Fire Dept.’s Management Structure Scrutinized
By: Alex Scofield
When Bourne Fire & Rescue Interim Chief Daniel J. Doucette stood before selectmen on Tuesday evening to discuss recent reports surrounding his department, Chairman John A. Ford Jr. observed that Chief Doucette seemed very alone.
Chief Doucette was called before selectmen to respond to complaints made by the members of the Bourne Professional Firefighters Union that neither he nor the town had been aggressive enough in pursuing complaints about Lieutenant Kelli J. Weeks.
After Chief Doucette read a prepared statement addressing the complaints the union had raised (see related story), Mr. Ford said he was surprised that the interim chief did not seem to have any backing from his deputy chiefs or lieutenants in responding to the union’s claims.
“Part of the problem is that you’re all alone,” Mr. Ford said. “If your deputy chiefs or your lieutenants were backing you, I don’t think you would be here. I don’t think you have anybody on your side.”
Chief Doucette responded that Mr. Ford’s assessment was not far from the truth.
“That’s how I feel sometimes,” he said.
Mr. Ford said that Chief Doucette’s isolation at the top of his department was due to the management structure of the department.
Aside from Chief Doucette and the clerical staff, every employee of the department, from the deputy chiefs to the firefighters, are union members.
Mr. Ford, who previously served as chief of the Bourne Police Department before retiring in 2007 to run for a selectmen’s seat, said that in the Bourne Police Department, sergeants and lieutenants are in a separate union from the patrolmen they are responsible for commanding.
Mr. Ford complimented the work done by the fire department’s deputy chiefs, but said that their loyalty to their fellow union members has prevented them from properly handing out discipline.
“We have to get these [high ranking officers] to realize that they’re not only supervisors at a fire, they’re supervisors in the firehouse,” he said.
Mr. Ford said that because of the union loyalties of the department’s deputy chiefs and lieutenants, discipline within the department was delayed and personal issues among firefighters were allowed to “fester.”
He suggested that if the concerns about Lt. Weeks were logged by a superior officer as soon as they were noticed, the relationship between her and her fellow firefighters would not have deteriorated as it has.
Chief Ford said that the department’s high ranking officers could undergo training to help them better delineate their duties to the department and to the union.
“These are fantastic guys but they have not been backing up the chief,” Mr. Ford said. “Maybe we can give them some training, show them they can be a good member of the union and still not undermine the chief.”
Mr. Ford said that at a future meeting selectmen should discuss the appointment of Police Chief Earl V. Baldwin as a public safety commissioner, who could oversee discipline and management training for both the police and fire departments.
Bourne Fire Deputy Chief David S. Cody said that no such training was needed.
He asserted that the deputy chiefs supported Chief Doucette and did not allow union loyalty to prevent them from managing their crews.
“Our first role as officers in this department is to provide public safety,” he said. “If providing public safety means we have to discipline somebody [within the department], then we will do that.”
Union spokesman Gilbert N. Taylor said that what the department truly needed was stability in leadership.
He pointed out that the chief’s position has been filled on an interim basis for nearly four years, which has kept the department stagnant, rather than allowing it to make much-needed progress.
“We don’t have a chief, we have an acting chief,” Officer Taylor said. “When you have an acting chief, that puts you in a holding pattern.”
With the town charter dictating the heads of public safety offices report to Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino, Mr. Taylor said that his department has essentially been under the town administrator’s purview for the last four years.
Officer Taylor said that part of the fire department’s problem has to do with the tense relationship many of its members have with the town administrator.
“It seems like we have to bang our head against the wall to get anything done,” he said. “I think communication has been a problem.”
Mr. Taylor said the union also supported one of the findings of a staffing study conducted by D.I. Jacobs Consulting in late 2007 that suggested the department hire an assistant chief to provide administrative support.
Lieutenant Martin L. Greene declined to speculate on whether an assistant chief would have prevented controversies like the one the department is currently facing.
However, he did say that added administrative support for the department’s chief would help the department run more smoothly.
“The union has always supported the concept of an assistant chief,” he said.
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