, Newburyport, MA

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April 26, 2014

Fire engineers unhappy with reappointment process

WEST NEWBURY — The Board of Fire Engineers has said it needs more consistency as it works to strengthen a fire department that has experienced a good deal of change over the past few years.

But although all five fire engineers left Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting still seated on the board, several were clearly unhappy with how the scheduled reappointment process was handled.

Selectman Joe Anderson began the discussion by voicing concerns about what he feels is a gray area within state law regarding the maximum age a person can serve on the fire board.

If firefighters can only serve until age 65, and fire engineers are statutorily required to take charge of a fire scene — including performing the duties of a firefighter — doesn’t that mean fire engineers must also retire from the board at that age? he asked.

Town counsel Michael McCarron responded that the fire board is a governing body and people chosen to serve on it don’t have to be appointed as firefighters. “I don’t think the statute has to be interpreted so literally,” he said.

Citing a similar debate currently ongoing in neighboring Newbury, Anderson said “it seems that different town counsels have different opinions.” But McCarron insisted there was no case law to support either position — “basically we’re just interpreting law,” he said.

Speaking directly to fire engineer Bob Janes, the only one of the five who is over 65 years, Anderson said, “It’s nothing personal. I just don’t want to put the town at risk. That’s why I’m asking these questions.”

Janes said he no longer considered himself a firefighter. “I’m not going to be out there hauling hose or anything else. I don’t believe that I have that authority — and I don’t want that authority.”

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