Providence Fire: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You


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?

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “vital and dangerous public service” Not to suggest that there is not some danger, it should be remembered that firefighter is usually rated at about the 15th, or 16th, most dangerous job in America. Not nearly on a scale with iron worker, or lumber jack.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      The whole phrase is important, including the “vital” and “public service” parts. I should note, though, that in that paragraph, I’m acknowledge the legitimacy of arguments, not agreeing with them.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        I did understand the importance of “vital” and included it to make the phrase complete.

  • Tommy Cranston

    They are proven multi-generational thieves. When the contract expires in 18 months privatize EMS and replace Providence’s Crookedest with a volunteer FIRE ONLY force. Stipends and NO benefits.

  • Max

    Seven years out! No wonder he had so much time to spend on this site sparring with you and Dan. The article paints a whole new picture of this self appointed hero. It’s a little known fact that they’re entitled to collect TDI in addition to their injured on duty pay. Quite the incentive, no?

  • Sam

    The Firemans union has sucked Rhode Island Dry! For too long Rhode Islanders thought their fireman relatives with phony disability pensions were funny. Made them their idols. Invaribly rationalized it is okay, Just wished they had done it too. Now these people are angry. They are the RI welfare bums sucking the morale out of working people. The RI FF union has destroyed a once proud profession.