18 FFs resign after town manager reverses chief's decision
The manager overturned the fire chief's decision on a personnel issue, leading 18 firefighters to quit after a contentious meeting
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Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
PARIS, Maine — A meeting between the Paris Fire Department and Town Manager Dawn Noyes ended with 18 firefighters handing in their pagers and gear Wednesday afternoon.
According to firefighter Jon Longley, a former fire chief, the resignations occurred because Town Manager Dawn Noyes and Human Resource Manager Paula Andrews reversed a decision on a personnel issue Fire Chief Mark Blaquire made previously.
“The town manager and the human resource person came to speak at our meeting . . . and the long and short of it was that she usurped the power of the chief after we clearly pointed out in the (standard operating procedure) guidelines that the chief has the ultimate authority and decision. She reversed the decision that the chief had made,” Longley said.
He said Noyes and Andrews reinstated an individual, who he declined to name, to rank after the chief and several officers made a decision to strip him of it.
According to Longley, the meeting got “sassy and lippy,” ending with most of the firefighters in attendance leaving and turning in their gear.
On Feb. 13, members of the department attempted to hand the personnel complaint over to selectmen during a meeting. At the time, Andrews said handing the complaint over to the board violated the town’s personnel policies and advised the board not to take the printed complaint that was put in an envelope.
If it’s personnel-related, you have to take it to your supervisor first, and if they haven’t addressed it, you take it to the town manager. If you haven’t brought it to her, you can’t bring it to the board,” Andrews said then.
According to an updated complaint policy posted on a bulletin board at the Town Office on Feb. 6, signed by Andrews, employees, as an extra step, are required to submit complaints to the Human Resource Department.
Former Selectman Scott Buffington said that change was unauthorized.
“The whole thing’s a mess . . . that hasn’t been approved by the Select Board,” he said. “Any policy and procedure change has to be approved by the board.”
According to Longely, the change of procedure meant “monthly” and “bimonthly” meetings for the department and affected the morale of the force.
“These people have nightmares on it,” he said. “We’ve been grilled to death on it. I would prefer to say that it brought the morale of the Fire Department down to the point where people are like, ‘I do this as a volunteer, and I could do many things and not be bothered by this ridiculousness.'”
On top of the change in procedure, Longley said firefighters were disturbed by the town’s ability to disregard the decisions of the chief.
“If they are going to disregard the decisions and actions of the chief, (the firefighters) did not feel comfortable being a part of that,” he said. “This business of being a public service firefighter and an EMS provider is inherently dangerous to begin with. We don’t need mom and dad conflicts.”
According to Longley, Noyes and Andrews didn’t adequately hear the concerns of the department.
He said Andrews’ perception was, “‘this is the way it’s going to be, and that’s final.'”
“The people stood up, and a couple of members stood up and said ‘if that’s the way it’s going to be, I no longer wish to be part of this organization where the chief no longer has the authority to make decisions.’ Which led to a tidal wave of everyone lining up and handing their pagers to the town manager, lining up and saying ‘it’s been a pleasure working for you,'” Longley said.
He said the result of the walkout is added stress to Blaquire, who declined to comment on the walkout, and increased risk for the town that will now have to rely on mutual aid.
“This just put an incredible burden on the responsibility of the fire chief . . . which is also going to put a burden on the surrounding towns,” Longley said. “It’s hard enough to get people in the middle of the day or during the night to mitigate an emergency, now you’ve just turned away 20-plus members. This is bad.”
According to Longely, the only way to reconcile and reinstate the force would be to allow firefighters to mount complaints through the Select Board, out of the reaches of the town manager and the human resource coordinator.
“The only way this force will come back is if the chief speaks directly through the Select Board, and then the delegation is given to the town manager through the mouths of the selectmen,” Longely said.
Attempts to reach Noyes, Andrews and four of the five selectmen were unsuccessful Wednesday night. Board Vice Chairman Chris Summers declined to comment on the resignations.
©2020 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)