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Union wants N.Y. fire chief out as city finishes preparing disciplinary charges

The attorney for embattled Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Joseph Dolan calls the request part of a political hit job


Photo/Saratoga Springs Fire Department

By Shenandoah Briere
The Daily Gazette

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The attorney for embattled Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Joseph Dolan is calling the request by the firefighters union to have him removed the latest part of a political hit job by Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and members of the department.

The union announced Friday that it had voted no confidence in the fire chief, who is currently awaiting disciplinary charges by Montagnino.

The union voted 52 in favor, seven against and seven abstentions, Montagnino said.

The vote stemmed from what the union said were several times in recent years in which Dolan failed to act “in the interest of safety for the membership and community.”

“Our members’ concerns are not focused on a single incident, and its determination to take this significant step are based on the totality of decisions and actions that we believe are compromising the safety of our community, those who serve it and our collective confidence in Chief Dolan,” said Joseph Brimhall, the president of Saratoga Springs Professional Fire Fighters union.

Dolan, a 25-year veteran with the Fire Department, has been on paid leave since Feb. 1 following a complaint by Montagnino, who said that on Jan. 27 he received information alleging Dolan was working for two fire departments.

Dolan’s lawyer, Brian Culnan, an attorney from Albany-based law firm O’Connell & Aronowitz, called the allegation false. It is also anticipated that Dolan will receive a disciplinary charge regarding his use of a city vehicle, to which Dolan has filed a grievance with the state Public Employment Relations Board against the city, alleging improper labor practices.

While the union vote comes as Dolan awaits disciplinary charges, the union had been having informal discussions regarding a vote of no confidence since late 2022.

The union cites the November 2022 shooting on Broadway as one of the instances that led to the vote. Eleven firefighters responded to the shooting in which three people were wounded.

“The responding firefighters were vulnerable to harm and experienced significant trauma,” stated the union’s press release. “The chief’s casual actions and concern for the well-being of those under his command eroded a growing lack of confidence in his leadership.”

The union also cites Dolan’s decision in 2021 to operate fire apparatus with only three men, even though the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends a four-person crew, as another reason they voted no confidence.

Additional reasons include:

  • Dolan’s 2019 proposal for the city to provide EMS services to the town of Greenfield. The idea was shot down by the city council.
  • Dolan’s operational measures regarding patient care needs and emergency response capacity.

Assistant Chief Aaron Dyer has been overseeing department operations since the chief was placed on leave. The union commended him.

“During the period that Assistant Chief Dyer has been in interim command, there has been a change in culture and morale throughout the Saratoga Springs Fire Department,” Brimhall said.

Montagnino said he’s waiting on the city attorney to make some finishing touches to the charges against the chief. He also said that the vote of no confidence and request to remove the chief do not actually provide any legal standing to do so.


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