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I want to know more

On Thursday I wrote a story about Schenectady Fire Department Capt. Doug Faulisi, who was badly injured in the June 13 fire on Congress Street.

He ripped a tendon in his right arm while trying to rescue a 10-year-old girl. Despite the injury, he and two others got to her, got her out, and resuscitated her.

I want to know more. Don’t you?

This is a story crying out for hero treatment. But I can’t write that story without details. I need to know when he hurt his arm, precisely how it happened, and what he had to do afterward.

Most people sort of recoil when they hear that. They mutter, “Reporters are vultures,” and tell me that I’ve got plenty to write already. Why can’t I just say he was hurt?

Well, that’s what I’m doing. This is my story: Firefighter is still hurt. Surgery was successful. Rehab may take up to 12 months.

But imagine the story I could write if I got the answers to just those three questions: how, when and what.

Suppose he hurt his arm moments after entering the building, then spent minutes crawling on his hands and knees in smoke and flames searching for her despite the pain? Maybe he couldn’t even use his right arm — his dominant hand — as he tried to carry her to safety. Now that’s a story!

I don’t dare even hint at that in my story, though, because what if he hurt his arm on the way out? You can’t say he bravely pushed on through the pain if he was a second away from the ambulance.

And it seems I won’t get a chance to find out. Why? Because lawyers get in the way.

First, some lawyers wanted the HIPAA (the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which says that your medical records are on a need-to-know basis only.

This law began simply with the idea that your doctor or health insurance company couldn’t share your data with other people without your permission. Anybody else can blab any time they want, at least according to HIPAA.

The law specifically states that employers, law enforcement, school districts and municipal workers don’t have to keep medical information secret.

But nobody actually reads the law. So HIPAA has evolved into an assumption that even if someone tells you something about his own medical history, you cannot tell anyone else. (In fact, when I had back surgery six months ago and told sources that I’d be gone for weeks, some of them refused to pass that information on because of HIPAA!)

This is why I can’t even tell you precisely what injuries were sustained by the other two firefighters hurt in the Congress Street fire.

I’ve heard one was as minor as a sprained ankle, but no one will tell me officially. Instead they all just shrug and say, “HIPAA.” I suppose I should be grateful to confirm that Faulisi was hurt at all.

But as if HIPAA weren’t enough, all the firefighters have been told to keep their mouths shut about this particular fire because a woman has been charged with setting the house ablaze and thus killing the child. (Though firefighters were able to get her out of the house, she died later in a hospital.)

It’s a criminal matter, they tell me. They don’t dare say anything for fear it will jeopardize the case.

So Faulisi could’ve told me how he was hurt. But now he probably can’t, even if he wanted to.

(Of course, the poor man is recovering from surgery, and raising two very active 7-year-old girls — during summer vacation — while his wife works full-time. So I imagine he is not overwhelmed with free time to chat with a reporter right now.)

So you will just have to imagine the heroic scene that may, or may not, have taken place in Avion Bell’s bedroom at 4:30 a.m. on June 13.

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