Injured Conn. firefighter who sued city returns to work two years after fatal blaze
Lt. Samod Rankins said he is “happy to be back,” but also is continuing his suit against New Haven
By Lisa Backus
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — After spending nearly two years recovering from on-duty injuries and filing a lawsuit to get his job back, Lt. Samod Rankins returned to the fire department on Tuesday.
“I’m proud to serve my community and happy to be back,” Rankins said in a statement issued by his attorney, Patricia Cofrancesco. “Lots of mixed feelings today, but overall joyful to be back.”
Rankins was critically injured while battling a Valley Street blaze that killed firefighter Ricardo Torres when the two men became disoriented and trapped on May 12, 2021. Rankins and Torres Jr. were pulled from the fire after each made “mayday” calls, indicating distress, officials said at the time.
Rankins was found unconscious and spent 10 days in critical condition at the Bridgeport Hospital Burn Unit followed by months recovering.
In the days after the fire, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker called Rankins “a fighter” and said he had the support of the city.
“After two years away, it’s good to see Lt. Rankins back on the job,” Elicker said Tuesday. “It’s been a long process for him, and we wish him a speedy return to service.”
Elicker said he’s encountered Rankins at local events and can tell “he cares deeply about the community he lives in.”
The mayor recalled the difficult days after the fire when the department and the city were dealing with Torres’ death and Rankins’ injury.
“To think he’s gone through a very difficult period and returned to work today is really a big deal,” the mayor said.
But Rankins filed a lawsuit on March 17 in state Superior Court, claiming the city was not allowing him back even though he had the proper documentation from health care providers clearing him to work, Cofrancesco said.
Rankins contends in the lawsuit that the city withheld his job and a promotion as retaliation for filing for workers’ compensation benefits due to his injuries and his previous lawsuits challenging the fire department’s promotion and hiring practices.
He was passed over twice for a promotion while he has been out, Cofrancesco said, while nine other candidates, some of whom didn’t score as high as Rankins, were given the promotion. If the list expires before Rankins gets promoted, he may have to take the test again, she said.
The lawsuit is moving forward, despite his return to work, Cofrancesco said Tuesday. Elicker declined to comment about the lawsuit aside from saying the city always wants employees back on the job.
“We also need to make sure people are coming back to work when they are ready to return to the job,” the mayor said.
Rankins will be training for a few weeks since he has been off the job for more than six months, Cofrancesco said. He is expected to return to work without any accommodations, she said.
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