NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A New Haven firefighter returned to work Tuesday nearly two years after he was critically injured while battling a deadly blaze.

Lt. Samod Rankins began the recertification process at the New Haven Fire Training Academy, a requirement for anyone who has been out for more than six months. 

He called the day “bittersweet.”

“I’m proud to serve my community, and I am happy to be back at work,” Rankins said in a statement to News 8. “I have lots of mixed feelings concerning today, but I am very happy to be back.”

On May 12, 2021, Rankins was critically injured battling a fire on Valley Street in New Haven. His fellow firefighter, Ricardo Torres Jr., died fighting the blaze. Rankins endured a long road to recovery.

Ricardo Torres Jr.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said they’re thrilled the lieutenant is back.

“To think that he’s gone through a very, very difficult period but is coming back to work today is a big deal,” Elicker told News 8.

“It’s good to see Lt. Rankins back on the job,” fire chief John Alson said. “It’s been a long process for him, and we wish him a speedy return to service.”

Rankins filed a civil lawsuit in March 2023 against the City of New Haven and the board of fire commissioners. He claimed he was passed over twice for promotion to captain and wasn’t allowed back to work despite being medically cleared.

“There may be a disagreement between Lt. Rankins, his attorney, and the city about when the appropriate time was,” Elicker said.

The lawsuit also alleges Rankins was retaliated against for filing for workers’ compensation benefits and for his prior lawsuits against the city’s promotional and hiring practices.

“I have confidence in Chief Alston in his ability to make sure he’s following the right process and getting the right people into the right positions,” Elicker said.

In a statement to News 8, Patricia Cofrancesco, Rankins’ attorney, said, “Unfortunately, we had to sue the City of New Haven because the city passed him over for promotion while he was out. While you and I, and perhaps a lot of people, may regard him as a hero, the actions of the city call that into question.”

“What’s important today is he is back… And that’s something we should be really excited about,” Elicker said.

Rankins must complete several requirements, which typically take about a week, before being assigned to active full-duty work. Those requirements include, but are not limited to:

  1. Reviewing all training bulletins since departure; 
  2. Completing all training exercises since departure;
  3. Completing all prior administrative reports; 
  4. Meeting mandatory mask fit and mask confidence requirements; 
  5. Meeting job performance requirements of their position at the time of injury.

The City of New Haven released the following statement in March in response to the lawsuit:

“Given the pending litigation, the City of New Haven cannot comment on the substance of the lawsuit at this time, but Lt. Rankins’ service as a New Haven firefighter is to be commended and the fire department looks forward to him returning to work at the appropriate time.”