The fire at Augusta and Ashland on May 27, 1992, was the third of the day for Michael McGuire, a fire fighter with Engine Company 30. The fire was blazing in the back of a coach house and spread quickly to the neighboring houses across the oil and trash that someone had put down to accelerate the fire. McGuire's truck was one of two called to the scene.
"It was a pretty good fire," McGuire says. "We dropped two lines, charged them both, and we were just going in to make the attack on the back porches, and I just slipped in all the oily water and trash. My left knee slipped out and buckled."
A fellow fire fighter would later recall, "He put out the little bit of fire that was under the porch with the line, and then I heard him yell that he hurt his knee."
McGuire tried to work through the pain, entering the basement of the burning coach house, but then the knee popped again. Dennis McGuire, Michael's father and a lieutenant with Truck 19, had also been called to the fire.
"A fireman comes up to me and says he's hurt," Dennis McGuire says. "What happened? Blew out his knee. No problem. He ain't dead. He ain't had his fucking arm torn off and he hasn't been burned and he ain't gonna die. I called in. I said, "Truck 19, Battalion 3. We have one injured man back here.' No problem. They throw him in the back of the ambulance. We continue fighting the fire."
Michael McGuire was taken to the emergency room of Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital, where he was diagnosed as having a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear. Three weeks later, McGuire underwent arthroscopic surgery and was fitted with a brace. The Fire Department required him to undergo a rigorous program of physical therapy before he could return to fire-fighting duties. Although his personal physician said it was unlikely he could ever return to the job, McGuire was ordered by the Chicago Fire Department to pursue the rehabilitation program for approximately six months. He was required to see a city doctor every two weeks and to regularly meet with members of the department's internal affairs division.
At the end of six months the Baxter Work Center reported that Michael McGuire could only perform at a "medium" work level, not the "very heavy" level required of a fire fighter. On May 14, 1993, one year following McGuire's injury, city medical director Dr. Hugh Russell reviewed McGuire's medical records and wrote that "Mr. McGuire would be unsafe, and unable to continue fire fighting duty" and that he "should be evaluated every 6 months to one year."
The Chicago Fire Department has a policy that fire fighters injured in the line of duty who are unable to return to work are entitled to a yearly pension equivalent to 75 percent of their annual salary, while those injured off duty are entitled to 50 percent. Since they said it was impossible for him to return to the job and because it's not department policy to allow injured fire fighters to qualify for lighter duty or desk jobs, McGuire initiated proceedings to begin receiving his pension.
"The whole procedure basically goes like this," McGuire says. "You go through one year of rehab and you're on full pay. Internal affairs checks in on you every two weeks. You have to stay in the city. Basically you're still working for the Chicago Fire Department and you're being monitored by them. You're in the process of rehab with the purpose of trying to get you back on the job. If after the year you are still unable to perform your fire duties, then you're ordered to step down. So you turn in your uniform, your badge, all that stuff, and you separate yourself from service and you apply for disability. For me, the case was absolutely black-and-white. I was injured in the line of duty. It should have been a rubber stamp."
It wasn't. Despite the fact that there were witnesses to McGuire's injury and despite the medical opinions dictating that he could not return to duty, the Firemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund began a long and protracted series of hearings aimed at discrediting him. The fund enlisted a private detective to see if he was faking his injuries. On November 17, the fund came back with its answer. Miriam Santos, city treasurer and one of six board members, declared, "Your motion is denied."
The pension board said Michael McGuire did not adequately prove that he suffered his injury in the fire at Augusta and that the injury was sufficient to prevent him from working as a fire fighter. It also intimated that McGuire may have been faking the extent of his injury and trying to defraud the pension board.
McGuire, however, tells a different story, suggesting that the board's refusal to grant him his pension was the result of a conspiracy, a carefully calculated plot to seek revenge on McGuire and his father, who has been a thorn in the side of the Fire Department for years, speaking out about department corruption. To the McGuire family, this is payback. The conspiracy story is a compelling one, difficult to believe at first. But the more one hears it the more sense it makes. In order to fully understand it, one has to start with the story of Lieutenant Dennis McGuire, who has a reputation for being one of the smartest, most eccentric, and most troublesome members of the Chicago Fire Department.
Dennis McGuire is not the kind of guy you want to piss off, but if there was a fire at your house he's absolutely the first one you'd call to fight it. With his craggy features and intense eyes, he looks like a slightly older, weather-beaten Harrison Ford. His speech is layered with irony and sizzling cynicism that make him sound like a marine sergeant. A somewhat mad intellectual and an insomniac, McGuire's authored two books about the nature of corruption, neither of which has been published.
You've got to be careful when you ask him questions, because though he is often affable and a wonderful storyteller, the slightest thing can set him off. Take, for example, this particular day in which we are sitting in his office--basically a desk, a bed, and a couple of chairs on the second floor of a firehouse at Chicago and Milwaukee. We are discussing a woman who was laid off from her job with the department, despite the fact that there had never been any complaint from her supervisors.
"No one knows why she was fired," McGuire tells me.
Oh, that's strange.
"Ahhh," McGuire says, pointing a menacing finger. "That is a very interesting comment you just made."
Why is that?
"My comment was she was a superior person in the field. Her immediate supervisors would all say she was good. And you said, "Oh, that's strange."'
"That is your gap, that is your fatal flaw," McGuire growls. "You're in the dark. That is your void. That is where I tell you something, and you cannot possibly understand."
McGuire relates a different anecdote, this one about investigating a gang-related car bomb near Ashland and Grand. The bomb was set in retaliation for a similar explosion about a month earlier. McGuire loves to tell war stories.
"You gotta know we're fatalistic," he says, luxuriating in his description of the incident. "First time, we get the call. We're going to the scene. I thought an airplane had landed. I thought it was an airplane crash. Rubble was all over. The bomb had blown the engine over the building into the alley. The motor was fired over the top of the building and landed in the alley. This was a major detonation. Four weeks later, we get another call for 1732 W. Grand. We all pile out of here. As we're going, we hear the fire alarm office say, "To all responding companies, there has been a detonation or one is about to happen.' We all look at each other. We're going 40 miles per hour. We're four blocks away. We're going, "Cool.' No one wants to do this, but that doesn't change it for anybody. Wacko Engine 30 pulls right up to the front of the building. "We got smoke.' If 30 pulls up and plants his flag, I gotta go with him. I'm Truck 19. I'm his search and rescue. Is there going to be another one set off? A double bomb? That's how they do it in Israel, a double bomb. One goes off, and the second goes off. We run around the back. We find two incinerator devices. We put the fire out within five or six minutes.
"I have to go and search and rescue the third floor. Like I really want to go in a smoke-filled building where there's supposed to be a bomb and I can't see nothing. I'm searchin'. Searchin' for what? You can't see nothing. I come downstairs and I find this World War II practice sand bomb, something the gang probably just had for the hell of it. Probably had a hundred broads make love on the bomb. Well, it was lying on the floor, so I pick up the bomb and I walk out the front door. "Is this what you're looking for?' Coppers a block away are looking through binoculars, thinking I'm nuts. It is a mindfuck, because you are always on the edge. I am always on the edge."
Dennis McGuire joined the Fire Department in 1970 after a career as a private detective, in which he spent much of his time investigating claims for insurance companies, rather like the claim his son would put in for his disability pension. By all accounts, McGuire was a committed and talented fire fighter, climbing to the rank of lieutenant. He'd been at the department for ten years when the leaders of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union began to agitate for a new agreement with the city of Chicago, demanding exclusive bargaining rights for all full-time firemen, a union shop in which all fire fighters would be required to join, increased overtime and holidays, emergency-leave days, greater clothing allowances, and limits on weekly hours. Mayor Byrne refused to meet their demands, and the great majority of Chicago's fire fighters walked off the job on Valentine's Day, 1980, and did not return for 23 days.
The strike had tragic results. Some marauding firemen set fires to draw attention to their cause. Byrne lambasted the "terroristic tactics of roving goon squads" and initiated a crash program to train new fire fighters to supplement the city's badly undermanned department. During the 23-day walkout, 22 Chicago residents died in fires.
Though he was a member of the union, McGuire never participated in strike meetings and did not fraternize with union authorities.
"Bigots," he says dismissively. "All you have to do is walk into a union meeting and you'll know what I'm talking about. Some black guy stands up, and someone says, "Tell that nigger to sit down.' They're bigots.
"We're a union family. We have a background in unions at the highest levels. My father was the president of the sprinkler fitters' union. But we're not going to deal with the Chicago Fire Fighters who are a bunch of racists, the Irish Fire Brigade, that kind of shit."
McGuire opposed the strike, believing it to be both illegal and immoral.
"Let me tell you something," he says. "As long as I've been in the Fire Department, from the first day I swore my duty, I have never had a dead person that I was responsible for, and I'll never have one of those little angels dancing at the end of my bed. I don't do it that way. So you're never gonna have me sit across the street and watch that building burn when someone's in there. I can't do that. I'm an American. That's not what it's all about. It's about everyone. If the room across the street was burning, Adam, you'd be the first guy I would grab and bring into the battle. Everyone's gonna get involved in that battle across the street. That's a citizen's obligation to get involved in that battle. Fire is nature, so every man and woman and child has an obligation to fight nature. You cannot walk away from the city in February and expect it to be there the next day without firemen. That was a total threat. Do you think a windstorm cared about the strike?"
Tremendous pressure was brought upon McGuire to join the strikers. A stuffed bear with a sign saying "Denny McGuire, Scab" was hung in effigy in front of his firehouse. A picture of the bear ran in the Tribune. McGuire says he was called upon to put out fires that striking firemen had set, including one he claims strikers tried to set at Soldier Field.
"During the strike 1,100 guys used to stand outside the firehouse with baseball bats, banging on the walls," he says. "You think those guys were kidding? There was a fervor of righteousness that they had. They were going to throw Jane Byrne out, bring her to her knees, let the world know who the toughest guys were, all this macho crap. After 23 days, they saw the fallacy of it and backed down."
But for 23 days McGuire worked round the clock. He says he never went home. "Me and four other guys have the Loop. Me and my guys had the Loop for 23 days. I would say a total of 15 guys had been 2600 south and 2600 north from Western Avenue to the lakefront. For 23 days of fires, there were only 175 guys in the city. The city had to be divided between 175 guys. Mine was the Loop. I am a very qualified fire fighter. We didn't burn the city down and we didn't lose any bodies in my district. I thought that was a very commendable job done considering the circumstances. Well, that's never been mentioned to anybody. That's no part of my fucking resume. We don't talk about that little glitch."
Even after the strike was settled and McGuire began to rise in rank at the Fire Department, he continued to be dogged for his role as a strikebreaker and consistently had to fight the label of scab.
"The strike was the key," he says. "The strike was the catalyst. It broke everyone apart. Spend 24 hours in the firehouse and you will hear the conversations and you will understand that they are never discussing what it's all about and that is putting out fires. They're discussing contracts, negotiations, what the city's doing here, what the city's doing there. All they're involved in is union talk, instead of what they're supposed to be doing, which is fighting fires.
"You think I was worried after the strike when these guys came back?" McGuire asks. "If they'd come at me, I'd kill them. I'd kill 'em. I know they're murderers, so don't play with me. Fireman who's a murderer comes into my house. "I know who the fuck you are. Stay clear of me. You're a baby killer.' Oooooh. They don't hang around me. I don't consort with criminals. They walk around me, because I won't put up with their shit. I will kill them, then call the cops. "I just killed this son of a bitch; he threatened me.' So that's how my life has been as an employee of the Chicago Fire Department."
McGuire claims that when he was promoted from lieutenant to administrative assistant to the fire commissioner following the strike he was placed on a union-initiated hit list.
When Harold Washington became mayor, McGuire received the job of director of media affairs under fire commissioner Louis Galante, acting as point man for all media inquiries regarding the Fire Department.
"Basically my function was damage control," he says. The new position would have seemed to have been a less stressful one for him after his experiences in the firehouse. But McGuire's career as a gadfly was only beginning as he says he tried to address the corruption that existed at the highest ranks of the Fire Department. He was approached by affirmative action director James Winbush, who told him of allegations that a fire commissioner was diverting Civil Defense funds for personal use. Rather than taking the allegations to Louis Galante, whom McGuire calls a "buffoon and a bigot," he and Winbush took them directly to the mayor's office, where they met with a group of people including William Walls, an aide to Harold Washington. Subsequent to the meeting, both McGuire and Winbush were moved out of their offices and, within a period of three months, fired and returned to active duty. McGuire was assigned to the first firehouse to participate in the 1980 strike.
"Galante said that I wasn't loyal," McGuire recalls. "Loyal? Where does loyalty have to be anywhere in anything I do? It's not my job description. The only thing I have to be loyal to are the laws of the people. I'm loyal to the laws. I don't involve myself in criminal activity. I don't consort with criminals. What is your question of loyalty? I'm loyal to the taxpayer. I'm disloyal? I have 4,900 guys walk off the job, and some involve themselves in sedition, and others involved in heinous jobs, and me? I'm the nut, remember?"
McGuire and Winbush filed suit, and in the legal battle that followed Galante maintained that the allegations of corruption had nothing to do with their dismissal. In a court deposition, Galante said that the real problem with McGuire was his lack of people skills. "I knew he had talent, but I knew he had a problem relating to people," Galante asserted. "I started receiving numerous complaints from people in the media that they didn't have access to McGuire when they needed him."
Mayoral aide Michael Holewinski, testifying for the Fire Department, painted a picture of McGuire as a nutty conspiracy theorist who was not suited for his job. "He's very much into kind of conspiracies. And I don't mean himself being a conspirator. I mean, in terms of seeing conspiracies everyplace, that kind of thing," Holewinski said in his deposition. "There's some people who are prone to exaggeration. And it came to be my impression that McGuire is of that nature."
The court didn't see it that way and awarded McGuire and Winbush approximately $100,000 apiece for wrongful discharge. McGuire claims that the Fire Department was so distressed by the decision that the city's attorney walked back to Fire Department headquarters and vomited on the floor."
"She walked into the commissioner's office and threw up," McGuire says with a smile. "Cool."
Even so, neither McGuire nor Winbush has been allowed to return to his previous position. McGuire was eventually transferred out of the hostile firehouse where he had been initially assigned and was reassigned to his current location at Chicago and Milwaukee.
"Commissioner Orozco said, "I wouldn't reappoint him. I wouldn't have him on my staff,"' McGuire says. "Well, no shit, Ray. You mean Ray wouldn't want me? Aww, am I in Dutch again?"
Michael McGuire graduated from Loyola University in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in biology and psychology. He joined the Fire Department in 1988 and was assigned to work at O'Hare Airport, where he was immediately singled out for abuse because of his father.
"You can't go to a firehouse and not run into the brothers of the barrel [a name commonly given to the 1980 strikers]," Michael McGuire tells me in his father's office. We are sitting with his father and his lawyer Terrence Jordan. "I was working with 25 guys who are in their 50s in one firehouse, and all of them were strikers, you know? All of them knew who I was in regards to my father. You have to have thick skin in a firehouse, and they definitely challenge you and call you right out: "Hey, you're just the son of a scab. What do you know?' There's no pussyfooting around issues. You have to understand that this is a barracklike existence. You have to earn these guys' respect and you have to get past the issue, but a lot of them still carry deep scars when it comes to this whole strike issue. It's real for all these guys. Absolutely."
Michael McGuire is definitely his father's son. When he gets blustery and self-righteous, you can hear him aping his father's language. He's a tough guy and just a wee bit of a bullshitter. His resume says that in addition to being a retired fire fighter, wetland conservationist, and free-lance photographer, he's also a "published cartoonist," whose comic strip For Lack of a Better Word had been "recently picked up by Subnation magazine." As editor of Subnation, I had never once seen his cartoon, let alone decided to run it. This is not to say that McGuire is a liar. He comes off as sincere, good-natured, and good-hearted but has a tendency to fudge facts, give the best answer instead of the right answer, and speak imprecisely without thinking. These faults got him into trouble with the fire fighters' pension board, which used them to completely destroy his credibility and left him without a job or a pension.
When Michael McGuire's left knee went out during the blaze at Augusta and Ashland, it was not the first time he'd had knee trouble. In fact, his right knee had gone out a few years before when he was playing sports, and he had arthroscopic surgery on it. McGuire says he never reported this to the Fire Department because he did all his rehabilitation on his furlough time and the injury never inhibited him from fighting fires. According to Chicago Fire Department medical procedure, employees who become ill or injured while off duty and are unable to report must immediately notify their supervisors. But since McGuire was never unable to report, he says he didn't find it necessary to tell anybody. Still, he says, it was not a big deal, and everyone in the firehouse knew he had knee problems because he often wore a brace.
Michael McGuire was scheduled to appear before the retirement board of the Firemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago at 180 N. LaSalle St. on June 23, 1993. Among those present at the hearing were benefit fund president Joseph Quinn, vice president Norman Holland, secretary Fred Gawryk, trustee James Nolan, deputy fire commissioner Donald Stensland, city comptroller Walter Knorr, city treasurer Miriam Santos, and attorneys for both the board and McGuire.
"I was told it was going to be a nonadversarial hearing," McGuire says. "They told me I didn't need an attorney at all."
McGuire's attorney Terrence Jordan says, "I talked to their main counsel. He said, "It looks open-and-shut to me. I don't have any control over what the board does, but it looks plain and simple."'
The pension board, which controls a fund of approximately $650,000,000, has made some questionable calls in recent years. In 1991 Robert Terzich, a well-connected retired fire fighter, was awarded a $32,200 annual pension despite evidence that his back injury was not as extensive as he'd indicated. The award was given by the board, whose members included city clerk Walter Kozubowski, who purportedly owed Terzich money. After the matter was covered in the Tribune, the pension board overturned Terzich's award. Just last fall, former fire fighter and amputee Dennis Bell sued the pension board under the Americans With Disabilities Act for not allowing him to obtain a desk job or lighter duty with the department. The suit resulted in the city having to pay Bell $50,000 damages, $10,000 in attorneys' fees, and $55,000 in legal expenses. The Fire Department was also required to offer Bell a job.
Not surprisingly, things didn't go as well as the naive McGuire had expected. Both his father and his lawyer, Terrence Jordan, had warned him that there was a good chance the disability claim would be turned down because of the Fire Department's bias against the McGuires. Michael McGuire admits, "I was really stupid about it, saying, "Of course I'm going to get a disability. Everything's up front here."'
In the first hearing much was made of McGuire's failure to notify his superiors about his first injury, which he'd incurred while "playing softball," though department rules suggest this was not required. "I really like to know why the Fire Department was not notified of the first injury," said secretary Fred Gawryk. "We have something very serious here that every member of the Fire Department knows fully well when they become injured off duty they are to report it to the medical [staff of] the Fire Department. It's extremely crucial to the fund that we know an individual's entire medical history. When an individual's medical history is not brought before the fund and for some reason [that person] seems to be less than open with the Fire Department and with this pension fund, we're jeopardizing the entire pension fund and what we are here to do. I think we have a serious problem on our hands now." Gawryk said McGuire's credibility "could be lacking" because "there seems to be a very serious problem here with his testimony and how reliable it is."
After agreeing to subpoena McGuire's complete medical records and tax returns, the board deferred the matter until two months later on August 18. At this point, matters got much worse for McGuire's request as his lack of precision and seemingly careless answers set him up to be dismantled bit by bit by the board's attorney Lawrence Krulewich, who refused to be interviewed for this article. Many witnesses to McGuire's on-duty injury, including Dennis McGuire, testified, but since the injury happened in the heat of fire fighting, nobody actually saw it take place. With regard to Michael McGuire himself, Krulewich pursued several lines of questioning, asking specific questions about his ability to perform physically strenuous exercises after the injury, his rehabilitation regimen, and the specifics of his first softball injury. The seemingly inane questions were designed to lead McGuire into a trap cleverly set by the board to accentuate his apparent dishonesty.
Krulewich: Now, you said that prior to your injury you were able to run. Were you able to run after your injury?
McGuire: To which knee?
Krulewich: Can you run after your injury to your left knee? Were you able to run after your injury to your left knee?
McGuire: I can run, but it puts a lot of stress on my knees and causes a lot of inflammation and pain.
Krulewich: So, although you could run, you would be in pain if you were to run?
Krulewich: Have you run at any time between the time of your left knee injury and today?
McGuire: Have I tried to run?
Krulewich: Have you?
McGuire: In a physical therapy capacity.
Krulewich: OK. The question is first, have you run in any capacity between the time of your injury and today?
McGuire: I have tried, yes.
Krulewich: OK. Your attempt to run, was that within the context of the physical therapy programs you had been referred to?
McGuire: It was with the approval of physical therapists, yes.
Krulewich: Was it at the facility of a physical therapist that you tried to run?
McGuire: Yes. The facility that I run at or have tried to run at is considered a physical therapy facility.
Krulewich: What facility is that?
McGuire: It is called the Galter Lifecenter associated with Swedish Covenant Hospital.
Krulewich: Where is that located?
McGuire: It is located at Foster and Francisco.
Krulewich: When is the last time you ran or attempted to run at that facility?
McGuire: I would say six months ago.
Krulewich: Have you attempted to run at any time since then?
Krulewich: Since the time of the injury to your left knee, have you run on any occasion other than at some physical therapy facility.
Krulewich: Have you ever run across the street near your house?
Terrence Jordan: Objection.
"Do you run?' What the fuck does that mean?" Dennis McGuire asks now. "Can he run? He's the fastest white boy you ever saw. He ran a 440 at Saint Ignatius that was a city record. Can he run? Yeah. Can he run 28 miles like he did before the fire? No, he can run about three miles and he has to stop because of the pain. It's a degenerating fucking condition. Can he run? What does that have to do with any of this?"
Later testimony concerned McGuire's rehabilitation program, in particular his ability to operate a wall-climbing machine at his physical therapy facility.
Krulewich: Have you tried climbing since the time of the injury to your left knee?
McGuire: Yes, I have.
Krulewich: When have you tried climbing?
McGuire: There is a machine in the facility that I work out at, the physical therapy center, that is kind of a tread wall type thing. It is a wall that can be set at an angle, and it is mostly an upper-body exercise. I have tried to climb that, and [had] the same result as trying to run. There is a lot of clicking and things like that that happened in my knees as a result of trying to do those exercises, so I don't do them anymore.
Krulewich: When is the last time you tried to do that climbing machine?
McGuire: Again, probably six months ago.
Krulewich: Could it have been more recent than six months ago?
McGuire: Not that I recall.
After further questioning, Krulewich returned to McGuire's use of the climbing machine.
Krulewich: That climbing machine is kind of fascinating to me. Do you have to wear your leg braces when you are using that machine in order to do it?
McGuire: Like I said, I don't do it anymore.
Krulewich: The last time you did it, you said it was about six months ago?
McGuire: Did I have my leg braces on, yes.
Krulewich: So the last time you used it, you wore your leg braces?
Krulewich: When can you remember ever using it without leg braces?
McGuire: Using the machine without leg braces?
McGuire: I can't recall ever doing that.
Krulewich zeroed in on the softball injury to McGuire's right knee, trying to ascertain if it had actually occurred as McGuire had indicated in prior testimony.
Krulewich: Can you tell the board how that softball . . .
McGuire: Basically my right foot was caught under my body. I just basically fell down.
Krulewich: Was it in the course of running the bases or playing the outfield or infield? Do you remember what happened?
McGuire: I don't really recall the specifics of it. I was probably running and I fell, and the entire weight of my body came down. My foot was caught behind me and it popped the [anterior cruciate ligament].
Krulewich: Do you remember whether you were on offense or defense?
McGuire: Is there an offense or defense in softball? I am not sure.
Krulewich: Well, was your team at bat when this happened?
Krulewich: So you were playing in the field?
Krulewich: Do you remember what position you were playing that day?
McGuire: No, I don't recall.
Krulewich: Do you recall when that injury occurred? The approximate date of the injury?
McGuire: No, I don't remember.
Krulewich: Did that injury occur around June of 1990?
McGuire: Yeah, it may have.
Krulewich: Do you recall if you went to the Grant Hospital emergency room in connection with that injury?
McGuire: Yeah, I probably did.
At this point, Krulewich begins to turn the screws on McGuire and produces a document from Grant Hospital that contradicts his testimony, stating that the first injury had occurred during a basketball game.
Krulewich: Mr. McGuire, I would like to ask you, having reviewed these documents at this time, do you recall whether you, in fact, injured yourself at a softball game or a basketball game?
Jordan: Can you give a time frame on this question, please?
Krulewich: At the time of the injury to the right knee?
McGuire: We are talking June of 1990.
McGuire: I have already testified that the knee was acting up. I also testified that I was involved in many sports.
Krulewich: Did the injury which occurred to your right knee happen as a result of a softball game or an incident at the softball game as you previously testified? Or did it happen at a basketball game or some other way?
McGuire: I believe that it happened at a softball game.
Krulewich: Is there any reason you might have told a physician or other medical personnel that you injured yourself at a basketball game?
McGuire: Probably, if I had been playing basketball.
Krulewich: Had you been playing basketball before?
McGuire: Of course. I was playing softball, too, as well as football and other sports.
Following lunch and a lot of additional questioning, a surprise witness was called in--William R. Schroeder Jr., a private investigator for InPhoto Surveillance of Naperville. Between hearings, Schroeder had been hired by the board to follow Michael McGuire around and videotape him to see if he was faking or overstating his injuries. A murky tape was screened, purportedly taken in July of 1993, one month before the current hearing. It showed McGuire shuffle running across the street by his house, climbing a few steps, driving a motorcycle, going to Ben & Jerry's for ice cream, and, most damningly, performing exercises on the previously mentioned wall-climbing machine. McGuire was climbing without a knee brace, and he was doing it far more recently than six months earlier, as he had previously testified. Hearings were suspended until September 15, 1993, when the examination and cross-examination of William Schroeder continued.
Michael McGuire has asserted that it simply slipped his mind that he was operating the machine more recently than he had testified. And, further, he does not see how it is relevant, given the consistency of witness testimony and medical reports. He calls it a "red herring" designed to make him look bad.
"What do they have me doing on that videotape?" Michael McGuire asks now. "They have me doing nothing. They have me shuffling across the street. They have me on a motorcycle. They have me driving a stick shift truck. They have me climbing a wall."
"Character assassination," Dennis McGuire interjects. "Adam, these are bad guys. You go drinking with them, you'll end up with a film of you sucking one of their dicks. They'll blackmail you. You can't play with these guys. Miriam Santos is walking among pirates."
In the final hearing on November 17, Terrence Jordan attempted to establish that the videotapes were irrelevant, saying McGuire's climbing a wall a month before or shuffling across the street or going up stairs without using a handrail had little to do with whether or not his knees were stable enough to allow him to wear heavy gear and rescue a victim in a fire off a 35-foot ladder. Lawrence Krulewich, in his closing statement, drove home the point that McGuire's fuzzy testimony regarding his first injury and his rehab made most everything he said dubious.
"I think it's important to recognize, as we look at all the evidence in the case first of all, there is no dispute that the applicant is an individual who has had arthroscopic surgery of both knees. We cannot deny that fact, nor should we," said Krulewich. "The evidence in this case showed that there is some amount of instability in both knees. Now the issue that you have to decide in this case is twofold. One, is he disabled? That is, does he suffer from a condition of physical or mental incapacity to perform any assigned duty or duties in the fire service? And two, since he's applying for a duty disability, whether or not his disability arises as the result of an act or acts of duty. In looking at both issues I think the key is going to be the credibility of the witness, the credibility of the testimony that has been put before you."
Krulewich acknowledged that the tape did not disprove McGuire's claim of disability, but he said it raised questions regarding whether he misled doctors during physical therapy by not performing to the best of his ability.
Terrence Jordan said in his closing statement that there was absolutely no reason to believe the injury to McGuire's knee happened in any way other than he said it did. The reports from McGuire's rehabilitation center, he said, were in fact designed to "weed out people who are faking injuries."
"No one has come forward and said Mr. McGuire injured his left leg at any place other than this fire," said Jordan, claiming there were "only two issues to determine, that is whether Mr. McGuire is currently disabled with respect to his ability as a fireman--whether he's able to perform fire-fighting duties--and whether or not the cause of his disability occurred on the job. . . .
"I submit to the board that there is no testimony whatsoever, no evidence whatsoever, to contradict the clear and convincing testimony of the witnesses, Mr. [Dennis] McGuire as well as the other fire fighters who were at the scene, and the consistent medical records. I have nothing further other than to ask that the application of Mr. McGuire be approved."
After the hearing, Jordan explained, "What the pension board had to do was ascertain whether or not he was capable of performing firefighting duties, and he clearly was not. And nobody says he is. They should be working with the city to get the city to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act so they can release some of the people from the rolls of pensioners or to stop some of these people from taking pensions by giving them jobs to do."
Dennis McGuire says that after his son's application was denied he was walking with his ex-wife into an elevator when board attorney Lawrence Krulewich came up to him and asked him, "What do you think?"
"I said, "Well you're a pretty brave guy,"' says Dennis McGuire. "He said, "Well what do you mean?" I said, "You just told all the men on the Fire Department that Michael's a thief, a cheat, and a liar. Wait till the guys at Engine 30 find out you called him that.' I'm glad my ex-wife is my ex-wife. She weighs like 260 pounds and she was in the elevator with this guy, and I'm going, "Mister, if I step off this fucking elevator, she'll kill you. She has nothing else to do but listen to you for the record call her son a liar, and you think that's goddamned cool?"'
I meet with Michael and Dennis McGuire one morning at a greasy spoon on the corner of Webster and Clark. The younger McGuire has just filed a lawsuit against each member of the pension board, declaring that the board's denial of pension benefits was illegal and motivated "by the personal animosity which members of the board have for McGuire's father." The suit seeks $250,000 in damages and $1,000,000 in punitive damages.
"Malice is of the essence in this matter," the suit alleges. "Defendants knew or should have known that their conduct was violative of McGuire's constitutional rights."
Michael McGuire was recently interviewed for a Dateline NBC investigation on pension fraud. The program termed the Chicago Fire Department "an overzealous government agency." Since the matter is currently under litigation, the Fire Department and all members of the board have declined to comment.
Dennis McGuire is eating a fire fighter's breakfast--orange juice, eggs sunny-side up, white toast, a double order of bacon, and burnt potatoes. Michael McGuire is downing a Monte Cristo. I've just been introduced to the McGuires' friend Roy, an old, cheerful, toothless, mentally disturbed black man, who they say was held in an institution during the 1950s where he was forced to listen to Nat King Cole songs, which the elder McGuire makes Roy sing for me. They laugh at his rendition as if it's the funniest thing they've ever heard. When Roy is gone, we get down to more important matters.
Michael and Dennis have a little role-playing game where they act out scenes to express their points. Today they're playing pension board and pension applicant.
"All it is is a stamp," Dennis McGuire says regarding pension board approval. He adopts the character of a drunk fireman. "I went to work drunk. I get on the fire truck. We go out of the house, and I fall out of the truck. Drunk. Oh well, slap me on the wrist.' First question: Ask me."
"Were you under the influence of alcohol?" Michael asks authoritatively.
"Give him his pension," Michael declares. "Give the man his pension."
"You have to understand," Dennis McGuire explains about the pension board. "Here are people with no formal education on the fire side. None. They don't have resumes that could stand. They couldn't hold public office in any other state based on their resumes. "Oh, I was involved in an illegal strike for 23 days in 1980?' You gonna put that on your resume? Illinois law forbids them from going out on strike, so they broke the law and went on strike. Do you think any of those people put that on their resume?
"These guys have a lot of omissions, my friend. A lot of closets and a lot of skeletons and a lot of dirty deeds. They're pirates. Cool. Outside of that room, where they have their official decorum, they wouldn't dare even see me on the street. These guys run away and hide from me."
"One of them came into the firehouse from the pension board," he says. "I was on my off day. I come into my quarters, and he's holding a meeting with 20 people. He goes, "Just business.' Just business? "Say, you little fuckin' piece of shit, get out of my face or I'll fuckin' kill you. You're goin' to fuckin' jail. Everyone in this room, listen up! See this motherfucker? He's goin' to jail.' He runs back in the kitchen. "I ain't gonna touch you, but you're a fuckin' thief. You're a fuckin' criminal. That's who the fuck you are." Now these same people are in charge of 600 million dollars. Sir, one is a used car salesman, and I wouldn't trust that fuck anywhere including a fire, and you're gonna give him 600 million dollars? We got these idiots, idiots playing God. Idiots! Idiots! If you think they're anything but idiots, you're wrong. We're with this group including Miriam Santos, and if you read her testimony she sounds like she was drugged up. And we're sitting there arguing bullshit. We're all sitting here going, "Oh this is cool.' It don't matter about the 28 people who were at the fire. It don't matter if a hundred doctors show pictures of his injury. We're all gonna sit and watch pictures of him on a motorcycle.
"It's all a game," McGuire continues. "It's just criminals playing with money, and you know something? When you play those games, you go to jail. Where in America, where in the United States of America am I subpoenaed to hear my son being called a coward, a liar, a cheat, and a fraud? Excuse me? You subpoenaed me here? To listen to this shit? Where are my goddamned fucking rights? That's how they play. They don't care about anyone. They don't care about anything."
"Two and a half years," Michael McGuire says. "Two and a half years going on three that I've been fiddle fucking around since I got hurt. And I'm playing these games with these assholes. For what? I was ordered to get on with my life six months after the injury."
"What angers me is they stopped his rehabilitation," says Dennis McGuire. "They stopped his medical. They stopped everything. They cut him off of salary, benefits, everything else. He is left penniless. He can't go to a doctor. They have crippled him and said, "You'll remain a cripple, because we're not going to allow any money to repair yourself.' Period. He's not in rehab now. Why? Because he don't have the money. So wow, didn't we really take care of a Chicago fireman on this one. Hey, firemen predictably get hurt. I almost lost two of them the other day. We had a blowback on us. That's predictable. But those guys on the pension board, they haven't seen fires in years. They're just guys sitting back, playing. We're in 45 grand to get his pension, because they denied him. What are we supposed to do, stand here and say, "Well, OK. Good-bye?' No, we're taking them to court and we're gonna beat them. But why should we have to do that when they know that is absolutely what we have to do? That's the issue. They forced him to defend his good name. Why? Who are these Machiavellian assholes to begin with? Do they have nothing else to do but hold vendetta in public hearings?"
While Michael McGuire continues to pursue his case to get a light-duty job and punitive damages from the Fire Department, he's working on a book. It's about his father's role during the 1980 fire fighters' strike. The working title is 23 Days of Sedition. Before we leave the restaurant, Michael and Dennis McGuire do one more role-playing scene for me, reenacting the day Michael's pension request was finally refused.
"What am I gonna do now, dad?" Michael asks.
"You're gonna fight sedition," says Dennis.
"Who's gonna pay me?"
"Nobody." Dennis McGuire looks at his son and smiles. "I told you you'd have a great adventure joining the Chicago Fire Department."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Cynthia Howe.