Former NY Firefighter Sues Dept. over Treatment

SOURCE: MCCLATCHY


CLIFTON PARK, NY– For more than 20 years, Ronald Cronin happily devoted his free time to the Clifton Park Fire Department.

Among his fellow volunteer firefighters, he was described as a “by-the-book” kind of guy. As the second assistant chief, he was also one of the top responders. Of the department’s 80 firefighters, he ranked second when it came to the number of calls he answered — 296 in 2012. The company also made up his circle of friends.

But now he’s suing eight members of the department, including Chief Steffen Buck, Commissioner James Ryan and Capt. Hal Martin.

Court papers reveal his relationships within the department started to crumble in 2012 over a sign — the kind that flashes messages to passersby about upcoming meetings and safety concerns. In June 2011, a check for $7,000 was cut to then-Chief Arthur Hunsinger to deliver the sign. His sister, Ellen Martin, who was president of the department’s board, authorized the check.

Nearly a year later, the $14,000 sign was not installed. While the sign eventually materialized, Cronin questioned Hunsinger about it.

That ruffled some officials. But things got worse, court papers indicate, when he questioned allowing a pregnant firefighter to battle flames inside buildings, something the International Association of Fire Fighters cautions against but that is not prohibited. He also refused to falsely sign a drill sheet for a firefighter who didn’t show for a drill. Then Cronin complained that he was not being outfitted with state-mandated bailout equipment, used in emergencies.

When it was time for his re-election as second assistant chief, he lost to write-in candidate Richard Coonrad, who was, court papers indicate, unqualified for the position. Instead of installing Cronin, the chief eliminated the position of second assistant chief.

Sheila Galvin, Cronin’s lawyer, said by then he was becoming a social pariah at the fire station. He was not only demoted in the ranks, but stripped of up-to-date equipment and issued an old helmet, which he deemed unsafe.

“This is all about safety concerns,” said Galvin. “Showing up for drills, having proper safety equipment, having the correct number of hours, the safety of a pregnant woman. In his opinion, not following these rules was beyond the pale. It’s unforgivable to him.”

Cronin’s abolished position was re-created in 2014 by Chief Buck with Coonrad appointed to fill it.

Cronin then tried to FOIL department documents for which he was charged $3,000, the legal papers indicate.

“The negativism, intentional denigrating of Cronin and continuing attacks on his character, as well as denial of his ability to serve in his rightful position as an active member of the department continues,” Galvin said. “He was made to feel like a despicable traitor to the department for seeking to adhere to the rule and follow proper safety requirements. This conduct effectively ended Cronin’s career as a volunteer firefighter.”

The attorney for the fire department, Jonathan H. Dominik of Feldman Keiffer in Buffalo, did not respond to interview requests. No one at the fire station would comment.

Aside from Cronin’s attorney, the only person willing to talk about what happened to Cronin was Nicole Hollner, the pregnant woman whom Cronin believed he was protecting. But she sounded bitter over what happened.

“My only comment is he should review the labor laws on the rights of pregnant females,” she said.

Galvin said Cronin wants safety to be the No. 1 concern for the department and for disputes to be dealt with in a more mature manner.

“He believes the problems they had with him should have been handled differently,” Galvin said. “Don’t give him substandard equipment, handle it like adults.”

While Cronin loved his work at the fire department, it’s unlikely he’ll return.

“These petty personal issues were allowed to fester for years,” Galvin said. “At this time, I believe he won’t go back.”

[email protected] — 518-454-5445 — @wendyliberatore

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