Utica, N.Y. - Russell Brooks has been a member of the Utica Fire Department since 1975, that's 43 years on the job, but he says the last year and a half have been the most difficult, and now there's a possibility that he could soon be preparing to run for mayor of the city that he says he loves so much.
Brooks turned 70 earlier this month, and since 70 is the mandatory state retirement age, his last day as a member of the Utica Fire Department is today, September 28th.
On his final day with the department, Brooks did not get a big party at the fire department headquarters, or at city hall, he says he and his wife will simply go out to dinner this evening.
Brooks has a form of leukemia and has been in a battle with the city over benefits the past year and a half as to whether his illness is due to being at Ground Zero on 9/11. He's been on paid leave since May of 2017.
We asked Chief Brooks whether he expected a call from Utica Mayor Palmieri to thank him for his 43 years of service by the end of tonight, and his response, "Do I expect a call? If I get a call from him it won’t be to take me for my 43 years of service."
Brooks says doctors attributed his leukemia to being at Ground Zero on 9/11, "Yes, you unequivocally had the condition that you have, it’s an occupational condition, and you got it at Ground Zero."
But the city got its own doctors, who said otherwise, and ultimately in May of 2017 the city denied Brooks the benefits he applied for for being injured on the job. Brooks was immediately put on paid leave.
Brooks says he says he hasn't been allowed in the firehouse, unless he had an escort from someone in the department.
Brooks says on Thursday, someone from the fire department delivered all of the his items that had been up in his office at the fire department headquarters on Bleecker St., to his garage in his North Utica home, "I love Utica, I’ve been a lifelong city resident. I’ve never even considered living someplace else and I’m so thankful to the people in this city for allowing me to be in this career for this duration of time."
And finally, as far as a rumor that he may run to be Utica's next mayor, Brooks responded, "I haven’t ruled anything out. I have not ruled anything out."
We did reach out to Mayor Palmieri's office Friday afternoon for any kind of statement on Chief Brooks' service to the city, and Brooks' potentially running for mayor, but we did not get a response back.