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Effingham FD, selectmen at odds over leadership issues.

February 11, 2010
EFFINGHAM — Selectmen and fire department officers are in a war of words over alleged leadership problems at the fire department and who has the right to elect the fire chief.

In an opening salvo, selectmen wrote a statement to the public explaining that they feel there is "a lack of effective leadership" at the fire department. The letter also explains why selectmen will be asking voters in March to give them the authority to appoint fire chiefs. Selectmen asked for the same authority last year.

Currently, the membership of the fire department elects the fire chief on an annual basis in December. Copies of written statement explaining the selectmen's position are available at the Town Hall, the Post Office and Effingham Public Library.

The fire department officers have written a response and will make it available in the same places. In addition, the fire department officials will answer questions at an open house at Station Number Two at 1102 Province Lake Road from Thursday, Feb. 11 to Wednesday, Feb. 17. Hours will be 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends.

Here is a summary of the arguments:

Selectmen: The board needs the authority to appoint the fire chief in order to decrease exposure to liability according to state officials, representatives from the insurance company, and the town's attorney. If selectmen were granted the authority in March, a review team would be created to find a candidate to recommend to selectmen. Once a chief is selected, he or she would serve indefinitely.

Fire department: Fire department members know best who would be qualified to be the fire chief. Also, having an indefinitely appointed chief is not a "good practice" because there would be a lack of accountability to residents.

Selectmen: "Department leadership has refused to provide the town with any proof that members are qualified to perform as firefighters or emergency medical technicians, despite the fact that the town's attorney met with the fire department's officers and the board of selectmen to discuss the fire department's obligation to do so," wrote board members. "Selectmen can vouch for the qualifications of personnel of all other departments within the town, but not for the people who may someday be entering your home when you are most vulnerable."

Fire department: Individual certifications of members can be classified as personal information and not releasable. Selectmen are given a roster of personnel after every election. The department vouches for its members and provides any information required for recertification or insurance on request.

Selectmen: The fire department is refusing to provide background check certifications, proof of drivers license or driving records.

Fire Department: The fire department has always conducted background checks.

Selectmen: The fire chief changed the combination lock on both firehouses and refused to give selectmen the new combinations.

Fire department: Officers initially refused to give selectmen the combinations because some equipment and substances stored at the fire houses need to be secure. Although they weren't given the combination right away, fire officials told the board they would be willing to escort board members into the buildings at any time.

Selectmen: Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of town equipment is being used at will by fire department members. This includes members using the Murray Field Fire Station for a meeting place for their motorcycle club and converting some space at Lord's Hill Fire station into a gym. Further, firefighters can quit at will with no obligation to stay after the town has paid to train them.

Fire Department: Five members of the department are members of Fire and Iron 102 (a charitable motorcycle club for firefighters). Meetings no longer take place on town property because selectmen disapprove. The gym at Lord's Hill station was created to help prevent injuries and to help those joining the department meet the national fitness standards. The fitness area was installed in November and selectmen were informed of it in December. At that time, selectmen said they had no issue with the fitness area. As for personal equipment, the department has a full inventory of equipment it issues to members. In some cases, equipment is withheld until a member is in good standing for a year.

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