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December 6, 2013

Board disputes job changes for veteran firefighters

(Continued)

Selectman Geoff Walker agreed with Bulgaris that the issue should be brought to Town Meeting floor, but felt that, in the meantime, it was important to limit the town’s liability.

Colleague David Mountain stressed that while the Board of Selectmen has always been supportive of the fire department, he also has a lot of respect for town counsel’s opinion. His job is to keep the town’s exposure to liability as low as possible, Mountain said.

Bulgaris argued that the town faced more liability having an inexperienced operator running fire equipment without the benefit of a more veteran firefighter at the scene.

“I think there is more exposure to the town by not having them on the department than by having them,” he said.

But Mountain noted that Bulgaris, as a firefighter, has a vested interest in seeing it the way he does.

“That’s your opinion…none of us our lawyers,” he told his colleague, to which Bulgaris responded that a lawyer’s opinion is not conclusive until it is adjudicated in court.

Walker pointed out that selectmen have followed town counsel’s recommendations on other topics and shouldn’t just “pick and choose” the legal opinions they wished to follow.

At a selectmen’s meeting in August, attorney Lisa Mead, who was acting as town counsel that night, argued that any new job description must demonstrate a clear difference to the public between the responsibilities and uniforms of the new senior support staff and those of the regular firefighters.

Fire Chief Bill Pearson said at the time that Fire Engineers would agree to alter the job description for these older firefighters – including prohibiting them from participating in any active fire suppression. They would be called “support personnel” and wear a uniform that visibly distinguishes them from a regular firefighter.

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