Firefighter Campbell disputes some claims
Firefighter Campbell disputes some claims
NORTH PROVIDENCE - The case of the rookie 52-year-old firefighter, Stephen Campbell Sr., who retired on a disability pension just a decade after he was hired caused a stir last week when it was reported he will end up costing the town and state an estimated $1.4 million over the next 25 years.
Adding fuel to the fire, Mayor Charles Lombardi told The Breeze Monday that Campbell has already cost local taxpayers an estimated $300,000 extra for 10 "injured on duty" claims from 2005 to 2011, a period when he spent 56 months out of work.
Data compiled by Fire Chief Leonard Albanese shows that the $300,000 figure was calculated based on all the hours other firefighters filled in for Campbell while he was out. The firefighters earned time and a half overtime pay, at an average annual salary of $40,000, according to Albanese.
Tim White, investigative reporter for WPRI 12, first reported that Campbell worked a little more than half of the 10 years he was employed by the town of North Providence, retiring with an accidental disability pension on Oct. 30 after the state retirement board granted it on Sept. 11. He was also awarded $120,000 in back pay.
Campbell is owed his first $3,300 pension payment through the Municipal Employees Retirement System this month.
He will not only receive two-thirds of his $59,058 salary tax-free but a 3 percent cost of living pay increase each year for the rest of his life.
If Campbell lives to 80 years old, he'll end up receiving $1 million from the state retirement system and another $390,000 in North Providence taxpayer-funded cost of living payment and medical benefits.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Campbell said he was frustrated last week by news reports detailing a $150 donation to former Mayor A. Ralph Mollis in 2003. He says attempts to tie the donation to the hiring process were faulty.
The truth is that he took his tests for the fire department and went through the fire academy four years before he was hired, at the age of 48, and the date for his political contribution wasn't until six months after he was finally hired, said Campbell.
"It wasn't something where I gave him the money and he put me on," he said.
Campbell said spent four years on a waiting list before finally being hired for his dream job. He said his hiring wasn't a matter of just being a "baker and mattress salesman" who decided to jump into firefighting, as hinted at by some. He previously spent six years working as a volunteer for the town's emergency call system and had tried to get on the North Providence Fire Department all the way back in 1989 when the fire department went to a full-time staff.
Lombardi has called the hiring of Campbell a "political" move that showed "total disregard for taxpayers' well-being." The mayor said town taxpayers he's talked to have been especially angry at the news that Campbell, working his second day back on the job after his ninth instance of being injured on duty, was filling in as a lieutenant when he was injured again. Working that one day at a higher rank pushes his pension up by more than $4,000 a year, according to Lombardi.
The Providence Journal reported that the injury experienced by Campbell that day was described as a re-aggravation of an earlier injury. Campbell told The Breeze that a town official's claim that he was initially injured picking up a "small bag" are "completely false." He was actually injured when a 500-pound "decontamination tent" fell on him, an incident that would have injured anyone, he maintains.
"It would have happened if I was 20 years old," he said.
Campbell said he did not "try" to get injured, and wanted to keep working. He would end up re-injuring the same "body part" four times, he said, but would not disclose what the part was.
Lombardi said Campbell was hired on May 13, 2003, a day after a pre-employment physical on May 12. The results of Campbell's physical, which are confidential, were not returned to the North Providence Fire Department until May 21, 2003, one week after he was hired, said Lombardi.
Campbell said he has "no knowledge" of the timeline for when his medical reports were received by the town and could not comment on it.
Lombardi directed harsh criticism at Mollis, saying the former mayor and current secretary of state should never have allowed Campbell to be hired. Lombardi would not say whether Campbell's 2003 medical report showed a health condition, as those details are confidential.
Mollis, now secretary of state, told The Breeze he doesn't see the Campbell hire as "a political situation at all," and that former Fire Chief Stephen Catanzaro was only following protocol when he hired the former firefighter following "a very professional process" in which he passed all tests with flying colors.
Mollis said his input was only "in the process" and not in the actual hiring of Campbell. This was a case where Campbell out-performed many others, and it would have been "tantamount to age discrimination" had he not been hired, said Mollis.
Mollis said the "mistake that was made" came before the hiring process, when he and others failed to put an age limit for new firefighters in place.
"I still think it's worthy of discussion," he said. "I think it's ironic that Mayor Lombardi is making this an issue when we still don't have an age limit in North Providence. He may try to find blame, but the buck stops here."
Lombardi said he has no intention of pushing for an official age limit in the fire department, saying the issue is already being "automatically addressed" through proper hiring practices. If you only take people who "really shine or can perform out of the ordinary," then you'll have an average starting age of 25, as he's accomplished, he said.
"My instruction to the fire chief is 'hey, get us the best of the best.' I don't really care who they know or where they live," said the mayor. "If you conduct the process in that way, (the age limit) is automatic."
"Bottom line" with the hire of Campbell, said Lombardi, "is this person was either the best candidate possible and and our fire department couldn't live without him, or he was a political hire. You be the judge."
As for Lombardi's contention that Campbell was hired before his medical reports came back, Mollis said he would "be shocked" if that was the case. Officials would not have hired Campbell without a medical report in hand, he said.