Fire District 2 names new acting chief, outlines past ‘irregularities’
Fire District 2’s Prudential Committee named Deputy Chief Wayne Thomas as the acting chief of the district’s fire department at its meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 16, while also discussing several alleged irregularities within the district in recent years.
Thomas will take over for former acting chief Greg Edgcomb, who was dismissed from the position last week after implying that he might take legal action against the district.
Edgcomb’s complaints stem from several alleged issues with what has been a contentious hiring process for a permanent chief.
In accepting the position, Thomas acknowledged the difficulty of the situation.
“I know we’re in a lot of turmoil right now but I want to see beyond that — set a straight path to overcome what’s going down right now,” he said.
As acting chief, Thomas will have all the powers that a permanent fire chief does to run the department, but can be returned to his old position by the committee at any time.
Upon being named acting chief, Thomas explained to the committee that he would need to fill his old role as a full-time firefighter in order to stay at full staff.
District 2 typically has three full-time firefighters — including the chief and deputy chief — who make sure that the station is covered at all times, but especially during Monday through Friday business hours when volunteer “call firefighters” are working other jobs.
Since Edgcomb was removed as one of those three full timers, Thomas said, the department would need to fill his hours by scheduling other firefighters for “duty shifts” a few times a week.
Thomas explained that by filling the position with several rotating shifts, the department could avoid hiring someone full time.
Though the committee voiced some skepticism about the arrangement, the decision is ultimately Thomas’ to make, as the chief — whether acting or otherwise — has the responsibility of deciding how to staff the district.
The Prudential Committee, however, is in charge of setting salary levels for district staff, and prompted some discussion after indicating that Thomas’ appointment to acting chief would not come with a pay raise — at least not yet.
Before the move, Thomas said he was being paid about $90,000 a year including both his salary as a fulltime firefighter and a $36,000 stipend allotted to the deputy chief.
As the fire chief position comes with additional responsibilities, Thomas indicated that he felt the move should come with at least a modest salary increase.
“I didn’t ask for this,” he said. “I’m willing to step up but at the same time I was hoping for a little something from the board.”
However, Committee Chair Bob Bouley said he would like to wait a month to see how Thomas did in the new role and assess the need for a pay raise at the committee’s next meeting.
“We just need a month to see how you do,” he said. “I think that’s fair.”
The search for a permanent chief
Meanwhile, the committee invited Thomas to apply as it continues its search for a permanent chief.
The committee has advertised a starting salary range of $85,000 to $95,000 for the position.
Thomas, who agreed to submit an application, would be one of two candidates in consideration for the position, after committee members Bouley and Bill Coutu signaled that they would count Edgcomb out of the running.
“I’m not considering it anymore,” said Coutu.
The only other applicant for the job is Kevin Harris, a captain at the Reedy Creek Fire Department in Florida, which primarily serves the Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts.
Coutu said that Harris will be in the Dartmouth area next week and might be able to meet with the committee to interview for the position.
During the meeting, the Prudential Committee also discussed several “prior irregularities” that have occurred at District 2 in recent years.
In one incident, Bouley and Coutu alleged that the previous prudential committee — made up of Ralph Medeiros and Bernie Giroux — had negotiated a permanent contract with then-acting chief Edgcomb illegally outside of open meeting.
Medeiros, who still sits on the committee, maintained that the discussions had taken place during open meetings, but District Counsel Anthony Savastano pointed out that such discussions had never been explicitly announced on the committee’s agendas and thus had still violated open meeting laws.
Bouley and Coutu said the situation was made worse when Medeiros misrepresented the situation during the district’s annual meeting on May 9, when he stated that Edgcomb had not yet signed a contract.
In fact, Edgcomb’s contract had been signed on April 11, just two weeks before the prudential committee elections. However the contract was deemed void by Savastano after it was discovered its signing was also absent from the committee’s agenda.
The committee also raised concerns about Edgcomb’s election to the Prudential Committee, which he had sat on for several years before resigning in order to take the acting chief position last November.
Bouley and Coutu said that Edgcomb’s election to the committee was “compromised” because of an incident during the election in which the former district treasurer, Joan Harwood, illegally opened the ballot box before voting had ended to do a preliminary count.
Medeiros said that he was the one who had originally raised concerns about the incident at the time, after Harwood made a comment to him in passing about how the race was neck and neck.
Medeiros said he had alerted Savastano to the situation, prompting a fiery response from the district counsel.
“I went nuts,” Savastano recalled. “It’s a felony.”
Though Harwood ultimately resigned from her position as treasurer as a result of the incident, no charges were ever filed and the election was not invalidated.
Bouley and Coutu went on to argue that Edgcomb should not have been allowed to sit on the prudential committee in the first place, as his role as a firefighter at the department created a conflict of interest. Savastano agreed, reading a letter that he had written to the committee at the time indicating that the arrangement would violate Massachusetts General Law.
Though no action was taken by the board over any of the irregularities discussed, the committee went into private executive session soon after “to investigate charges of criminal misconduct or to consider the filing of criminal complaints.”
The prudential committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12.