NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 9, 2013

Kemper questions aid at fire scene

Amid concerns after blaze, fire engineers asked to address protocols

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONDENT

---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Board of Fire Engineers will be asked to appear at the next selectmen’s meeting to explain firefighting protocols amid concerns raised following a blaze on Main Street last week.

At the fire, which destroyed a house and barn, retired and non-active firefighters worked alongside town firefighters to stop the raging blaze. Now, selectmen are asking the town’s Board of Fire Engineers to explain proper protocol in such situations.

Selectman Glenn Kemper told his fellow board members that he asked chairman Bert Knowles Jr. to add a discussion about proper firefighting protocols with fire Chief Scott Berkenbush to last night’s agenda, but Knowles declined, saying he felt the issue fell under the purview of the fire board.

Kemper said following the fire — which caused Main Street to be closed — he heard from firefighters and residents who were dismayed to see non-fire personnel and retired firefighters working to stop the flames.

“Selectmen have every right to ask the Board of Fire Engineers to come in for a discussion on this,” Kemper insisted.

After speaking with Town Counsel Michael McCarron, Kemper said he feels strongly that a policy review is needed to ensure the town is protected from any liability or undue legal exposure during fire calls in the future.

Asked at the end of the meeting if he had seen a letter that ran in The Daily News Wednesday from retired firefighter Jack Connolly that criticized Kemper’s attempt to limit the response that afternoon to just active duty fire personnel from West Newbury, Kemper said, “It doesn’t deserve a comment.”

He later added, “The true fighters, not the picture-takers, know what happened.”

In his letter Connolly called the response “a collaborative effort to assist active duty firefighters during the size up and preliminary stages of the firefighting effort.”

He objected to what he felt was Kemper’s attempt to “single out retired West Newbury firefighters as ‘liabilities to the town’ due to our efforts to actively assist at the scene.”

The letter went on to say that “rather than help in any substantial way” Kemper “stood on the sidelines berating retirees for jumping in to help when help was clearly in need.”

It would have been “malfeasance” for former firefighters like himself not to pitch in during a time of crisis, Connolly said.