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Medford Fire Department sick time abuse allegations, search for new chief ignite tempers – NECN

Allegations of sick time abuse at the fire department in Medford, Massachusetts, are under investigation by city officials.

Nearly all firefighters called out one weekend this month, with overtime to cover the empty shifts costing nearly $100,000.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Medford City Council discussed how the Medford Fire Department is being run. There was a heated debate over whether the position being vacated by retiring Chief John Freedman would be filled with an outside hire or from within the department.

Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn says on Feb. 3, 21 out of 23 firefighters called out sick for their day shifts.

“I believe it was an orchestrated event,” Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said.

She says many of them got paid for that sick time, then came in for the night shifts and collected overtime, costing the city more than $92,000.

“We are way outside of our budget. We have almost $100,000 from just that weekend alone, and we have needs in this community that need to be met,” Lungo-Koehn said.

Medford Firefighters Local 1032 has denied those claims, calling them “rumors and gossip,” and is threatening legal action.

“Local 1032 has made numerous attempts to address these false accusations directly with the Mayor, but each was ignored by her in favor of publicizing these allegations through baseless and defamatory statements on social media and the news,” the union said in a statement Tuesday. “Local 1032 categorically denies any involvement in or facilitation of sick time abuse. The Union has always been clear that sick time abuse of any kind is unacceptable.”

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Eddie Buckley, the union’s president, said, “It’s not my business why they use their sick day.”

He neither condoned nor explained why so many firefighters called out, only claiming the mayor has a history of attacking unions.

“I can’t explain it, they used their contractual right to use a sick day,” he said.

Asked whether all 21 firefighters who called out for that day shift were sick, Buckley replied, “I’m not a doctor, I can’t answer that, I’m sorry.”

At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Lungo-Koehn asked to fill the Medford Fire Department’s open chief position with someone of her choosing to oversee the situation. But firefighters are calling for someone at the department to be promoted.

The statewide union, Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, sent an email with the subject line “ATTN: Medford Local 1032 — Fire Chief Position — Request to Stand Down.”

“The Medford Firefighters Executive Board and the members of Local 1032 strongly believe that qualified and worthy candidates within the Medford Fire Department could fill this vacancy and maintain that the position should go to an internal candidate,” the email read. “As a result, we implore PFFM members from outside departments to refrain from applying for Interim Fire Chief and Fire Chief positions.”

“They don’t know Medford, they’re not from Medford, they didn’t grow up in Medford, they didn’t serve the citizens of Medford, they don’t have the knowledge that our members have,” Buckley said.

The city council voted to table the chief search to committee.

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