Leominster Firefighter Placed on Leave After Incident

December 31, 2017 GMT

LEOMINSTER -- A local fire lieutenant spent a month on leave after several other firefighters testified that a member of their department used a “racial slur” while off duty.

Written testimonies gathered by Fire Chief Robert Sideleau in late August and early September chronicle a trip taken by 16 department members to West Forks, Maine, for a whitewater rafting trip on Aug. 24-26.

In each of the testimonies, the Leominster firefighters describe what they know about a confrontation that took place on the night of Aug. 24 between a firefighter and a camper not affiliated with the group after the firefighter is said to have used a “racial slur.”

A Dec. 19 request under the state Public Records Law for any and all memos, emails and other communications written by any employee of the city pertaining to Lt. Jason “Jay” LeBlanc produced the 16 written testimonies of the Leominster firefighters who took part in the rafting trip.

LeBlanc is not named in the documents released to the Sentinel & Enterprise. All names, including those of the firefighters who supplied their testimonies, have been redacted as allowed under the Public Records Law.

However, the request was for any and all city documents pertaining specifically to LeBlanc written between Aug. 18 and the present, meaning each of the testimonies has to pertain to him and each testimony is about the Aug. 24 confrontation.

Details of the evening remain murky. Many firefighters admit to drinking on the night of Aug. 24, though certain details repeat in the testimonies.

“Members were under the influence of alcohol, and in conversation, (Redacted) said a racial slur,” wrote one firefighter in an Aug. 31 testimony.

The firefighter goes on to describe that the racial slur was overheard by a neighboring camper, not associated with the vacationing firefighters.

“The neighbor at our campground approached the group and yelled that what (the firefighter) said was inappropriate,” the firefighter wrote. “She was insistent that he was a racist.”

In a separate testimony, a different firefighter wrote, ”(Redacted) was telling a story when he made some comments (I did not hear comment word for word but did hear a racial slur).”

That firefighter also noted that a neighboring camper approached them and said, “watch what you say Mr. Fireman, I have two African Americans with me in the cabin next door.”

Testimony from a third firefighter recalled the incident from the perspective of the firefighter accused of making racist remarks. The third firefighter wrote that they were “having trouble remembering the facts” of the evening, but did recall the neighboring camper approaching them.

They wrote: “I couldn’t see her face but she sounded upset and confronted me on the language I was using. She claimed she had two boys in her cabin that were black and what I was saying made her upset.”

The third firefighter noted that they apologized to the neighboring camper.

When asked whether LeBlanc had been placed on leave, Chief Sideleau declined to speak on the record, though he did provide the fire department’s duty roster from Aug. 18 to the present.

The duty rosters show LeBlanc’s attendance status being listed as “Regular Day On” until Oct. 9, when he was listed as “Reassigned Excused.” This was the attendance status listed for LeBlanc for all of his regularly assigned shifts until Nov. 10, when his attendance status went back to “Regular Day On.”

LeBlanc was the only department member listed as “Reassigned Excused” during this month-long stretch.

Repeated attempts to contact Sideleau to clarify the meaning of the term “Reassigned Excused” were not successful. City Human Resources Director Wendy Hurley said she was not familiar with the term because she does not “handle the rosters over there,” referring to the Fire Department.

Apart from the duty rosters and redacted testimonies, the department provided no other documentation explaining why LeBlanc’s attendance status changed for a month.

When asked specifically if LeBlanc could have been placed on leave without any written explanation, Mayor Dean Mazzarella said, “Someone could have come to an agreement. Just hypothetically, there are a number of reasons.”

Beyond that, Mazzarella said he could not comment further because the situation is a personnel matter.

Of all 16 testimonies of the evening of Aug. 24, only two firefighters recall a member of their group using racial slurs. One specifically notes that he never heard any racial or derogatory statements made by any group member. Eight describe being told about a confrontation and one recalled a neighboring camper approaching their group and accusing one firefighter of making “a few remarks with racial wording while under the influence of alcohol.”

They also described the neighboring camper saying, “Do you have a problem with black people? Because we have black people in this cabin.”

Another firefighter recalled the neighboring camper accusing one of the firefighters of being a racist, but also noted they had spoken to the offended woman earlier that day.

“I was approached by the same woman, who we encountered at ‘said incident’ later that evening. The woman asked me who we were, and where we were from. I stated that we were firefighters from central Massachusetts, on a group trip,” the firefighter wrote.

Local officials could not be reached to verify whether the woman who approached the local firefighters in Maine ever contacted the Leominster Fire Department about the Aug. 24 incident.

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53.