The front page of today’s Providence Journal paints quite a picture of the Providence fire department, mainly through the anecdotes of two firefighters well-known to folks who engage in public debate in Rhode Island, Tom Kenney and John Sauro. The first is a ubiquitous advocate for firefighter union causes (and deals), and the latter is the “disabled” retiree filmed working out at the gym.
The interesting part of the Kenney article, by Mark Reynolds, is that the city is investigating his work history, related to suggestions he’s made online that would seem to advise other firefighters to abuse their time-off benefits in order to goose overtime:
Steven Paré said Monday that the total time Kenney spent off-duty due to claimed on-the-job injuries adds up to nearly 7 years of the captain’s 35 years as a Providence firefighter. …
Kenney, who has been off-duty since April 2 due to an on-the-job knee injury, initially said he wrote much of the material in [a] 2007 blog post cited by Paré. …
Kenney, who was on a cruise in the eastern Caribbean, was unavailable for a follow-up interview Monday.
This is the stuff of parody. A guy whose career is being reviewed because he’s had enough injured-on-duty time off have to attend college and get an advanced degree (or two) full time, if it had been all at once is, in fact, can’t answer a reporter’s questions because, being on IOD time, now, he’s also on a Caribbean vacation. Looking at the Projo’s picture of Kenney, it isn’t ad hominem to wonder whether fire departments should have some sort of fitness requirement; perhaps that would limit the number of injuries.
Meanwhile, the part of Gregory Smith’s story about Sauro that catches the eye is this (emphasis added):
Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, the third mayor in a row to grapple with Sauro in the courts, has denounced the former firefighter as an abuser of the pension system.
Think of the incentives, here. Without the bright light of an investigative report, why would municipal officials bother trying to prevent abuse of disability pensions? The price tag for fighting it grows so quickly, even without including the aggravation and labor unrest that goes with the issue, that the incentive is to simply let things go. If it weren’t for Kenney’s decade-long look-at-me campaign and Sauro’s intensive workouts flashing onto the WPRI broadcast, Rhode Islanders wouldn’t know what they’ve been up to.
One could make the argument (I suppose) that these are the inevitable complexities that arise when paying people to provide a vital and dangerous public service, and one can’t immediately scoff at the idea that this is why government, not the private sector, should provide those services. But why would anybody want to expand the amount of responsibilities that we allow government — particularly unionized government — to undertake?