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  • Editorial: City can't allow flawed process to hinder Smith's potential
    Jun 28, 2012

    June 28, 2012

    Editorial: City can't allow flawed process to hinder Smith's potential

     

    Eric Smith, deputy fire chief in Westland, Mich., is about to become the first permanent fire chief Gloucester has had in more than three years.

    And for all of the very legitimate disputes over qualifications and other issues, it is indeed "a new day for Gloucester," as Mayor Carolyn Kirk crowed after Smith's City Council confirmation on a 6-3 vote Tuesday night.

    So, despite the lingering questions — and a need for city officials to take several long, hard looks back at how this search process virtually unraveled at the finish — it is time to look forward and recognize that, on many counts, Smith promises to be precisely the kind of chief Gloucester and its Fire Department need.

    The fact that he has served in a comparably-sized department that covers a much larger city — Westland is a community of 84,000 — and the fact that, as its sole deputy, he is the No. 2 man leading the department, quite different from the leadership duties of the four Gloucester deputies, who are still part of the rank-and-file firefighters' union — all bode well for Smith taking up the post as Gloucester's permanent chief. So does the fact that he posted the top score on the assessment center's chief tests, besting, at that point, five other semifinalists, search committee members have confirmed.

    But most of all, the fact that he brings a fresh set of eyes — with no apparent ties to Gloucester or its Fire Department — and a fresh approach to the job through an obviously different department structure makes him an ideal candidate to lead the reforms that this department desperately needs.

    City Councilor Bob Whynott said he would never vote for an outside candidate, saying that firefighters who work their way up the ranks deserve a chance to be on top. He's right — and they did have a chance. But they aren't entitled to it, either, as Whynott's myopic view suggests. In fact, the decades-long Civil Service policy of letting firefighters work their way up the ranks, perhaps take a turn as chief for a couple of years without making any waves, and then retire at a chief's pay seems, in part, what's allowed the department's problems to fester in the first place.

    So, is all well?

    Hardly, and there are some basic steps that Mayor Kirk and the council should now take.

    Revise this search ordinance. It became downright embarrassing to see the mayor, City Solicitor Suzanne Egan, and representatives from Municipal Resources Inc. all trying to talk their way around the requirement that a candidate "shall" — not should, or ought to — have at least three years' experience as a "deputy chief or higher." The council must rework this ordinance to allow for "equivalent experience," recognizing that different departments are structured differently across the country.

    Sever all ties with MRI. The consultant's bungling of this search — citing even a stint as "acting battalion chief" that Smith himself didn't include on his resume to get past the experience mandate — destroyed MRI's credibility in Gloucester once and for all. Multiple "corrections" by the company of draft reports on the 2007 Lorraine and 2011 Pleasant Street fires were troubling enough. MRI's handling of this search should be the third strike.

    But as city leaders wrestle with those issues, firefighters should follow last month's words of chief's search finalist and Deputy Chief Steve Aiello, who classily encouraged his troops to welcome and work with the new chief. That, above all, is what must happen — so that Smith and the department can find solutions to the closed fire stations and the contract issues that have shortchanged residents on public safety for far too long.

    Welcome, Chief Smith. You have some difficult tasks at hand, but we can only hope you get the support you need to get the job done.

    The Fire Department and Gloucester's residents deserve nothing less.


    Download: new gloucester chief story.pdf

    Chief's Tasks already take shape
    Jun 28, 2012

     

    GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

    June 28, 2012

    Chief's tasks already take shape

    By Steven Fletcher

    Staff Writer

    When Fire Chief Eric Smith takes the helm of Gloucester's Fire Department, he will first have to fix the strained relationship between the firefighters and the city administration — and give an honest look at what their department needs to move forward, says search committee member Russell Hobbs.

    Hobbs lives Lanesville and has spoken out about the need for improvement within the city's public safety departments. Lanesville is covered by the often-closed Bay View Fire Station. With that station closed — as it was once again Wednesday night — the Fire Department's response times in Gloucester's northern villages increase dramatically.

    But, before Smith can get that station opened, Hobbs said, he'll need to work with the firefighters and citizens to come up with ways to do it. Smith, he said, doesn't have ties to the area, and can assess the department clearly and honestly.

    "He'll do what's right and (needs) to get them the tools, training, and leadership they need," Hobbs said.

    The City Council confirmed Smith as Fire Chief Tuesday night on an initial 6-3 vote, ending a 10-month search for a fire chief after councilors removed the position from Civil Service two years ago. Once the initial vote was cast, the councilors later amended the approval to indicate their unanimous support for Smith, with some saying he will bring a needed new perspective to the city's Fire Department, and Mayor Carolyn Kirk declaring it "a new day" for the city and the department.

    Smith, 46, started fighting fires 21 years ago as a line firefighter in the Westland Fire Department. He worked his way up to the department's second in command before coming to Gloucester.

    He has said he doesn't yet have a specific plan for the Fire Department, choosing to develop that while working with the firefighters, residents and the administration heading into the next budget cycle. With the budget and contract set until Fiscal 2014, he said, making any changes in Fiscal 2013 won't be easy.

    Smith, who signed a three-year contract, will be on a $113,548 annual salary that starts July 1. He's expected to take the helm officially around July 15, allowing for a brief transition with current acting chief Robert DiPoli.

    Kirk says she would like to see Smith work toward two goals over his three year term.

    http://www.gloucestertimes.com/topstories/x546487204/Chiefs-tasks-already-take-shape/p... 6/28/2012

     

    Chief's tasks already take shape » GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA Page 2 of 3

    The first, she said in an e-mail, would be to bring forward recommendations to transform the Gloucester Fire Department into what she called a 21st Century fire and emergency medical service provider. Secondly, she said, she'd like him "to restore the trust and pride of the community in the department."

    That sounds nice, but without funding, said firefighter's union president Phil Bouchie, no fire chief will be able to improve response times or get the outlying stations open.

    "Funding is the issue that will determine if the fire chief can get open stations," Bouchie said.

    Whether the department has the money to work with, he said, is up to Kirk and the council. The union, he added, wants to improve the response times and fire service for the city as well, and will work with Smith to get the job done.

    "The union is open-minded," he said. "We'll accept him in his position and we'll work with him."

    Smith's approval came through an often rocky search process that drew questions over his qualifications and the city's New Hampshire-based search consultant Municipal Resources Incorporated. The ordinance asked for three years experience as a deputy chief, and Smith met that through equivalent experience.

    Because of that, said former City Councilor Jason Grow, the council has to take both the police and fire chief search ordinances back to committee and revise them. The council's approval he said, made Smith's work more difficult.

    "It created a massively more difficult row for him to hoe, not that he can't do it," Grow said, "but he's starting out hobbled by the fact that a lot of people are saying this was an inappropriate way of interpreting the law."

    The ordinance, he added, needs to be fixed so those clouds don't appear again.

    Hobbs, who served on the committee, agreed. He said the length of the process lost the city some applicants. Including the sixth semifinalist who couldn't make it to the assessment center. The ordinance itself, he said, needs tweaking in several places.

    "We can't do this process to take 10 months or a year again," he said.

    It's Smith's kind of perspective that reinforces why the council took the Fire Chief's position out of Civil Service, said former City Councilor Jason Grow.

    Grow said when the council took the position out, they did it to open the door to other people who might be qualified to lead the department from outside. But, when Smith comes in, Grow said, his best tools will be on either side of his head.

    "I don't think he's going to be successful if he walks in and says 'this is how we're going to do things from here on,'" Grow said, "He needs to listen and learn before he can lead."

    City Councilor Jackie Hardy, who didn't return calls for this story, said she's filing two council orders to bring the search ordinances in for revision.

    Despite the bumpy process, however, Grow said he supports the reason for doing it. Smith's kind of perspective that reinforces why the council took the fire chief's position out of Civil Service, said Grow.

     

    http://www.gloucestertimes.com/topstories/x546487204/Chiefs-tasks-already-take-shape/p... 6/28/2012

    Chief's tasks already take shape » GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA Page 3 of 3

    Grow said when the council took the position out, they did it to open the door to other people who might be qualified to lead the department from outside. But, when Smith comes in, Grow said, his best tools will be on either side of his head.

    "I don't think he's going to be successful if he walks in and says 'this is how we're going to do things from here on,'" Grow said, "He needs to listen and learn before he can lead."

    And while Smith faces challenges heading into the department, Hobbs added that funding is only part of the problem.

    Funding alone isn't the answer, said Hobbs. There isn't one change that will fix the department overnight, he added.

    The department needs modernization, more resources, some changes to the contract, new equipment and probably a new public safety building, Hobbs said.

    "The safety of firefighters and the safety of the public is very important," Hobbs said, "and we as citizens have to stand up as well. we have to say what we're willing to do and what we're willing to pay."

    Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt. 


    Download: GloucesterTimes_MRI_.pdf

    New District 3 Vice President Elected
    Oct 24, 2011

    LAWRENCE, MA - On September 16, 2011, at the regular monthly meeting of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, at the Relief’s In, in Lawrence, MA, Matt Reddy was elected to the office of District 3 Vice President. 

     

    Brother Reddy is the current President of Lynn Fire Fighters IAFF Local 739, and a Lieutenant with the Lynn Fire Department.  PFFM President Edward Kelly administered the Oath of Office and Brother Reddy immediately assumed all duties and responsibilities associated with his new Office.

     

    On Behalf of the Executive Board, President Kelly offered newly Elected Vice President Reddy his sincere congratulations and welcomed him aboard.

     

    Essex County Tech Rescue
    Apr 17, 2011

    Members of the Essex County Tech Rescue Team conducted a recent drill

    Additional pics of the drill


    Gloucester Fire
    Apr 11, 2011

    March 29, 2011

    From the GFD to Iraq

     

    By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer                                                         

     

    John "Polo" Cooney normally mans the ambulance when he's working with Gloucester's Fire Department.

    On Friday, he'll travel back to Iraq and do the same — only there, he'll work primarily in the air.

    Cooney serves in the Army National Guard as a crew chief with the 3/126 Airborne Regiment aboard one of the unit's 12 Black Hawk MEDEVAC helicopters. He's back for a few weeks leave after spending almost seven months overseas. His tour of duty ends in August.

    Cooney's a Gloucester native, and paramedic for the fire department where he worked until his deployment last September.

    He flew back to Cape Ann on March 15, and said he's glad to leave the desert behind.

    "It's great, because in the desert you see dirt and the occasional tree, but I'm coming back here to friends, nice houses, and the ocean," he said. "It's nice to be home for a little while."

    While he's been here, he said, he's been catching up with family and friends — and asked his girlfriend, Katharine Rios, to marry him.

    In the service, he works a 24-hour shift as a crew chief, though between February and January, he and his unit worked instead for 22 days straight to fill in for troops heading home and recovering from injuries.

    He said the crew sleeps when they can, yet aims to be ready for takeoff at a moment's notice — a task familiar to a Gloucester firefighting paramedic.

    "It's just like being on the Fire Department," he said. "In the morning you get the craft ready, check the equipment and make sure everything's running correctly. When you get a call you go do it, come back and get ready to do it all over again."

    Cooney said he's thankful most air ambulance calls come during the day — at least, he said they have lately.

    Earlier on, most of the calls came later in the evening, before the U.S. Government shifted from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn. New Dawn has begun withdrawing troops from the country, and places current troops in what Cooney describes as a training and advisory role.

    "There's no more infantry kicking down doors, going house-to-house looking for people," he said. "Now it's more patrols, and shifting to the Iraqi army and Iraqi police.

    As the military shifts roles in the country, Cooney said that they're building infrastructure and schools, in the country, and the Army Corps of Engineers has been showing its Iraqi counterpart how to construct bridges where temporary ones currently sit.

    Cooney's unit also defers medical calls they know come from the Iraqi army to Iraq's own MEDEVAC units. If they don't know, his unit goes out anyway.

    He said most of the Iraqi army works with American forces, but said that a small fraction of that army doesn't, and causes trouble for U.S. efforts in the region.

    " "At the end of the day, I don't feel like we're wasting our time," said Cooney, "I feel like we're doing a good job over there. "

    That shift requires staff, equipment, and vehicles to move from the military's outlying bases to the main bases.

    That requires massive convoys to travel roads long known as treacherous, and convoys that encounter roadside bombs keeps his unit busy, Cooney said.

    He added that U.S. troops today continue to face both traditional improvised explosives, and newer electronically detonated explosives. The new models look like copper cones packed with accelerant, which he said are easily disguised as rocks. The cones explode tightly and cause severe damage to vehicles.

    "We've had some awful calls for those," he said, "The nice thing is, if it only hits in a square foot area, sometimes it will just take out an engine — but if it hits the cabin it takes out everything inside. They're hard to see ahead of time."

    Though those calls make up only half of the work his unit does. Most of it, he said, resembles familiar ambulance work, like transporting people from hospitals to more advanced medical centers on main military bases. Cooney said he loves what he does overseas.

    He doesn't fly the aircraft, but commands everything within the helicopter. A crew chief takes care of the aircraft and performs minor, day to day, repairs. He said, however, he could fly the craft in dire conditions.

    "They're complex systems, but they're user friendly and they almost won't let you crash them," he said, about the helicopter.

    Cooney said he's always wanted to do this kind of work, and while he worked with the Amherst Fire Department, he had a friend who flew medical Black Hawks. His friend introduced him to something he wanted to do, and he said if he hadn't, he'd be kicking himself down the road.

    "I'm a paramedic firefighter for Gloucester, it's not much different," he said.

    That is, he said, except for the flying and Iraq part.


    Swampscott firefighters union files grievance
    Dec 19, 2010

    Swampscott firefighters union files grievance

    SWAMPSCOTT - The International Association of Firefighters Local 1459 has filed a grievance against the town.

    Union President Jim Snow said the union is alleging Town Administrator Andrew Maylor and former Acting Chief Michael Champion implemented changes that would impact all union members without bargaining with the union.

    According to Snow, the town is requiring a physical fitness exam by an outside physician for firefighters who have been out on leave, when in the past all that was required was a note from a personal physician.

    "The town arbitrarily changed the policy in the contract without negotiating the changes," Snow said. "We understand the town has to protect its interest and ensure firefighters are fit for duty. But I am obligated to protect interests of my members. If the contract said we had to this it wouldn't be an issue."

    Snow said the current contract stipulates a firefighter out on extended sick leave is able to return to work with a note from their physician. Snow said in the spring of 2010, the town started requiring firefighters to pass an extensive physical agility test before returning to duty.

    Snow said two firefighters have already been required to take the exam at Quadrant Health Strategies, which is a facility selected by the town, before returning to work, but he declined to comment on individual firefighters or results.

    "In the past a firefighter was able to return to duty with a note from the physician," Snow said. "No one has been able to answer our questions about this policy. We don't know what happens if someone doesn't pass or if someone gets hurts while taking the agility exam. There are a lot of unanswered questions."

    Maylor said about the test, "The requirements of the physical exam are consistent with performing the functions required by a firefighter."

    Firefighter William Hyde Jr., who did not file the grievance, took the exam before he was able to return to work following knee surgery.

    "It was kind of like a stress test," he said. "They would measure your heart rate and blood pressure before and after activity. I had to climb a four-foot ladder 20 times with a SCOTT Pack, go up and down stairs with a SCOTT Pack on, push a sled around, use a weight machine and stuff."


    Snow said the union filed a grievance in April, which was denied by Champion on April 15.

    "We went to the second step in the process," Snow said. "That was to file a grievance against the town."

    In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Maylor provided a copy of Article XXII, Section 2, Page 3 of the firefighters contract which reads: "An employee who has been out on sick leave for forty-five (45) calendar days, whether on regular sick leave or paid Family and Medical Leave may, at the discretion of the town, be subject to examinations by a town appointed physician, at town expense to render an opinion as to whether the employee can return to his/her position. Under this provision, the town shall not appoint a physician who is employed on a regular basis by the town."

    Maylor said the language "at the discretion of the Town" has been in the contract for more than a decade and it applies only to non-work related injuries and illnesses. He explained work-related injuries are covered under a different section of the contract.

    "There will be times when parties disagree on the interpretation of a contract," Maylor said. "We have a good rapport with the fire (union) executive board and I expect that to continue."

    Maylor said the language was included in the contract to protect the firefighters and the town.

    "It has been applied this way for the eight years I've been here," Maylor said. "We need to make sure the firefighter is able to perform the full functions of his or her job in order to protect the residents of Swampscott."

    Marc J. Miller of Bernstein & Miller is representing the town in the matter. A recent invoice submitted by Miller reflects approximately $1,500 in charges incurred by the town in November alone relative to the firefighters grievance.




    Page Last Updated: Jun 28, 2012 (15:28:00)
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