Overlooked by many in the recent turmoil over the proposed restructure of Southbridge Middle/High School and the search for a new Town Manager has been a developing crisis in the Southbridge Fire Department.
The situation was highlighted at the recent regular meeting of the Town Council as the result of an appearance by union President Derek Lamica.
Appearing before the Council during citizen’s forum, Mr. Lamica inquired about launching a department audit similar to that performed on the Police Department in 2013.
In an interview with the Worcester Telegram Mr. Lamica ticked off a number of items that he believed warranted such an audit.
“Firefighter Lamica said the station has cracks in the ceiling and floor, and its outside walls are supported by beams and wood. Fire station study committees have gone ‘nowhere,’ he said.
He said the problems don't end there.
Firefighter Lamica asserted that the department also needed to update its policies and procedures.
‘The Town Council has been after the chief for policies and procedures the last three years, for the way things are supposed to be operated in the firehouse,’ the union leader said. ‘They haven’t received it, and we haven’t seen it. The book we have now is from (retired Chief Leonard N.) Laporte and past chiefs. We don’t even have a mayday policy in our department.’
Third, Firefighter Lamica expressed dissatisfaction at the pace with which employees are replaced.
A firefighter recently retired and another is retiring soon, which will put the department short three firefighters, he said, and another three are out with injuries from recent fires.
‘You’re looking at a whole shift that we’re down in the fire station,’ he said.”
During his appearance before the Council the Acting Town Manager strongly objected to Mr. Lamica’s use of a public forum to voice his concerns.
The manager said Lamica’s use of the citizens’ forum was “an extraordinary way for a management study of a town department to be considered.”
Mr. Paicos said the town charter states that the manager has the authority to initiate studies of this nature, and a letter from the union indicating that there are issues, or even a no-confidence vote, would be "in excess of the council’s authority." The council, Mr. Paicos said, is barred from participating in personnel issues.
If a manager decided a study is warranted, the proposal would be vetted through the council's Protection of Persons and Property Subcommittee, and if approved, the next step would be for the council to vote on an appropriation. Management studies typically start at about $20,000, he said.
Mr. Paicos said: “I’m really shocked that we’re having this kind of a discussion in public, in quite this way.”
The manager then threatened to call labor counsel for consideration of filing prohibitive-practice charges against the fire union if Mr. Lamica continued the conversation.
Lamica told the Telegram that at the next union meeting he will move to set up a committee to organize the grievances, write a letter, and if the majority of members sign it, go from there.