March 15, 2007 in Nation/World

Amputee nearer to lifelong goal

Jeffrey Gold Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Isaac Feliciano poses next to the Paterson Fire Department’s Engine 1 truck at headquarters in Paterson, N.J., on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

PATERSON, N.J. – Nearly a year after a city doctor said an amputated leg was the only reason Isaac Feliciano wasn’t fit to become a firefighter, he got clearance to pursue his boyhood dream.

A state panel on Wednesday ordered that Feliciano be allowed to enter training as a Paterson firefighter despite losing his left leg below the knee as a young child.

Feliciano, who wears a prosthetic leg, said he was excited and relieved at the ruling from the state Merit System Board, which accepted the findings of a state panel of doctors.

“It’s a much bigger issue than myself,” Feliciano said. “I feel like I’m responsible to see this through for others.”

Deputy Fire Chief Scott MacGilvray said the department supports the decision. Officials there have “already begun networking with other fire departments in an effort to obtain enrollment for Mr. Feliciano in the next available academy,” MacGilvray told reporters outside fire headquarters.

It was not immediately known when the next fire academy class will convene.

Feliciano said he has had his goal since age 3, when a firefighter pulled him from a closet during a fire at his home. By age 6, gangrene from spinal meningitis claimed part of his left leg.

Despite that, Feliciano, 33, played high school football and baseball, and participates in Paralympic competitions.

But the fire department balked at hiring the amputee in April when the city’s medical consultant ruled Feliciano was not physically capable.

Feliciano had already passed a written exam and finished 103rd out of more than 615 candidates in the daunting physical test, which included pulling a hose and carrying a dummy while wearing a weighted vest, said his lawyer, William J. Maniatis.

If he earns his badge, Feliciano would join amputees around the nation and world, including several in New Jersey, who serve as firefighters.

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