Amputee says he is fit to be a firefighter

Amputee Firefighter
Isaac Feliciano, who has worn a prosthetic limb below his left knee since losing part of the leg to spinal meningitis as a child, poses outside his home in Paterson, N.J., on Tuesday.Mike Derer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A man who lost half of one leg in childhood is fighting for his dream to become a firefighter, attracting support from amputee firefighters around the United States and the world.

Isaac Feliciano, who says his titanium-carbon fiber prosthetic leg is more resistant to heat and flame, recently finished 103rd among more than 600 candidates in a physical test for the job that included pulling a hose and carrying a dummy while wearing a weighted vest.

But the city of Paterson's medical consultant ruled he was not "physically capable."

Now three doctors will make a recommendation to state authorities in his case, a move that could take another month.

"Just another bump in the road," Feliciano, 33, said Wednesday after meeting with the doctors.

Feliciano has wanted to be a firefighter since he was 3, when a firefighter pulled him from a closet during a fire at his home.

"Being a firefighter is the ultimate way to give back to your community," he said.

But when he was 6, gangrene from spinal meningitis claimed his left leg below the knee.

With the help of his prosthetic leg, Feliciano played high school football and baseball and participates in Paralympic competitions.

If Feliciano is rejected by the state board, a civil rights lawsuit based on the Americans with Disabilities Act could be the next step, said his lawyer, William J. Maniatis.

Dave Dunville, director of the Amputee Firefighter Association, a national support group, estimated that over 400 amputees in the United States are police officers, firefighters or emergency medical technicians.

Dunville, 45, is also an amputee and is fighting to return to a volunteer fire company in Michigan.

"The public needs to learn that the only handicap anyone ever has is the handicap they see in others," Dunville said.

Confusion over the eligibility of amputees appears to be differing interpretations of standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association.

"There is no absolute, uniform systemwide standard for medical eligibility," said George R. Laufenberg, a spokesman for New Jersey's Department of Personnel.

But if the board rules Feliciano is fit, "the Paterson Fire Department would welcome him as a member," Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres said in a statement this week.