What does it mean to be “Firefighter 1 and 2” certified? That was the underlying theme of the second day of the trial pitting the Firefighter James Perry and the EG Firefighters Association, Local 2238, against the Town of East Greenwich. Perry and the union accuse the town of both improperly firing Perry and taking that action because Town Manager Gayle Corrigan was looking to retaliate against EGFD Lieutenant Bill Perry, who is president of Local 2238 and happens to be James Perry’s brother.
The lawsuit also includes accusations of two Open Meetings Act violations around the hiring of Corrigan as, first, acting town manager, then town manager. The trial in Superior Court is before Judge Susan E. McGuirl.
Corrigan fired Perry on Saturday, Aug. 19, citing Firefighter 1 and 2 certifications listed on Perry’s resume that he could not produce. Part of the union’s argument is that Corrigan fired Perry without first getting a recommendation for that firing from the fire chief, as required by the town’s charter. Another part of their argument centers around just what it means to be Firefighter 1 and 2 certified as well as the fact that members of the original interviewing panel (Perry was hired before Corrigan became town manager) have said Perry alerted them that he was Firefighter 1 and 2 trained but did not have actual Firefighter 1 and 2 certificates.
The town, through Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, is arguing that Perry’s decision to say on his resume he had Firefighter 1 and 2 certificates amounts to a lie, or in legal terms, a material misrepresentation.
During testimony, Capt. Howard Tighe of the state Fire Education and Training Coordinating Board, said the vast majority of firefighters are trained internally, i.e. by the fire department or district that hired them and he said he didn’t know which departments or districts gave out actual paper certificates.
“The majority of firefighters who have over 10 years of service,” Tighe said, “it’s not uncommon at all for them to say they completed a certification process.”
When asked by union lawyer Elizabeth Wiens how he would interpret reading “Firefighter 1 & 2 certified” on a resume, Tighe said he would think the candidate had “completed a course internally … to the Level 2 standard.”
Upon further questioning by Wiens, Tighe said, “When you get a person on the job for several years, it was commonplace to know they were certified.”
James Perry spent 23 years working as a firefighter in Coventry, rising to the rank of lieutenant, before taking a lateral position on the East Greenwich Fire Department in August 2016.
During cross-examination, D’Agostino asked Tighe how he would handle someone who listed a Firefighter 1 or 2 certification but didn’t have the paperwork.
“I have seen people write it that way,” Tighe replied. “When we’re talking about Firefighter 1 and 2, it makes sense. A lot of these departments didn’t issue certificates because they had internal training.”
Judge McGuirl also questioned Tighe, asking him if fire safety certification was a state requirement. Tighe said it was not. McGuirl asked if there was a municipal fire academy. Tighe said the state just began offering a municipal training program last March but that 85 percent of firefighter training statewide was done internally.
The judge asked Tighe if he would consider it misleading if an applicant had on his or her resume that they had Firefighter 1 and 2 certification but it turned out they no actual certificate. Tighe said no.
Capt. Thomas Mears of the EGFD also testified Tuesday. Mears was serving as acting fire chief the night Perry was fired. He said he was not consulted about the decision to fire Perry and that, had he been consulted, he would not have recommended firing him.
Mears testified that he had completed trainings once in Coventry (where he worked briefly before coming to work in East Greenwich) and twice in East Greenwich, including one time for paper certification.
“Were trainings any different when you were trained and didn’t get a certificate and when you were trained and got a certificate?” Wiens asked. Mears said no.
The trial continues Wednesday (9/20) at 11 am at Kent County Courthouse. James Perry is expected to take the stand.
– Elizabeth F. McNamara