By Patrick Lakamp, Buffalo News:
Three years in as a Buffalo firefighter, Eric Whitehead was the acting lieutenant for Engine 21 when dispatched to the Hamlin Park attic fire that would change his life.
He had worked above his rank about 20 times before under a Fire Department practice called “acting up.” But Jan. 10, 2019, would be the first time he led his fire engine’s crew into a burning house as acting lieutenant.
It went terribly wrong for him.
The firefighter, then 33, found himself alone in a burning and pitch-black attic, on his belly with a few remaining breaths of air left in his oxygen tank, and struggling to activate a mayday radio distress call. So he took off his gloves to press his radio’s man-down button, resulting in third- and fourth-degree burns to his hands that charred his skin, damaged tissue and ended his firefighting career.
The factors that Whitehead’s lawyer said contributed to the firefighter’s distress – the radio, being left alone in the attic and his “acting up” status – were key parts in Whitehead’s lawsuit against the city.
The Fire Department contended no other firefighter has ever complained about the man-down button and that Whitehead’s radio wasn’t turned on. What’s more, he should not have crawled up to the attic by himself, Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said in an affidavit.
After nine surgeries and with a trial looming, Whitehead settled his lawsuit earlier this month. Pending Common Council approval, the city will pay $2.3 million for his pain and suffering and pay him his salary and benefits until his retirement age.
Read the full story here.