NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 5, 2013

Fire engineer board vacancy filled, but comes with controversy

(Continued)

Knowles proposed dissolving the fire board and instead recommending voters adopt the state’s ‘strong chief’s law.” This would create the most stability by establishing the fire chief as the sole authority of the department for up to 3 years at a time, he argued.

Cushing lauded Knowles for “taking the high and hard road” and acknowledged the town was heading toward a full time department. Still, he cautioned that integrating full time personnel into a call department could “create some roadblocks and be very difficult.”

Kemper felt Knowles’ suggestion offered too much change for an appointment process that is historically overly “political and hostile.” He made his recommendation after consultation with those familiar with the history of the department. “This isn’t something Glenn Kemper just dreamed up sitting in a fire hat in my house,” he said.

Both Fowler and Janes also felt the strong chief’s initiative was not the way to go.

“Change is hard, especially in this town. It comes very slowly,” said Fowler. She described herself as someone who is “more dedicated to the town” than to the fire department. She would strive to be a catalyst for change by working through departmental “animosities and egos.”

In his statement to selectmen Janes argued he should be allowed to serve as an engineer despite his recent retirement from the fire department. “Just because people like myself are over the age of 65 doesn’t mean that we are brain dead and have nothing to contribute,” Janes wrote.

Ironically, back in 2009 an opinion that Janes sought from the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission was a factor in a controversial decision by selectmen to force the mandatory retirement of three veteran firefighters -- a move that selectmen at the time agreed also disqualified the men from serving on the Board of Fire Engineers. Stephen Arnold, Glenn Coffin and Kenneth “Kippy” Berkenbush -- who had served on the department for more than 50 years -- were dismissed when the commission opined that “not under any circumstances” could the town extend the age of retirement for fire fighters past 65 years.

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