More than three months after the Boston City Council passed a home rule petition that would boost the pension of a retired Black firefighter who said his career was cut short in the early 1980s by racism, Mayor Michelle Wu has yet to sign off on the proposal, a necessary step to move the measure forward.
While Wu’s administration has maintained for weeks that the matter is “under review,” Allen Curry’s daughter this week expressed frustration at the delay.
“Mentally, it’s horrible,” Allene Curry told the Globe recently. “Pretty much every day he talks about it.”
Her father’s saga dates back to a Sunday morning in March 1981 when Curry, who had been with the department for five years, was at the end of his shift at a Dorchester firehouse, where he had made history as the first Black firefighter on Engine 52.
Curry says while he was showering, two of his white colleagues poured cleaning acid down the drain of an adjacent shower stall, sending toxic fumes into his stall from a chemical strong enough to remove graffiti from concrete.
The fumes caused internal burns and would later trigger post traumatic stress. It would force Curry, then 31, into an early retirement, changing the trajectory of his life.
In a 1980s civil case, a Suffolk County jury found that two white firefighters did not commit assault and battery on Curry nor did they violate his civil rights, according to court filings. The jury did, however, find the city was negligent in the matter and awarded Curry $10,000. That verdict had no impact on his pension.
Curry has waged a decades-long battle to receive a pension equal to 100 percent of a current day firefighter salary, instead of the disability pension he was granted of about 72 percent of his old salary. Curry receives about $2,500 in monthly pension allowance, according to the city. Applied retroactively, the pension boost would mean $2 million for Curry, according to city calculations.
This past August, Curry received some good news. The City Council passed a home rule petition, introduced by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, that would provide Curry with the higher pension and compensate him for all medical-related expenses related to the acid incident.
But like all home rules, the matter was far from done. It still requires mayoral approval, before being sent to Beacon Hill, where it would need a green light from the both chambers at the State House and the governor to become a reality. So far, it has failed to clear that first hurdle.
“I’m just super frustrated,” said Allene Curry.
State Representative Russell E. Holmes is among those disappointed that the petition has not moved from Wu’s desk to Beacon Hill. He said he would support the proposal in the State House.
“I would’ve thought that it was something that would move in seconds,” he said during a brief phone interview with the Globe.
He added, “We can’t take our eye off the ball on stuff like this. This thing changes people’s lives and it changes their lives generationally.”
The council sponsor of the petition, Arroyo, pointed out that the city has approved similar proposals in years past for Boston police officers, measures that resulted in similar costs to the city.
“Mr. Curry experienced harm and trauma that disabled him while in service to Boston,” said Arroyo in a Friday statement., adding that the city’s “own negligence played a role in that harm.”
Curry, said Arroyo, “has had to live with the consequences of that negligence for his entire life.”
The benefit boost, Arroyo continued, “would not only bring a measure of justice to him but more importantly would also ensure he is able to care for himself and his family today the way he would have been able to do had that harm not occurred.”
Earlier this year, one of the white firefighters named in the civil litigation that followed Curry’s departure from the department said he had nothing to do with the acid incident, adding that he was “in another room, mopping the floor.”
Douglas I. Louison, an attorney who represented the firefighters and the city in the civil litigation, said in September that the firefighters “did not act with malice or ill intent whatsoever and the jury agreed that no civil rights violations occurred.”
Curry’s later years have been marred by health problems — a stroke, prostate cancer, and most recently, dementia. Curry, a Vietnam War veteran who grew up in Roxbury, now lives in Brockton at what his daughter describes as a rooming house for veterans. She fears that the council’s approval of the home rule petition may have given her father false hope.
“He’s going to be crushed if it doesn’t pan out,” she said.