, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 26, 2014

Fire engineers unhappy with reappointment process


Knowles noted that under the chain of command, a fire engineer over 65 years old could wind up being in charge of a fire scene. He referenced a time back in 2009 when selectmen forced the mandatory retirement of three veteran firefighters, disqualifying the men from serving on the Board of Fire Engineers.

By today’s standards some of those men might still be on the board, Knowles said.

But when he tried to amend Kemper’s motion to stipulate that the fire board’s only responsibility is the administration and supervision of the department — meaning firefighters could no longer serve on the board — the response from the engineers was swift.

“That’s not acceptable,” said Fowler.

“That’s not acceptable,” repeated her colleague Mark Hemingway.

And Janes added, “I’d quit before you did that.”

Anderson then made a motion to appoint all engineers except Fowler, saying her lack of participation remained an issue for him. Fowler said she wasn’t going to say she would participate more just because that is what Anderson wanted to hear. Her attendance might “ebb and flow” but even if it were a year of missed calls and drills, “it’s a small snapshot of my dedication,” she insisted.

With the three selectmen at a clear impasse, Knowles reminded his colleagues that under state law, the term of the current fire board runs until successors are appointed and qualified. Hearing that, selectmen took no action on the appointments — and all five engineers retained their seats.

But as she exited the meeting room, Fowler commented that “with all due respect,” the board’s lack of action didn’t exactly exude a vote of confidence for the current Board of Fire Engineers.

Following the meeting, Anderson stressed that his position wasn’t personal. He just felt that when someone in a leadership position fails to participate in tasks required of the rest of the department, “it sends the wrong message.”

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