brush" and has no proof to support his claims.
"I sent it in anger as I believed I was getting cheated out of money that I believe I had rightfully earned," McLaughlin wrote. "I made accusations I have no way of backing up and I never should have made them. I feel as if I started a war between the aldermen and fire department and that was never my intent."
In his original email, McLaughlin wrote he felt he was mistreated during a recent incident involving a coworker who contracted COVID-19. McLaughlin claimed that instead of getting workers' compensation for the incident — which took place on the job — he was made to stay home with time deducted from his sick leave bank.
In the same email, McLaughlin also claimed "multiple members" of the fire department live out of state and collect multiple-alarm pay each year for fires they don't respond to.
"Manchester Fire Department employees are required to live within 15 miles of the city limits for this reason and possess a valid NH commercial drivers license, yet we have multiple members who live out of state and are violating the conditions of their employment, they lie about their residency and the department is fully aware of this fact. They are committing multiple levels of fraud ... yet no one punishes them or holds them accountable" McLaughlin wrote.
McLaughlin said he reached out to city officials, "but they chose to ignore me."
"I feel as if I'm being singled out because of my conservative viewpoints and the fact I believe in equal justice under the law, and good order and discipline," McLaughlin said in his email.
'No right to smear'
In his "mea culpa" email, McLaughlin wrote that he, "like all Americans," saw the "looting and burning of cities" during the summer of 2020.
"I was disgusted by those acts, their excuse was that they perceived themselves as victims of an unjust legal system and thereby had the right to destroy other people's property, which of course they did not," he wrote.
"I also perceived myself as the victim of an unjust system and tried to validate my argument by making accusations against other people instead of just stating the facts of my particular case. Just like the individuals who were responsible for destroying other people's property had no right to do so, I also had no right to smear other people's reputations."
The annual pay for multiple-alarm fires — equal to 125% of a firefighter's "normal week's pay" — is meant to entice firefighters to show up for large fires while off-duty, according to a 2017 fact-finders report that endorsed the firefighters union's position.
In 2018, nearly 200 city firefighters received multiple-alarm pay totaling $322,000, money set aside in their contract to pay for large fires — even though the city had none that year.
At least 10 city firefighters collected more than $1,500 for multiple-alarm pay in 2016 despite being marked absent for all the major fires that year, including one that killed four people.
'No way of knowing'
In his latest email, McLaughlin said he realizes there are many reasons someone may not return for a multiple-alarm fire.
"When people are on their time off they have no way of knowing when a fire may occur and go about living their lives as anyone else would," McLaughlin wrote. "They go on vacation, they go out to dinner and may have had a few drinks and are not in the position to drive, they may have child care issues, or they may be sick; there are a multitude of reasons why someone may not return and I have no way of knowing what those reasons are."
McLaughlin closed his email by saying he's grateful the city has provided him with "pay and benefits" to raise a family.
"There will always be grievances between the city and their employees and there are appropriate channels for these grievances to be heard, although I had the right to reach out to you as my elected representative I should have given my chain of command the opportunity to answer my concerns, and only as a last resort should I have contacted you," McLaughlin wrote.
"I apologize to anyone I may have offended and will think twice before I disparage anyone in the future."
Last week, Fire Chief Andre Parent said in an email that his department and the city were looking into McLaughlin's initial claims.
A request to Parent for an update on that investigation in light of McLaughlin's "mea culpa" went unanswered.
Brian Paquette, president of Local 856, said Wednesday the union had not seen McLaughlin's latest email.
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