Would-be city firefighter clears medical obstacle

New Hampshire Union Leader
July 01. 2014 10:48PM
Jon Fosherof Manchester has been involved in a lengthy struggle to be hired by the Manchester Fire Department. (THOMAS ROY/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Jon Fosher’s lifelong dream may finally come true.

Fosher has sought to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in joining the Manchester Fire Department as a firefighter, and Chief James Burkush offered him a job twice. But his hiring had repeatedly hit a snag: the city’s medical consultant had determined that a rod in Fosher’s back and three fused vertebrae — the result of a car accident when he was 16 — disqualified him. The adviser had stuck to his opinion despite the determination of Fosher’s doctor and the willingness of state authorities to grant him a waiver.

The issue was expected to come to a head at the aldermen’s meeting on Tuesday, when the board was to vote on a committee recommendation to back Burkush in his decision to hire Fosher. Some aldermen, as well as Mayor Ted Gatsas, have warned that the motion would set a bad precedent by interfering in departmental hiring decisions.

Instead, Deputy Chief Daniel Goonan informed the board that earlier in the day he had spoken by phone to the medical adviser, who was overseas.

“After speaking to him he feels comfortable Jon passes, and he’s willing to sign off on that,” he said.

Burkush told the board that, in light of the adviser’s new position, he preferred that the motion be received and filed, or rejected.

But Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil and a majority of his colleagues insisted on passing the motion anyway.

“The aldermen, the mayor, and the Fosher family have spent hours on this ... We should be looking for a new occupational doctor after what he put the city through because of his arrogance in my opinion,” O’Neil said, referring to the medical adviser.

Fosher himself, as well as his father, addressed the board during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

“I train five days a week. I push myself to be better, faster, stronger,” Jon Fosher said. “I can only hope you will do the right thing.”

Fosher’s family and supporters were in the audience, and they applauded after his comments.

The board voted 9-4 to approve the motion to support Burkush in hiring Fosher, but Gatsas vetoed the motion, and an override attempt came up one vote short.

“This has nothing to do with Jon. I’m sure he would make a good firefighter. It has to do with this book,” Gatsas said, holding up a copy of the city charter. “This sets a very, very bad precedent ... The charter says there shall not be interference” in hiring decisions.


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