UPDATE: Board denies former firefighter's disability pension

UPDATE: Board denies former firefighter's disability pension

UPDATE
The Rhode Island Pension Board on Wednesday went along with the recommendation of its disability subcommittee and denied firefighter Robert Lincourt's request for an accidental disability pension.

PROVIDENCE - A state disability subcommittee voted 3-2 last week to deny the request of firefighter Robert Lincourt for an accidental disability pension, essentially agreeing with town officials that he is fit to come back to work.

The decision was a preliminary victory for Mayor Charles Lombardi, though he said the full State Retirement Board must still consider the subcommittee's recommendation at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

The 3-2 decision came after Lombardi and labor attorney Vincent Ragosta publicly shared the testimony of doctors that Lincourt is healthy enough to work again and is in no way disabled.

"He's (Lincourt) not happy with me, but I've got a job to do, and that's what's best for the people of the town," Lombardi told The Breeze. "To sit back and do nothing and let this town be taken advantage of would cost us dearly and be a dereliction of duty."

Added Lombardi, "He's healthy, he has a lot to offer, and he needs to come back to work."

Lincourt did not return a call for comment.

If Lincourt, 41, gets his disability pension and lives to 80, said Lombardi, he'll end up taking $1.5 million in tax-free money from the state pension system. The town would pay another $879,000 in cost of living benefits. He said that would be $60,000 a year for an employee who worked three years for the North Providence Fire Department, from 2007 to 2010, before being diagnosed with cancer.

The $879,000 would be nearly twice the payment to Stephen Campbell, the firefighter who was awarded a disability pension after missing nearly half of his 10 years with the fire department, said Lombardi.

Under terms of the cancer presumption statute, said Ragosta, town officials agreed back in June of 2011 to pay Lincourt's salary and medical expenses while he was out on "injured on duty." He said those payments have continued for more than three years even though officials had the right to push their believe that Lincourt had not gotten cancer while on the job with the North Providence Fire Department. Lincourt's job as a landscaper puts him in close contact with pesticides and other chemicals, said Lombardi, further raising doubt that his job as a firefighter could have been blamed for the cancer.

At last week's subcommittee meeting, Ragosta publicly read into the record the testimony of both a town doctor and a certified independent medical examiner from Brown Medical School, Steven McCloy. Based on McCloy's "objective physical findings," Lincourt "is not disabled" despite having a "permanent scar" and "permanent loss of his right kidney" due to surgery.

Lincourt invoked the cancer presumption statute, stating that further exposure to the job of firefighting "increases his risk of cancer," said Ragosta.

"On that basis he believes he should not return to his role as a firefighter," stated the written testimony. "This belief is not supported by objective physical deficits or impairments in his examination."

According to Ragosta, Lincourt is simply speculating that something might happen, which is not sufficient cause to declare someone disabled. In his case, the remaining kidney is protected in "deep recesses" by a "dense cushion of fat" and "buried under strong muscle," according to McCloy's testimony.

Lincourt is capable of all duties, according to McCloy, but is not willing to re-expose himself to diesel fumes and other environmental factors involved with firefighting. That "mere apprehension of developing a disease" is not sufficient for a disability pension, according to town officials.

Ragosta said the Lombardi administration originally gave Lincourt the "benefit of the doubt" on the occupational cancer diagnosis, even though there were questions about whether the cancer came as a result of his job with the town.

Lombardi recalls how highly he thought of Lincourt back when he finished at the top of his class on the firefighting test. Lincourt had previously worked for him in his personal business, said the mayor, and he still thinks he's a great worker.

His personal feelings aside, said Lombardi, he must do everything he can to make sure disability pensions like these, that are not warranted, don't hurt local taxpayers for decades to come.

Ragosta said that Lincourt "is a good firefighter" and "needs to come back to work." A denial of his disability pension will likely provoke litigation, he said, but this case is one of those Lombardi "wants to take on" because he knows what's right.

Comments

Thank Christ somebody finally came to their senses and did the RIGHT thing for once!!!!!
I'm sure this isn't over yet.

I'm sure the mayor will have him waxing the trucks.