By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Four months after taking a vote of “no confidence” against fire Chief Kevin MacCaffrie, members of the Londonderry Professional Fire Fighters (LPFF) Local 3160 of the International Association of Professional Firefighters said they’ve hit a brick wall in their efforts to work with town administration.
The local firefighters’ union, which is made up of approximately 40 Londonderry firefighters, conducted a vote of “no confidence” against MacCaffrie on Sept. 8.
The union alleges the fire chief has, among other things, “taken on roles whether he is qualified or not,” according to the union documents.
One incident cited in the documents accused MacCaffrie of directing fire crews to use incorrect and dangerous methods to extinguish a flaming propane tank at a Kestree Drive residence last spring.
The chief was also accused of improper conduct after allegedly starting an internal investigation into the source of a phone call believed to have been made by a staff member to a local newspaper accusing another firefighter of performing community service while on duty, among other things. Contacted early Thursday morning, MacCaffrie declined to comment on the accusations or the union’s actions, referring all inquiries to Town Manager David Caron.
Caron said the issue is a complex one, since the town’s collective bargaining agreement with the union does not have any provisions for a “vote of no confidence.” At the same time, Caron noted, the union’s contract does provide firefighters the opportunity to hold monthly meetings with their chief, who he said has an open door policy when it comes to resolving staff conflicts.
“They’ve never taken advantage of this opportunity,” Caron said.
Union officials maintain they’ve made various efforts to work with the town toward resolution and so far have been unable to reach common ground.
Union President Anthony Maccarone said the vote “was a necessary step to bring to light fundamental issues affecting the safety of the public and the firefighters that protect the community.”
Following last fall’s vote, union officials contacted Caron, in addition to members of Town Council.
“Inability to present department and budget issues . . . which directly affect the level of service” ranked high among the alleged complaints against MacCaffrie.
“This directly affects the level of service the firefighters of Londonderry are able to safely deliver,” Maccarone said. “At no time were the consequences of these budget shortfalls or cuts conveyed to the council by Chief MacCaffrie.”
He further noted that while “the taxpayers and councilors are told we ‘drop down’ to account for budget shortages,” in fact the “‘rolling layoffs’ have occurred for the past three years resulting in some of the lowest on-shift staffing levels in department history. These manpower shortages directly affect safety and services and are not in line with any national safety standards for the delivery of emergency services.”
A town-sponsored mediation took place throughout December, when Caron and a professional mediator attempted to meet some sort of resolution with the firefighters’ union.
“We weren’t obligated to do this, but we made a good-faith effort,” Caron said Thursday morning. “Frankly, the requests made by the union were unacceptable, to me and to the taxpayers of this community,” he added.
Caron said the union’s demands during mediation sessions weren’t reasonable, since in order to meet them he’d essentially have to dismiss Mac-Caffrie and interview an acting fire captain for the chief position.
“Understandably, those sorts of demands were rejected. The town does not operate in that fashion,” Caron said. “From my perspective, any issues that the union has raised have already been addressed with MacCaffrie. I hope we can move forward in a collaborative fashion. Based on the union’s actions, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Maccarone said he implored the council to intervene following last month’s unsuccessful mediation meetings.
“But we were told we’d have to keep working with Caron, as their charter does not allow them to do so,” he added. “I believe this person needs to be removed. We’ve essentially given the town from September through now, but my members are demanding something be done.”
Town Council Chairman Paul DiMarco wouldn’t comment on the matter and referred all inquiries to Caron.
DiMarco noted, however, that Article 4 of the Londonderry Town Charter specifically addresses town administration.
Section 4.6 of the town charter states that, “The (Town) Manager shall supervise and direct the administration of the Town departments and the personnel therein.”
Section 4.7 of the charter states that, “The manager shall have the power to appoint and remove, subject to the provisions of this Charter, all town department heads.”
In accordance with the charter, the town manager is required to notify a department head of any offenses at least 10 days before any action, such as suspension or dismissal, is taken. In turn, the department head has the right to demand a hearing before the Town Council within five days of notification, at which time the council may override the town manager’s decision by majority vote.
MacCaffrie, who previously served as chief in Bedford, Mass., was hired as Londonderry’s fire chief in late 2007, following the retirement of veteran chief Mike Carrier.
As a condition of their contract, the firefighters’ union isn’t permitted to go on strike.
“Not that we ever would,” Maccarone said. “We love this town, we have family in this town and we want the best for them. But we think Londonderry can do better.”