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Fire chief writes up department for bucking uniform policy

It was a parting shot heard around the Chelsea Fire Department in Massachusetts last week.

The department’s fire chief suddenly retired, but not before he brought up disciplinary charges for nearly every fire fighter and fire officer.

So what’s the offense? Former Chelsea Fire Chief Herbert Fothergill says that all but one fire fighter in the department refused to wear a winter uniform that consisted of a button down shirt.

A hearing is scheduled for this week.

Fothergill, a third generation fire fighter in Chelsea, retired October 31.

The Boston Globe reported members of Local 937 decided not to wear the uniforms out of a symbolic gesture.

Lieutenant Brian Capistran, the president of Local 937, told the Boston Globe that members are “fed up.” 

Capistran tells the Frontline Blog that the issue has nothing to do with a button down shirt.
“We’re tired of being disrespected. It’s everything that’s led up to October 1, 2010,” says Capistran.

Fothergill’s retirement brings an end to a very rocky relationship with Local 937.

In September 2009, the local union voted “no confidence” in the chief’s handling of over- time pay.

 In addition, the union has filed almost 10 grievances that have gone into arbitration over the past two years.

Capistran says,” We hand-delivered a detailed letter to the chief and sent a copy to City Manager Jay Ash outlining our issues with the way  he managed the department and the hostile work environment he created, with intimidation and threatening tactics."

Capistran said the no confidence letter was sent on September 13, 2010 with a commitment by the city and the chief to work out issues, but that never happened.

“That is why we took a stance,” Capistran says.

Could nearly all the members of your department be written up on an issue like this? Share your thoughts with the Frontline blog here.

Comments (5) -

  • Brian Smith (Reading)

    11/5/2010 8:36:08 AM |

    anyone can be written up, getting the offense to stick is another matter. Obey and Grieve is the common statement but there are times when those who demand respect should be shown that if they don't earn it, they won't get it.

    Nice job guys! well worth every penny of the filing fees.

  • Chad Zeller (Saint Bernard)

    11/6/2010 1:46:53 AM |

    More power to them, right now no one can afford to strike or lose their job. The Chief was out the door any way, he should have let this matter go because it only makes him look like an ass. Better him then me I know I do know everything but I'll try to figure out the answer. You must indeed give respect to earn any and I have a feeling that to many people burn bridges when they get put in position of authority (not power) and destroy others' views of their competence.

  • Anthony Maccarone (Londonderry)

    11/6/2010 10:12:25 AM |

    This shows how crazy some Fire Chiefs are getting. 2.5 years ago we hired a new Fire Chief that was not the number one choice of two committees. however his ineptitude solidified his position at our fire house. One of his first official actions was to change the uniforms, Of course there was nothing wrong with the ones we were wearing and people were happy with it. Needless to say, he failed in converting the department and now we wear bits and pieces, from the uniform policy.

    Of course this may just be happening in my area, however, more and more you see Town Managers hiring Police Chiefs that the guys can respect, follow and for the most part lead well. Then they hire Fire Chiefs that have no clue what they are doing,don't care about the town, never fight for there guys, hate the idea of Unions and proceed to dismantle the department as best they can. When is it all going to stop?

  • Brian Dressler (Professional Emergency Service Providers of Berks)

    11/7/2010 4:05:32 PM |

    I agree that anyone can get written up for just about anything. Once again, making it stick, is another subject altogether. A blanket " write up" to me , shows the lack of enforcement capability by the dept. A simple note or memo stating that it is expected that all members will" blah, blah,m blah" should be enough. I also agree that getting the respect of your members ( employees) is a matter of earning it, not "legislating" it! Comply and grieve is the way to fly. Not complying just brings about insubordination charges.

  • James Tracy (Reading)

    11/17/2010 9:25:11 AM |

    Makes you wonder what Fothergill generation 1&2 would think of this. Some things never change in the old home state (MA). Seems from the Londenderry (NH) comment the (Promote to the highest level of incompetence political crowd) has moved further north.

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