Mass. firefighters vote 'no confidence' in longtime fire chief

The Andover Firefighters Union unanimously voted "no confidence" in Chief Michael Mansfield and published a letter of what they say are examples of poor management


Jill Harmacinski
The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

ANDOVER — Citing a hostile work environment and a lack of respect from upper management, Andover firefighters took a vote of “no confidence” in Fire Chief Michael Mansfield, according to a letter published Tuesday.

The Andover Firefighters Union, local 1658, is comprised of four deputy fire chiefs, 13 fire lieutenants and 52 firefighters, according to the letter posted on the union’s Facebook page.

The union wrote, “It is time for Andover to strongly consider a new fire chief to lead this department.”

Union members in attendance at their October meeting voted unanimously on the “no confidence” motion.

Firefighters, they said, “have endured a hostile work environment for years that produces poor morale and a staff that is not empowered or valued by upper management. Several factors contributing to the Andover Firefighters no confidence in Chief Mansfield are; lack of communication, lack of respect for employees and their concerns, safety issues, consistent bargaining agreement violations, and a lack of committees,” according to the letter.

“Our position is full of challenges, stressful situations and loss. Andover firefighters work diligently to prepare themselves for these dynamic working conditions in and out of the firehouse and in turn deserve and expect a healthy, safe, and positive work environment,” the letter states.

Mansfield said he could not comment on the letter because he had not seen it. He has been Andover fire chief for the past 13 years.

Union President Eric Teichert said the fire union did make Mansfield aware of its vote last week.

“We gave him a heads-up,” said Teichert, an Andover firefighter for 34 years. “The message we are trying to send is we are unable to work with him.”

Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan confirmed he “received the union’s letter and I am in the process of reviewing the basis for the vote of no confidence in Chief Mansfield.”

Flanagan issued this statement: “Maintaining positive labor relations is a priority for the organization and I look forward to speaking with the Chief and the union about opportunities to bridge any gaps and resolve any outstanding issues or concerns.

“During my tenure as Town Manager, I have watched Chief Mansfield be a tireless advocate for the firefighters, the department and for the public safety needs of the community. Chief Mansfield will continue in his role with my full support.

“I have respect for both parties, and I think we can all agree that we will be a more productive organization when we are working together. Our work will continue to focus on the needs and best interest of the community.

“We are fortunate, as a community, to have a talented, well-resourced and capable fire department that will continue to provide exceptional service to the people who live and work in Andover.”

The firefighters union listed numerous issues in the letter, which they said reflect poor management. They include:

* Receipt of a $1.2 million oversized ladder truck that didn’t clear some town bridges: “This was an important safety oversight due the number of railroad bridges in Andover that have low clearance. ... This critical problem was not only embarrassing but also unsafe for our members,” the union wrote. Firefighters are using a 20-year-old spare truck with minimal tools, no radios and a broken water truck while the issues with the new truck are being rectified, according to the union.

* The number of contract violations that end up in litigation: Mansfield, union members wrote, continually sidesteps collective bargaining. “Often times these violations directly affect a person’s morale, paycheck and livelihood.”

* Safety issues with the most critical being understaffing of Ladder 1, including during the Sept. 13, 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster. “The lack of cooperation of prioritizing staffing concerns allowed for a staffing model that utilized a single firefighter for responding to multiple structure fires and natural gas explosions during a ten hour operational period at the largest natural gas incident in the United States,” union members wrote.

* Assurance new firefighters will be trained “to the same professional level as our tenured members.”

* Communication continues to be a problem, according to the union, and the department-wide meeting has not been held for a decade.

* Poor and plummeting morale. “The department cannot move forward with this dismissive leadership,” according to the union.

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©2019 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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