A flap over missing medical records is brewing at the Boston Fire Department as state investigators are probing allegations that the department has tossed out crucial documents detailing firefighters’ exposure to chemicals and hazardous materials, the Herald has learned.
The state Department of Labor Standards is investigating reports that records that are supposed to be kept in firefighters’ permanent medical files have disappeared, including those that document “unprotected exposure to blood or other infectious body fluids” and “unknown chemical exposure,” according to a letter from the DLS to BFD brass.
In addition to missing medical records, the state is probing allegations that firefighters’ bunker gear isn’t being cleaned or inspected, as required “to ensure … performance of the equipment is maintained,” the letter states.
BFD spokesman Steve MacDonald said the department has launched a probe into the missing documents and is working on a response to the DLS. The DLS has given the department until June 4 to answer the allegations.
“The department is working on a response to the Department of Labor,” MacDonald said. “They intend to meet the deadline to address each item raised in the complaint. They’ll answer each item point by point.”
MacDonald added that the bunker gear issue is already being addressed. He said a contractor has been hired to begin cleaning and inspecting bunker gear regularly starting July 1.
BFD District Chief Greg Mackin, head of the department’s safety division, said the missing medical records could become a “huge issue” for firefighters upon retirement. The documents are designed to keep track of exposure during specific incidents so firefighters who suffer health problems can be covered for injuries or ailments suffered on the job.
According to Mackin, nine firefighters have reported missing “exposure forms” in their medical records. The nine are missing a total of 26 forms, he said.
“My duty is to make sure the members are covered for exposures or injuries and that the proper paperwork is in. In many cases, it is not,” Mackin told the Herald. “There should be an investigation, and we should find out; if the medical records were thrown away, why? And if they weren’t, where are they?”
The medical records flap comes two weeks after 13 deputy chiefs voiced “no confidence” in Chief Steve Abraira, blasting him for failing to take charge at the Boston Marathon bombings scene. Abraira, the first chief hired from outside the department, has said he followed protocol.