A Brother Ain't a Brother

West Palm, Where the Livin' Is Uneasy

Now, why would black firefighters claim there's institutional bias in the West Palm Beach Fire Department? OK, departmental brass are all white, despite the availability of qualified black applicants. Recent promotions to lieutenant have skipped blacks. And Chief Robert Ridgeway, whose arrival was supposed to calm these concerns, resigned in May after he was accused of making insensitive remarks about black and female firefighters. (Among other things, he allegedly cracked wise about one of his African-American employees: "Why doesn't he get on his raft and paddle back to wherever he came from?")

A group of black firefighters filed a federal lawsuit a few months ago claiming the department is a hostile workplace.

Still not convinced? Then consider the case of Patrick Marcelin, another black West Palm Beach firefighter who worked at the department as an emergency medical technician for nine years, accumulating way more than the amount of experience necessary for certification as a paramedic.

Aside from putting time in on hundreds of West Palm emergency runs, Marcelin took all the required classes at the College of Health & Safety, in an Okeechobee Boulevard strip mall. After finishing the course work there in 2006, Marcelin was supposed to provide his field-time logs to attest to his work at the Fire Department. That should have been that.

But then, according to attorney, Leonard Feuer, who represented Marcelin in the first phase of his case, the school lost the field-time logs. What's more, a representative for the school told Marcelin that if he didn't provide them quickly, he would not receive his paramedic's credentials. Time, the school said, was of the essence.

So, Feuer says, Marcelin hastily filled out new logs, purely from memory, and supplied them to the school. Apparently, a school official saw irregularities in Marcelin's time logs and contacted the Fire Department.

At this point, the snafu could have been easily resolved.

"Anybody reasonably looking at this would say, 'There's no intent to deceive,' " Feuer says. A department supervisor could have glanced at Marcelin's file, seen that he'd toiled the amount of time required for certification, and simply provided the accurate logs to the school.

Instead, the department fired Marcelin, then went to the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, which filed felony theft charges against Marcelin in 2006.

The seemingly malicious prosecution was quickly thrown out, of course. But the episode left Marcelin few prospects except to sue. Miami attorney Leslie Holland, who is handling that suit, declined to speak about it until she receives discovery requests and deposes department officials. West Palm Beach spokesman Chase Scott says the city's policy bars discussion of pending litigation.

After 9/11, Tailpipe, like many Americans, was deeply moved by descriptions of the special bond, based on mutual reliance in the face of danger, that unites firefighters everywhere. The 'Pipe has seen a play by journalist-turned-playwright Anne Nelson, The Guys, about a fire captain's painful efforts to write eulogies for eight firefighters who died in the falling towers. In multiple productions, the heart-grabbing play has been part of the catharsis that Americans have lived through.

But the bond celebrated in The Guys apparently stops in West Palm Beach, where, contrary to tradition, every brother, even one you've been working with for nine years, ain't necessarily a brother.

Stick Him Good

It was just after Easter that Boo Boo took a turn for the worse. He'd be bopping along with his owner, Robert Caro, when suddenly he'd just flatten out, with no control of his legs. His squirming body appeared to be wracked with spasms. He'd try to look up at Caro, but he wouldn't be able to lift his little head.

"The vet he was going to pretty much wrote him off," says Caro, who adopted Boo Boo five years ago. Caro, tan and buff, works as a stylist at a salon on Las Olas Boulevard.

The vet suggested Boo Boo — who, according to Caro's best guesstimate, is about 10 years old — undergo $5,000 worth of surgery. Skeptical, Caro searched for another veterinarian and found Dr. Ronald Johnson.

That's when Boo Boo became a canine pin cushion. Like dog owners everywhere looking for alternatives to expensive invasive surgery, Caro took Boo Boo to an acupuncturist. And Boo Boo is a happy dog again, Caro says. Come and see for yourself, he adds.

It's a Monday morning, and Boo Boo is due for his monthly needle prodding at Country Inn Pet Resort & Animal Hospital in Davie. The scents of all the other animals are driving him wild. Boo Boo circles the lobby excitedly. "He's really hyper today," Caro says with a hint of embarrassment.

Caro and Johnson lift the little wiener dog onto an examination table. Johnson removes needle after needle from their sterile packagings and carefully inserts them in a curving line along Boo Boo's spine. The dog stares longingly at the blue sky and open countryside outside and launches into a high-pitched whine.

"What we attempt to do in acupuncture is try to move energy," the gray-haired Johnson explains. "When dogs have arthritis or disc disease in their back or other parts of their skeletal system, they end up with a stagnation of energy. So what we're doing is releasing that stagnation."

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