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Conn. fire chief required to address ‘anger issues’ in harassment investigation

An investigation into the Flanders Fire Department has led to directives for the volunteer fire chief to seek counseling


Flanders Fire Department/Facebook

By Elizabeth Regan
The Day

EAST LYME, Conn. — A workplace harassment investigation into part-time paid firefighter Chris Taylor, who also serves as volunteer chief of the Flanders Fire Department, has concluded with a directive for him to address his “anger issues” through counseling and to take harassment training.

The report from consulting attorney Donald Steinhoff also required the town to require a two-hour harassment training session for all employees every two years.

The report was released Tuesday through a Freedom of Information request.

Steinhoff in his findings said Taylor’s actions have created “a hostile work environment” where volunteers and paid employees “actively avoid interacting with Taylor.”

Taylor had been on administrative leave since Jan. 19.

The investigation, which stemmed from a complaint from paid firefighter David Swinburne that Taylor launched a profanity-laced tirade against him during a Jan. 17 incident, revealed statements from other paid and volunteer members of the town’s fire service that painted Taylor as an untrustworthy leader who is possessive of his jurisdiction and lax when it comes to purchasing and maintaining equipment.

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Several of those interviewed by the investigator did not specifically remember the incident described by Swinburne but said loud exchanges were commonplace at the firehouse.

A letter signed by Taylor on April 4 required him to complete three online trainings for workplace bullying, stress and violence and to refrain from any inappropriate interactions going forward. It also ordered three consultations with Solutions EAP, a firm that provides short-term, confidential counseling or mental health referrals for town employees.

Taylor’s performance will be closely monitored for six months, the letter said.

Taylor on Tuesday said he is following through with the requirements in the letter but maintained the details in the report are inaccurate. He declined to go into specifics until he hears back from his attorney.

Swinburne initially detailed his concerns in a Jan. 18 meeting with First Selectman Dan Cunningham, Finance Director Kevin Gervais, Fire Marshal Bill Bundy and Deputy Fire Marshal Erik Quinn.

‘Detriment to the department’

Swinburne told officials Taylor was angry with him on Jan. 17 because Swinburne had complained to volunteer deputy fire chief Ken Janus about unpaid bills and delayed maintenance on equipment.

Taylor, in a meeting with the investigator and a human resources assistant, was accompanied by Flanders Fire Department volunteer and former Chief Ed Waido. Taylor recounted finding Swinburne, Janus and per-diem firefighter David Cabigting going through paperwork at Taylor’s desk on the date specified in the complaint. Taylor told them to get out of the office, he said.

The report also includes statements and one exhibit from Quinn, the current assistant chief of the East Lyme Fire Service, who was serving at the time as deputy fire marshal and volunteer chief of the Niantic Fire Department. The fire service was created by Cunningham in late February to oversee the two independent fire companies in town.

Quinn in a Jan. 15 email to Bundy, acting then as fire marshal, called for an investigation into the Flanders Fire Department. Quinn cited concerns by multiple town employees and members of the Flanders department about concerns at the administrative level and in the field.

Among the allegations, Quinn said Taylor told his chief officers to stop working with the Niantic Fire Department and to cancel all joint meetings and trainings. Quinn also said Taylor ordered Cabigting to take command of scenes when he arrives even if it has already been established.

Quinn told the investigator he heard complaints that missing equipment would show up damaged or destroyed after Taylor said he was “borrowing” it, and that hardware store purchases such as vehicle fluid and pocket knives were unaccounted for.

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According to the report, Quinn described Taylor as “a detriment to the service and the public visibility of the department.”

Taylor was elected as the Flanders chief in 2021. It was a return to public service for Taylor, who had worked as a deputy fire marshal and then fire marshal before he resigned in 2019, three weeks before he was arrested by Connecticut State Police for allegedly stealing more than $13,000 from the New London County Fire Marshal’s Association .

Taylor previously told The Day the case was resolved through the courts, and the money was paid back. Records have since been erased.

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