December 20, 2007

This letter appeared in the Sakonnet Times newspaper on 12/20/2007

Fire protection for the town of Little Compton has declined to a point where we seriously doubt its ability to protect our community from the ravages of fire.

We have witnessed erosion over the last decade, accelerated in more recent years by Management/Labor problems that have seen Fire Chiefs passing through the Public Safety Complex like a revolving door. 

As if the decline of the LCFD is not bad enough, we have also witnessed dwindling Volunteer Fire Department membership, coupled with accompanying minimal volunteer responses to emergency calls. This is apparently a normal evolution when “paid firefighters” are introduced into small rural municipal fire departments.

The situation has deteriorated to the point where mutual aid is now virtually automatic on all first alarm calls. Normally other town fire departments are not asked to respond for assistance unless a structure fire calls for assistance above and beyond the capabilities of a local fire department.

A mere 20 years ago saw a robust and highly effective Volunteer Fire Department with more than 50 members. Now we have an expensive new fire station, an expensive new fire truck, 9 full-time paid firefighters, a Fire Chief, a million dollar budget, and a fire department falling apart at the seams. There is something wrong with this picture.

The untimely resignation of Fire Chief Harry Hallgring Jr. has left a top level management vacuum at the Fire Department.  Apparently Captain Donald Medeiros has reluctantly accepted the Town Councils appointment as temporary acting Fire chief. We certainly can understand why Capt Medeiros is reluctant to take on this difficult burden in the twilight of his 20-plus years of service on the floundering LCFD.

Now the beleaguered Town Council faces the task once again of having to recruit and hire a new Fire Chief. Are we hiring a new Commanding Officer for the Titanic?

It has been said that the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.  Clearly it is a time for change from “top to bottom” at the fire department.  We cannot afford to stagger into the future and believe that somehow things will get better. To expect a “new Fire Chief” to charge into town, work magic, and bring about change is unrealistic.  When asked about his single biggest problem, former Chief Hallgring stated that “The men have a bad attitude”.  Our research indicates that the fire department has produced the highest number of union grievances by a wide margin.  We believe that Chief Hallgring is right on the money.

The Town Council needs to “Declare a State of Emergency” for the lack of adequate fire protection here in Little Compton… The council needs to call upon all available resources and expertise in dealing with personnel and manpower problems. We need to call for help from our Mutual Aid Partner Fire Departments, the State and National Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association, and a fully accredited professional Fire Protection Consultant.

The Town can no longer afford the deluge of newspaper articles exposing the dirty laundry of our fire department. We can no longer afford the virtual flood of union grievances that consume valuable time, energy, taxpayers dollars, and the resultant diversion of our town leaders from performing their other important governmental responsibilities.

Where do we go from here? The Taxpayers Association cannot answer that gritty question. We leave that task to the experts. But it does not take an expert to recognize when something is broken; getting it fixed is another question. The fire fighters' union has amassed and enormous amount of power.  Read their contract (www.LCTaxpayers.com) and see for yourself.  We see that as one of the primary sources of the problems we are experiencing.  Maybe that would be a good place to start given that the contract expires on June 30, 2008.

We believe that there have to be viable alternatives, and that the town leaders need to explore all possibilities up to and including privatizing or contracting with another community for fire protection. We can no longer tolerate sub-standard service with a million dollar price tag.

Board of Directors