EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 16, 2012

Lawrence fires firefighter

LAWRENCE – A firefighter who asked to be reassigned to dispatch when his asthma worsened was instead fired last week after a hearing officer determined he suffered from the respiratory disease for at least eight years before joining the Fire Department in 2004.

Firefighter Tim Atwood on Tuesday became the second city employee fired by Mayor William Lantigua since Thanksgiving over issues involving disability

On Nov. 26, Lantigua fired public works laborer Tom Sapienza for ignoring an order to return from the unpaid leave he took five months earlier to care for his dying wife. Former State Rep. Jose Santiago was given a laborer’s job in the public works department the same day.

For Atwood, last week’s pink slip came 10 months after he went on sick and vacation leave from his post on a ladder truck at the South Broadway firehouse on the advice of his pulmonologist, saying the fumes he inhaled fighting fires and from the diesel trucks inside the firehouse had caused his asthma to relapse and left him unable even to suit up for fires without wheezing.

In March, three months into his leave, the city’s retirement board rejected Atwood’s request for involuntary retirement after discovering that the federal Veteran’s Administration classified him as a “disabled veteran” because of his asthma after his military service ended in 1996, allowing the board to rule that his condition was not related to his job. Involuntary retirement would have provided Atwood, 49, with 72 percent of his $70,000 annual salary and health benefits for the rest of his life.

“They said, ‘Are you a disabled veteran?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ Atwood said about the questions from the board. “They said, ‘We need your veteran’s medical records.’ When they pulled them, of course the asthma is on there. I showed them my pre-employment physical. I said, ‘You guys knew I was a disabled vet.’”

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