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April 5, 2013

Fire engineer board vacancy filled, but comes with controversy

WEST NEWBURY -- Selectmen made a little history this week by naming Mary Ann Fowler to serve as the first woman on the Board of Fire Engineers; and also invited former engineer Bob Janes back to serve again. But, as is typical with the selection of West Newbury fire engineers of late, the annual appointments did not come without some controversy.

Ultimately, selectmen chose Fowler, who has served for 4 years on the town’s call fire department and Janes, a retired 16-year’s veteran of the force who served for 5 years as an engineer, to join current fire engineers Scott Berkenbush, Michael Dwyer and Mark Hemingway.

However, the vote was not unanimous and, for most of the discussion on Wednesday night, it was unclear what the end result would be.

When Selectman Glenn Kemper made the motion to increase the number of sitting fire engineers from 3 to 5, he said his intention was to “help the board move forward.” The current board has indicated it wants to implement a plan to improve how fire services are delivered and seek funding for some full-time positions in the near future. But the idea hasn’t been fully flushed out because fire engineers don’t have the time or manpower to do so, Kemper said.

Increasing the board to 5-members would help get the job done, he argued. Kemper touted Janes’ “unmatched experience” and his belief in appointing qualified women like Fowler to roles of authority as reasons for bringing them forward.

Initially Selectman Dick Cushing said he favored the “stability and continuity” that came with maintaining the current 3-member board, but after a lengthy discussion and persistent urging from Kemper, he switched his position.

However, Chairman Bert Knowles wouldn’t support Kemper’s motion. He called a previous decision to expand the fireboard to 5 members back in 1999 a “colossal mistake” because two additional members were added after a 3 member board was already seated -- a move that he contends disadvantaged the newcomers.

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