Guest MINDSETTER™ Tom Kenney: Lies, Insinuations, Exaggeration

Sunday, January 03, 2016


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My name is Tom Kenney. I’m a Fire Captain on the Providence Fire Department. I’ve been a Providence firefighter for over 35 years. I’ve been on thousands of emergency calls during my career. I just retired on December 31st.

Many of you may believe you know the true story of my career in the fire service. I had seven years on IOD (injured on duty) status, I went off 69 different times on injury claims and conspired with other firefighters to abuse sick leave and injury claims. These were the accusations outlined a couple of weeks ago by Steven Pare, the Public Safety Commissioner of the City of Providence. Except…it’s all lies, insinuations and exaggeration.

Pare said my actions bordered on criminality. I say that his words border on slander. He stated, “…and go off on IOD like we’ve seen in the career of Mr. Kenney it brings huge concerns for the city”. Not only is this statement intentionally misleading but he is directly attacking my integrity. Mr. Pare’s comments in his commentary in the Providence Journal were a total political hack job intended to discredit me because I dared to speak out against him and the mayor regarding the way they were mismanaging the fire department.

I had nothing to gain personally by writing the two commentary pieces I did in the Providence Journal. I was about to retire and was never going to be affected by the new working conditions my brother firefighters were being forced to work. I was advised by family and friends to refrain from speaking out publicly on this issue for fear of retaliation. Since I became an officer in the PFD, however, my whole outlook on job related issues changed from watching out for myself to watching out for my men. I felt compelled to voice my opinion on this issue as I’ve done on so many other issues over the years.

I know it might sound cliché but I love the fire service in general and the Providence Fire Department in particular. I care about the direction the department is heading even after I’m being forced to leave. I care deeply about the health and safety of the citizens of Providence and the firefighters who work so bravely protecting those citizens. My reputation as a good firefighter and good officer is more important to me than just about anything in my life and to see it maliciously destroyed for political purposes by two individuals who couldn’t care less about the PFD is devastating…and disappointing.  

As for the front page story by Mark Reynolds, based on information provided him by Pare and former Providence Fire Department Chief George Farel (with whom I have a long adversarial relationship), I had only a short time to speak with Mr. Reynolds prior to the story being published. While I don’t feel Mark intentionally misled anyone the story was filled with inaccuracies.

Let me begin by addressing a couple of blatant lies stated by Mr. Pare in the article and in his op/ed piece. He stated that I had 69 IOD claims that caused me to miss time from work. That is completely false! I have, in my possession, 51 “Report of Injury or Exposure” forms that I filed in which I checked the box “remained on duty”. This means that I missed no time for that injury/exposure but was filing the form to cover myself in the event the condition worsened.

As for the accusations that I somehow conspired to have members take sick time when they weren’t really sick or go off injured when they weren’t really injured, written on our union website 10 years or so ago, that is completely untrue. At that time the City Administration and PFD Chiefs were attempting to intimidate the newer hires from using sick time or going off injured. They attempted to coerce them into using “personal days” or “vacation days”. The end result, with regards to the overtime to fill their positions, was exactly the same no matter the reason for the time off. The Chiefs and the City simply wanted to reduce the numbers of sick time and days missed due to injury so that they could point to those numbers and show that they were reducing sick time and injury abuse. This is very similar to the current policies Mr. pare is pushing right now. I was simply attempting to remind our young guys that sick time was the right way to report out of work if they or a family member was actually sick and that they should report off IOD if they were indeed injured on the job.

Also it must be understood that our union website was not really secure and many posts over the course of the life of that website were made by people other than the ones whose login name was attached to the post. This happened often. A member who logged onto the website under his own login name at the station would frequently be interrupted by emergency calls. That person would not take the time to properly logout, thus leaving his account open for someone else in the station to sit down at the computer and post any statement he or she wanted to on the original poster’s account. This would happen all the time. Most of the time it would be a prank that one firefighter would play on another but it could have been used to post anything under someone else’s name or to edit someone else’s previous posts by a word or two to change the meaning of the original

It must also be understood that no person other than union members had login accounts to the website. No one other than firefighters had access to the station computers. This means that it had to be a union member who accessed these posts, printed them and gave them to HQ’s. At the time I was highly critical of the Mayor and HQ’s in the manner that they ran the department. I was in an adversarial role with them. Any union firefighter who would take in house conversations by his brother firefighters and hand them over to the Administration is surely not trustworthy or above manufacturing or altering the content of those messages.

Beginning sometime around the year 2000 I began to criticize the politicians and Chiefs who ran the Providence Fire Department. I sent them letters directly, had Letters-to-the-Editor published in the Journal and posted on numerous websites when I believed they were making decisions which affected public and firefighter safety. I had hundreds of posts. I have never been guilty of lying in my posts, I have never been brought up on departmental charges due to my communications and I have never been stupid enough to post something that was directly against the rules and regulations of the PFD. Now they pull these 10 year old printouts as my words? I even stopped writing and posting criticisms of the department after Pare was hired as Commissioner for a while because I respected his reputation and thought that he would end the politicking that was ruining our department. Obviously that changed over the past year or so.

While it is true that I’ve been off injured for a knee injury since last November it is not as cut and dried as that. For instance, I injured my knee late in November. I was carried as IOD (off duty) through New Years. I was then classified as Light Duty and had to work in the Fire Prevention Bureau until I had surgery at the beginning of May. I then was carried as IOD (off duty) until around the end of July when I was again assigned as Light Duty to the FPB where I remained working until I filed for the pension just before Thanksgiving. Many long term injuries are handled in this type of manner so the length of time not working doesn’t always equal a firefighter’s time “off” on that injury.

So how long was I off injured? Way too much for my taste. I was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident with my fire truck in 1988. I had head and neck injuries, cracked ribs, a fractured knee and serious back injuries. The other two members who were on this truck attempted to return to work but subsequently retired on disability pensions due to the injuries sustained in that crash. I was out for over a year with my injuries. My doctor and the Chief of Department at the time, Michael Moise, both recommended that I take the disability pension. The Chief actually submitted my paperwork to the retirement board. I had to fight to stay on the job. I did rehabilitation and had surgery on my knee. My doctor had told me that “your back won’t stand up to the rigors of firefighting for very long”. This condition, to my dismay, continued to plague me throughout my career as a firefighter and caused more time lost to injury but I was determined to stay on the department. If I had taken the disability pension at the time of the accident I would probably be receiving over $100K a year in a tax free disability pension. Instead, with an additional 27 years of service I’ll get about half of that, fully taxed

Of the injury reports that I have in my possession, which is close to all of them, I had 24 lost time injuries over my career and 51 reports sent in only to protect me in the event that an injury worsened after I left the station. I’ve had three knee surgeries, a serious MVA with the apparatus, fallen through stairs and floors and had large chunks of ceilings fall on me as well. Not unlike most long term firefighters in a busy department like Providence. Unfortunately for me my early back injury had taken its toll and required me to lose more service time in order to heal and rehab more than some other firefighters. 

Listen, I’m not looking for any sympathy for my injuries or decisions. I have loved every minute of time I’ve spent on the Providence Fire Department. I’m simply attempting to explain the reasons for the length of time off that these pencil pushers are calling “abusive”. Up until I made Captain and was assigned to an East Side company I’ve always worked in busy fire companies – by choice. I’ve never tried to seek out slower companies to avoid more fires or more runs, just the opposite

I am (was) extremely proud of my career as a Providence firefighter. I’ve worked with some of the best and bravest firefighters in the world for over 35 years and have stood shoulder to shoulder with them on many occasions. We are strong together and many of my brothers and sisters have reached out to me during this terrible personal time but my reputation has been irrevocably shattered by the lies and accusations of Chief Farel and Commissioner Pare in a blatant political effort to discredit the messenger regarding their lack of honesty and leadership. It has worked for them thus far, as the public scrutiny has been shifted to my reputation. The media has been played by these two.

Please, regardless of whether or not you believe my explanation here, go back and look at the two recent commentaries I had in the Journal. Ask them to answer the questions I brought to light in those pieces and don’t let them continue to deflect the focus to someone else without first taking responsibility for their actions.


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