James Perry considers himself Firefighter 1 and 2 certified. “Absolutely,” he testified Wednesday, the third day of the trial of Perry and the EG Firefighters Association, Local 2238, against the Town of East Greenwich.
That’s why, he said, he included “Firefighter 1 and 2” under “certifications” on his resume.
That’s at the heart of the larger aspect of this trial, in which the union is arguing that Perry was fired illegally and should be reinstated. The town, alternatively, says Perry falsified his resume, since he did not actually have certificates to back up his claim of being Firefighter 1 and 2 certified.
The union is also arguing that Perry’s firing was retaliation against his brother, Bill Perry, an EGFD lieutenant and head of the firefighters union. Bill Perry had lodged a complaint against Town Council President Sue Cienki in July for comments she made during a meeting. In addition, the lawsuit accuses the town of violating the Open Meetings Act around the hiring of Gayle Corrigan as town manager. Corrigan was the one who fired James Perry.
The trial in Superior Court is before Judge Susan E. McGuirl.
As was covered extensively in Tuesday’s testimony, firefighter training in Rhode Island in the 1980s and 1990s – when Perry was trained – and even into today, is largely an in-house affair that takes place on the job over several months. Perry testified Wednesday that he started as a “call” firefighter at Anthony Fire District in Coventry in 1989 (call firefighters, he explained, are paid by the call). He applied to become a full time firefighter there in 1999.
Perry testified that he had “five to six months” of on-the-job Firefighter 1 and 2 training. (In testimony on Tuesday, Capt. Howard Tighe of the state Fire Education and Training Coordinating Board characterized Firefighter 1 and 2 as “the basic of all basic needs” training.) When asked by union lawyer Elizabeth Wiens how Perry knew he had completed the training, Perry said the fire chief called him in and told him he had completed his Firefighter 1 and 2 training.
Perry spent the next 17 years working as a fulltime firefighter in Coventry, rising to the rank of lieutenant. In 2014, he said, he also starting working as a per diem dispatcher for the EG Fire Department. When the EG department decided to hire lateral transfers in 2016, Perry applied.
“I liked the department. I liked the town. I thought it would be a good fit,” Perry said.
During the EG interview process, Perry said he told the interviewers that he was Firefighter 1 and 2 certified but that he did not have actual certificates.
“Did you intend to mislead the town that you had a paper certificate?” Wiens asked.
“Not at all,” said Perry.
Perry was hired by EGFD in August 2016. He injured his shoulder and neck during a call in late June and was out on disability when Corrigan fired him Aug. 19. In an email she sent that Saturday night to Bill Perry as head of the union, she said the reason for firing Perry was because he had falsified his resume by listing Firefighter 1 and 2 certifications.
Perry testified that Corrigan had not questioned him about his resume prior to her firing him.
On cross examination, Town Solicitor David D’Agostino asked how someone who wasn’t in the fire service would know that Perry was Firefighter 1 and 2 certified.
Perry said he would explain about training process.
D’Agostino also asked why Perry had not included mention of his Firefighter 1 and 2 certification but had mentioned that he was EMT certified on the resume he submitted for the EGFD per diem dispatch job in 2014.
Perry said he wasn’t sure if EMT certification was needed for the dispatch job but decided to mention it since he might need to counsel 911 callers in the midst of a medical emergency.
The next witness up was Bill Perry, who testified only briefly before court was adjourned for the day.
The trial at Kent County Courthouse continues Thursday starting at 10 a.m. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan is expected to testify after Bill Perry.
– Elizabeth F. McNamara