Fire District 2 declines compromise deal with acting fire chief
The search for a new Fire Chief at Dartmouth’s Fire District 2 is ongoing after the department’s prudential committee again declined to pursue negotiations with current Acting Chief Greg Edgcomb at its Aug. 15 meeting.
During the meeting, Ralph Medeiros, the longest tenured member of the committee, put forth a motion to offer Edgcomb a contract at a salary of $110,000 for the current year rising to $115,000 the following year.
The motion was made as a compromise. The previous prudential committee had negotiated a salary of $115,000 with Edgcomb, an amount that was approved at the district’s annual meeting. However, newly-elected committee members Bob Bouley and Bill Coutu preferred a salary range of just $85,000 to $95,000.
“It’s a compromise on [Greg’s] side, it’s a concession on our side and life goes on, we keep the store running,” Medeiros said in proposing the resolution.
However, the motion failed to garner a second from the other committee members.
Though he did not argue with Medeiros, Bouley said later that he was against the idea and would not support paying a salary of more than $95,000 for a fire chief, despite the $115,000 allotment approved by the district’s voters.
Coutu, meanwhile, said that he would need to “come down and talk to Greg personally” before making a decision.
Bouley and Coutu were elected to the committee in April and have been invited repeatedly by Edgcomb to visit the station for a discussion about the fire chief position.
While Bouley visited the department last week, Coutu still has not met privately with Edgcomb, a fact he attributed to a recent medical procedure which he said kept him from making the trip. However, Coutu has attended several prudential committee meetings in person at the fire station since being elected.
Before Medeiros made the motion, Edgcomb gave an impassioned speech to the committee imploring them to consider the ramifications of hiring an outside chief with little connection to the department or the district.
“Outside chiefs are one of the most toxic things that happen to public safety departments, whether it’s fire, EMS, or anything,” he said, citing the Dartmouth Police Department and Fire District 1 among other examples. “I’ve seen it time and time again in my 26 years of doing this job.”
Edgcomb described the complex calculations he needs to do when leading his team to put out a fire, like knowing which firefighters can do which jobs effectively, how much water they’ll need and where to get it, and when to send his men into a building to rescue those inside.
“I’m trying to do all that in my head in a 30 second decision,” he said. “You have to know every nut and bolt of the fire department and know every person to be able to make those decisions effectively.”
Edgcomb, a life-long resident of Dartmouth, said that in addition to his granular knowledge of the department, one of his strengths as chief is his dedication to the community
“I don’t need this job, I want this job because I’m a community member. I’ve been here all my life,” he said. “Any other candidate who lives locally, who would have interest in this job, should be on this fire department already. If they’re not on this department, they don’t care about this community.”
The interim chief added that a candidate who does not live locally would not be able to help the department when emergencies happen during off hours and call firefighters are not available.
“Somebody who lives in any community outside of our immediate couple miles here is not going to do us any good at 2 o’clock in the morning coming to a house fire from Tiverton or Fall River, or wherever they live, because time is money and that’s all there is to it,” he said.
Edgcomb said during one recent 6 a.m. call, he was the only person in the whole department to respond.
When Coutu announced that he was not ready to make a decision yet, Deputy Chief Wayne Thomas gathered his papers and walked out in disgust, muttering that the continued delay was “ridiculous.”
Community members who were attending the meeting spoke up, too, asking Coutu what he was doing with “taxpayer money” and why he “was not doing his job.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve had other things to do,” he responded.
Following the outburst, Coutu forged on, asserting that the board would post a job listing for the position on the Massachusetts Municipal Association website the next day, something the committee had previously decided to do at its June 7 meeting, but never followed through on.
The committee set a three-week deadline for applications.
In response, Medeiros warned that posting the job publicly would create “a whole different dynamic” in the discussions and might appear disingenuous if Coutu ended up supporting Edgcomb for the position after meeting with him.
However, the two other members of the board decided to approve the posting anyway.
Because of the delay in posting the position, the committee was forced to extend Edgcomb’s current contract as acting chief until Oct. 1, to make sure the department would still have a leader through the committee’s September meeting.
There was also some discussion about who should interview the candidates, as Town Counsel Anthony Savastano had previously advised that the committee — as well as the Bristol County Fire Chiefs Association — could be seen as biased because of their relationships with the former District 2 chief, Timothy Andre.
No search committee was established at the meeting.
When the discussion was over, the committee read letters from three district residents who aired concerns about the search process, the lack of public comment periods during meetings, and several other issues.
Bouley, the chair of the committee, declined to read three more letters which he said had arrived the day of the meeting, saying that he would need to read them independently before he could respond to them.
The next District 2 Prudential Committee meeting will be held on Monday, Sept. 12.