Fire Captain's Bullying Case Results In $300,000 Settlement

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Former Meriden Fire Captain Roger Kindschi knows all about the emotional toll that tragedy can take on a person.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the veteran firefighter was asked to set up a crisis and intervention center at Ground Zero to help injured victims and their families deal with the trauma. Several years later, Kindschi was dealing with his own emotional distress issues that his lawyer claims were brought on by "bullying" at the hands of colleagues at the Meriden Fire Department. Kindschi said a deputy fire chief threatened him, turned the rest of the station against him, and that his fire equipment had been tampered with, endangering his life.

While Meriden officials dispute many of Kindschi's claims, the city recently agreed to settle his long-pending lawsuit for $300,000. Kindschi, who is undergoing counseling, opted to retire rather than to return to the fire department.

His lawyer, Eugene Axelrod, of Axelrod & Associates in Woodbridge, says that the firefighter's saga is unbelievable. "I mean it sounds like I'm making it up," he said.

But Meriden's associate city attorney, John Gorman, said the city disputes many of the factual claims and settled the matter to avoid a potential costly jury verdict. Gorman told the Law Tribune he "couldn't do justice" to addressing and refuting all of the allegations made by the fire captain and his lawyer.

"There was a lot of stuff we disagreed with," Gorman said. "We had a lot of disputed factual claims but those were going to be up to a jury to decide. You don't know how those are going to go."

According to Axelrod, the problems for Kindschi started in late 2005 when he tried to swap a shift with another fire captain from another fire station. All together, the Meriden Fire Department has five stations. Firefighters are assigned to a particular station, but with permission they can switch shifts on occasion.

Kindschi thought he had permission for the swap, but his request had actually been denied by Assistant Fire Chief Louis DiGennaro, who had communicated his decision to the other captain involved. The assistant chief apparently believed that Kindschi was not obeying the chain of command and he later called Kindschi to chastise him.

"I have never been this mad in my life," DiGennaro said, according to the lawsuit. "I'm going to do everything in my power to bring you down." He then shouted, "This is war!"

Axelrod said this was not unusual behavior for DiGennaro. The attorney said the assistant chief has been known to act aggressively towards the mayor, other firefighters and police officers. He allegedly once grabbed another firefighter around the throat in a dispute, according to the complaint.

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