July 01, 2002
By Heather Nann Collins, Journal Inquirer
EAST HARTFORD - Three months after he was put on medical leave, Assistant
Fire Chief Brian Rykowski has retired.
"I looked at it, and my lawyers looked at it, and decided fighting it wasn't going to accomplish anything," Rykowski said today.
Although he's "disappointed" in the early end to his career with the department, Rykowski said, "It's the kind of thing that could become long and protracted, and the best option was retirement."
Fire Chief Dave Dagon has named a 26-year fire department veteran, Michael Eremita, as acting assistant chief. Eremita said today he didn't know when the position would be posted to be permanently filled.
Rykowski, 44, was diagnosed three years ago with a form of multiple sclerosis. He discussed the diagnosis with Dagon at the time, but there was no need to take any action.
But by this winter, there were enough changes in Rykowski's physical condition that Dagon ordered him to have a department physical.
The two differed on exactly what the fitness for duty exam showed. Dagon didn't reveal the exam's results - although he did discuss them with Rykowski - but placed Rykowski on medical leave on March 24.
It was not something Rykowksi wanted, and he told the Journal Inquirer then that he remained capable of doing the job.
Today, Rykowksi said that although he's disappointed in the outcome - "I've never not worked," he said - he respects Dagon's decision.
"We sat down and talked, and he's been great," Rykowski said of the man he sat next to for 11 years. "I'm not mad at anyone. I'm disappointed, but I understand his logic behind it, and what he would like the assistant chief's position to be."
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, chronic disease of the nervous system that erodes the protective cover of the nerve fibers of the spinal cord.
There are an estimated 300,000 people living with MS in the United States. Most are diagnosed with the disease between the ages of 20 and 50, and the later the diagnosis, the longer it takes for the disease to progress.
MS symptoms vary in intensity and variety, but can include numbness, blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, tremors, extreme fatigue, and, sometimes, paralysis or blindness.
Rykowski has said his worst symptoms are numbed hands and forearms.
The illness hasn't prevented Rykowski from moving on with his life.
In November, Rykowski, a divorced father of two, will marry his girlfriend of two years, Valorie, who has three children of her own.
Rykowksi and his fiancée met at a local tavern one night, when he was out with a group of firefighters. The two sort of knew each other, from when Rykowski was a volunteer firefighter and EMS paramedic in Glastonbury, where he lives.
The friendship evolved into a romance and, Rykowski said, Valorie "has been very supportive of me."
He will not, however, be hanging around making wedding plans. Already, Rykowksi said, he's applied for a job to a few places, and, "I've got feelers out."
A part-time teacher at the state fire academy, he wants to remain in the health and safety industry, maybe working with the media.
"I've done this so long," Rykowski said. "I'm not mad at anyone. You
go which way the cards fall."
©Journal Inquirer 2002