Mass. city fire union issues no-confidence vote against fire chief

Raising concerns over safety and poor leadership, the union called upon the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Thomas Guerino to suspend the chief


Beth Treffeisen
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

BOURNE, Mass. — The local firefighters union has issued a vote of no confidence against Bourne Fire Chief Norman Sylvester Jr. and asked for his suspension.

On April 1, members of the Professional Firefighters of Bourne, Local 1717, unanimously voted to declare that they have no confidence in the leadership of Sylvester, according to a letter from the union to the town received on April 22.

On April 1, members of the Professional Firefighters of Bourne, Local 1717, unanimously voted to declare that they have no confidence in the leadership of Bourne Fire Chief Norman Sylvester Jr.. (Photo/Bourne Firefighter IAFF Local 1717)
On April 1, members of the Professional Firefighters of Bourne, Local 1717, unanimously voted to declare that they have no confidence in the leadership of Bourne Fire Chief Norman Sylvester Jr.. (Photo/Bourne Firefighter IAFF Local 1717)

Raising concerns over safety and poor leadership, the union called upon the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Thomas Guerino to suspend the chief, the letter stated.

Sylvester announced in March that he will be retiring at the end of the fiscal year, citing an extremely difficult climate in the department as his reason for leaving. In a letter to the town administrator, Sylvester stated he will remain on the job until July 5.

It is an operational issue and a personnel issue, Guerino said. "I need an opportunity to review it and will deal with it with the board," he said.

The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday decided to speak to town counsel on the subject. The board wants advice on its options, board Chairman Peter Meier said.

"I just want direction," he said.

The Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 in February 2015 to hire Sylvester, who previously served as a fire prevention officer with the Hyannis Fire Department. His annual salary is $146,903, according to the 2018 town report.

The union has pursued remedies to the health and safety concerns laid out in its letter, including requests to meet with the town administrator and Board of Selectmen. The chief has weakened the Bourne Fire Department safety education program by returning almost $7,000 in Student Awareness of Fire Education (SAFE) and Senior SAFE grant funds to the state, the letter said.

The grant program supports fire and life safety education and enables the Fire Department to purchase smoke and carbon monoxide alarms for crews to install in homes lacking proper protection, the letter said.

The chief also ignored nationally recognized standards and practices for the response to active shooter and hostile events, refusing to provide proper training and equipment, the letter said.

Confusion and inconsistency within the department is the result of Sylvester refusing to communicate any of his decisions in writing, the letter said.

Sylvester also refused to follow the collective bargaining agreement that he participated in, resulting in numerous grievances, arbitration and unfair labor charges against the town of Bourne, the letter said.

The chief has "lowered the bar on the level of training" that is provided to new recruits by allowing a part-time call and volunteer firefighter academy to take the place of a full-time recruit firefighter academy, the letter stated.

In February, an arbitrator ruled Sylvester violated the collective bargaining agreement when he refused to send a firefighter to full-time training at the state academy in Stow.

Union president Douglas Leon, a Bourne firefighter and EMT, did not respond to phone calls. Sylvester did not respond for comment.

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©2019 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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