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Sparks fly at Brushton meeting

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BRUSHTON – A member of the Brushton Volunteer Fire Department says he may take legal action against the hamlet of Brushton after his firefighter classification was downgraded and he is no longer allowed to be present at a fire scene.

Sparks flew at Thursday’s village Board of Trustees meeting when firefighter Adam Deuyour, who has been blind since birth, pleaded with the board to change his classification and accused the board of discrimination when Mayor Donald Barney refused to reverse his decision.

Mr. Deuyour said he has been a member of the fire department for nine years and has been allowed to assist at fire scenes despite his disability. He said he has never caused any incidents as a result of his disability and can change air bottles, man the pressure station and operate other equipment while on scene.

While in December 2010 he passed a class B physical – which allows him to work at fire scenes with limitation – that was signed by a doctor, Fire Chief Michael Barse and Mr. Barney, Mr. Deuyour said about a year later he was informed he was downgraded to class D, which means he can no longer respond to fire calls.

Mr. Deuyour said he was told the change was made because the Franklin County self-insurance office never received his class B physical, and when he completed and resubmitted the form, Barney refused to sign it. Barney said he was told the county may cancel its insurance coverage of the village if he signed the form.

“The chief had no issue signing it,” Mr. Deuyour said. “I would like to know why the physical ... was signed two years ago, and now it’s unable to be signed. I’m not out to get anybody, but I need to stand up for myself.”

Mr. Deuyour said he came to Thursday’s meeting to ask Mr. Barney to reconsider and mentioned that he was casually seeking legal representation to take further action if local officials did not accomodate his request.

“I would like to avoid that if at all possible,” Mr. Deuyour said. “I have a lot of respect for Mr. Barney. I’ve known him a long time. ... I know you’re under pressure from the county.”

As he pleaded his case, Mr. Deuyour said it was always his dream to be a volunteer firefighter because it lets him fit in and be part of a team, which he was unable to do in school because of his disability. He said he even purposely moved to within walking distance of the fire station as an adult so he could have easy access to help out.

“That place out there means a lot to me,” he said of the fire station. “It has allowed me to be a part of something. ... I’ve been able to make a name for myself. ... I just would like to see the village board reconsider before I pursue it to a higher extent because I don’t want to.”

Trustee Candy Rockhill said she has known Mr. Deuyour and his family for a long time and said she supported his request to reconsider his classification because he has proven to be a good, responsible firefighter despite his disability.

“I think it’s horrendous we’re at this point,” Ms. Rockhill said. “We’re treating him like he’s not an equal. He knows his limitations. He’s proved he’s a valuable member of the fire department. ... This whole thing does not sit well with me.”

Mr. Barney said he was led to believe that if he signed the form allowing Mr. Deuyour to respond to fire callsthe village could lose the county’s insurance coverage and would be held responsible if something happened at a fire scene involving the Brushton department.

“I’ll take the blame for all of this,” Mr. Barney said. “I feel I had to do it. That’s my end of it. I have to protect the village. That’s the responsibility the taxpayers voted me in for. I’m the one you’ve got to blame. I refused to sign it because I had to be concerned about the village.”

Ms. Rockhill accused Mr. Barney of being “back in the ’40s or ’50s” and holding Mr. Deuyour back because of his disability.

“You’re stopping somebody from moving ahead,” she said, telling Mr. Barney to make those who complained about Mr. Deuyour to do so in public. “Let them come forward and sit next to Adam and say, ‘We don’t want you on our fire department.’ Call them out. It’s cowardly.”

Trustee Kasey DeBeer said he felt on the fence because he wanted to support Mr. Deuyour and reinstate his classification but also has to do what is right for the village and its taxpayers. Ms. Rockhill told him to vote his conscience.

“My conscience? I [would] vote with you then,” Mr. DeBeer said. “But I’ve got to vote with Don. ... I have to look out for the best interests of the village.”

Mr. Barney said he made a tough choice in refusing to sign the physical form and still refused to reconsider.

“I had to make the decision,” he said. “I made the decision, and I stand by it. ... I live with everything I do.”

“I am ashamed to sit here and part of this board,” Ms. Rockhill said in reply. “I want it in writing – I am ashamed to be a part of this board.”

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