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Manchester panel backs firefighter's hiring

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 05. 2014 11:00PM
Jon Fosher of Manchester stands by a sculpture at Central Fire Station. He hopes to be hired by the Manchester Fire Department. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — A committee of Manchester aldermen is recommending that the son of a longtime city firefighter be hired as a firefighter, setting up the full Board of Mayor and Alderman for an unusual, public vote on a city hire.

The Human Resources Committee voted 3-2 Tuesday to endorse the hiring of Jon Fosher, who has twice been offered the job of city firefighter, but cannot be cleared medically for the job. Fosher and his supporters say he’s passed all the physical tests for the job, has all the required education, and has even obtained a waiver to address concerns about a rod in his back.

“It’s bureaucracy that’s holding up this young man,” said Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil, who brought the matter before the committee. “All this kid wants to do is become a firefighter.”

But opponents say aldermen are violating the charter by making hiring decisions, and the city should be following standards. Current standards disqualify people with rods in their backs from being hired as firefighters.

“He’s a good guy, great family. This stinks, but the standards have been in place for a long time,” Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy said. In the past, the city has refused to hire people because they don’t meet the standards, said Roy, a retired firefighter.

The committee voted 3-2 to back Fosher. The recommendation is expected to go before the full board on June 17. In April, Fosher shared his story in a "City Matters" column in the Union Leader. At 16, surgeons fused three vertebrae together and stabilized his spine with a rod after Fosher was in an automobile accident.

National standards say that a firefighter can’t be hired with a rod in the back or if more than two vertebrae are fused.

Still, Fosher earned an associate’s degree in fire science. He received certifications for emergency medical technician and Firefighter II, and he passed firefighter physical agility tests.

His surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital has said he can do the job, and the New Hampshire Fire Standards and Training Commission has granted a waiver to Fosher for the back standards.

Fire Chief James Burkush has twice offered Fosher the job, but the physician hired by the city won’t clear him.

Fosher has hired a lawyer, Jon Meyer. He said the next step legally would be to file a discrimination suit in U.S. District Court. But Meyer hopes aldermen will intervene; he attended the Human Resources Committee meeting this week.

“It seems to me the aldermen (on the committee) had a good understanding of the issue,” Meyer said.

A position opened up recently in the Manchester Fire Department with the retirement of District Fire Chief Ed O’Reilly, Burkush said. But he can’t say whether he will hire someone until a city budget is adopted.

He said nothing has changed when it comes to Fosher. “It’s not a question of someone who’s not physically fit,” Burkush said.

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