NEWBURY – The Board of Fire Engineers has rejected wording in a proposed job description drafted by the town’s lawyer as a way to legally allow firefighters over 65 years old to continue serving on the force.
The specific language that Fire Engineers found objectionable prohibits the department’s most veteran staff from operating equipment and fighting fires. But when they removed the language from the draft document, Town Counsel Ginny Kremer balked, saying their changes were unacceptable from a legal standpoint.
Selectmen reviewed the issue with Town Administrator Tracy Blais last week, but ultimately tabled taking any action until Kremer and members of the Fire Board are all together in one room to discuss it.
Kremer and the Fire Engineers have been at odds over this issue since last June when she told selectmen that the town faced a possible liability if it continues its practice of employing firefighters after they turn 65 years old.
The Fire Board previously voted unanimously to allow firefighters to stay on the force until they reach 70 years of age.
But according to state statute if a municipal employee’s job title is “fireman” then he or she “must retire at age 65,” Kremer said. Even if in practice the person does not actually fight fires, if it is in his or her job description, “that’s where the problem is,” she said.
After much discussion, the Fire Engineers and selectmen agreed to create a new “senior support staff” position that would give veteran firefighters a way to continue offering their expertise to the department.
But, at the same time, Selectman Michael Bulgaris, a long-time firefighter, also called for a home rule petition of the state Legislature to allow members to remain in active duty until the age of 70. He cited similar petition efforts in Merrimac Georgetown and Chelmsford. The action will require approval at Town Meeting next spring.