Chief Robert DeCoteau and all the firefighters in the town of Blandford resigned Tuesday night after a months-long dispute with members of the select board.
Emergency response times in town increased from about 5 minutes to at least 30. Emergency responders from surrounding towns were tasked with covering the town and a section of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Captain Tom Piper said a large majority of calls they responded to were medical in nature. He also pointed out many residents in town are elderly.
Piper said one of the main problems leading to the resignations was selectmen trying to assert control over the fire department. At a town meeting on April 29, the selectboard requested to have authority to hire all new volunteers to the fire department. They also called for criminal background checks to be conducted on all members.
Piper said under Massachusetts state law, the town appoints the chief and the chief then has sole authority over the department. He said there were much larger problems in the town than the fire department, saying, "The department is not broke. We don't need fixing from the select board." Piper claimed a personality conflict was at the center of the problems between the department and certain town leaders.
Selectman Adam Dolby, who was also a firefighter, said he believes the issues could be resolved quickly. He also apologized to the people of Blandford for letting the situation get to the point of losing the fire department. He went on to say this incident is a perfect example of why people need to get involved in the community.
A special public meeting was scheduled for Friday, Aug. 23. The only item on the agenda was the resignation of the fire department.
Chief Robert DeCoteau, selectman Bill Levakiz and chairman Mick Brennan were not available for comment.
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