A bright blaze of support in O.B.

Firefighters get support from union leaders.

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Firefighters from Oak Bluffs and across Massachusetts, wearing bright yellow T shirts emblazoned with “Keep politics out of public safety,” packed the Oak Bluffs library meeting room to plead with selectmen to restore firefighting duties to paramedics.

Third district vice president of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Jay Colbert led the charge while surrounded by Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts president Richard Mackinnon Jr., secretary-treasurer Billy Cabral, and firefighters from Brockton, Foxboro, Fall River, and Randolph.

Last year, the fire department voted to unionize, which has caused issues between the union and town Fire Chief John Rose. In October, the town voted to divide the firefighter/EMS duties into two separate departments, eliminating firefighter duties from the firefighter/paramedics, which has been the catalyst behind the IAFF dispute with the town — resulting in a state labor case in Boston in which the union is charging the town with 23 violations of fair labor practices. Hearings on some of them have been held and both the town and union are awaiting rulings.

The gathering at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting was the culmination of several hours spent before the meeting walking around downtown Oak Bluffs, handing out fliers asking the public to call selectmen and restore firefighting duties.

Forced to sit through a lengthy agenda, the firefighters waited patiently before making their case during the public comment section at the end of the meeting.

“I came down here with an open mind, knowing that you guys had asked me in town. We thought it was going to be a seamless transition — it hasn’t quite worked out that way,” Colbert said of the firefighters voting to unionize, “You had a good product. In 2013 you invested in 10 firefighters to get trained up to be paramedics and firefighters; this town had a good product.”

Colbert said the disparaging comments made about the firefighters have been false. Calling the division of firefighter and EMS duties a “travesty,” Colbert said there was a “real public safety issue” and “impending doom” in not allowing duties to be shared: “These negotiations I’ve been hopeful for have turned into a nightmare.”

“We’re here really to make sure we protect everyone, whether that’s Oak Bluffs or Boston firefighters,” Colbert said before thanking the selectmen.

Typically, selectmen don’t respond to public comments at meetings, but selectman Brian Packish said he took issue with Colbert’s “impending doom” comment. A few months ago, Packish said, he had a medical emergency requiring him to be brought out of his house on a stretcher by some of the paramedics who were in the room — both paid and volunteer personnel.

“I know we’ll get through this chapter, and I understand that there’s some challenges. I look forward to when we get to the other side of this. I look forward to when we have a union — it doesn’t bother me either way,” Packish said. “To project that on our community and imply that somehow someone is deficient or could be deficient, it’s unfair. I read your shirts to ‘Keep politics out of public safety,’ and I would encourage you to do the same thing.”

Diplomatically, Packish asked for one of the yellow T shirts. “I’d love to have one of those shirts. I wear a large if you can drop one by,” he said.

In other business, Vineyard Youth Tennis chairman Chris Scott asked for the selectmen’s endorsement of a modification to the tennis center’s special permit.

Scott met with the selectmen two weeks ago, but was asked to come back with a more detailed plan of the modifications. The tennis center wants to charge fees for lessons and allow for adult play to cover the nearly $250,000 a year in operating costs that used to be covered by longtime donor Gerry DeBlois.

The selectmen approved a motion to endorse Scott’s proposal to modify the tennis center’s special permit. Scott will now head to the zoning board of appeals, who issued the original special permit, for further approval.

Town accountant Deb Potter and finance committee member Bill Vrooman met with selectmen to discuss end-of-the-year transfers. She made specific note of the police department going $73,000 over budget.

Vrooman asked selectmen to review the fiscal practices of the police department, saying the police department has repeatedly received “significant” transfers for going over budget since fiscal year 2015, the smallest being $35,000.

Chairman Gail Barmakian asked Police Chief Erik Blake if there was a plan to avoid the overspending.

“The amount of money that we actually budget for the amount of time we’re actually making them take off is not covered in my additional salaries budget,” Chief Blake said. “There’s just not enough money in that line item to cover even the amount of money I know we’re spending.”

The over budget expense is a combination of paying officer salaries, time off, and unforeseen expenses such as paternity leave, medical leave, and employees leaving the department.

Speaking to The Times on the phone Wednesday, Chief Blake said the department now requires officers to take paid time off each year, instead of allowing them to accrue it.

Chief Blake plans to meet with Potter each month to make sure the department is staying on budget to the best of its ability.

“Moving forward, we’ll have to keep an eye on it,” Barmakian said.

5 COMMENTS

  1. What Selectman Packish doesn’t seem to realize is that it HAS become a public safety issue. Maybe he didn’t hear the news but but another full time paramedic has left the department for a brighter future to another island town. How many does that make in the last three years? The number is 7. 7 full-time medics and that doesn’t count how many in the last 10 years. These are the facts…. no other town has that kind of turnover, but some how leadership is not responsible for this? Let me guess, its the workload. The medic/FIREFIGHTERS were and still are very talented people. 6 out of 7 live on island. Now more new off island medics may be needed to fill those spots and they will not be familiar with the area or the community. This increases the risk of something going wrong. Another fact….it is widely known that the department has become so toxic that there are even more medics just waiting to get out of there. How can it be that a career job has become one with so many leaving so fast? Answer….the chief of the department has consistently put his ego and bravado above the department. When this happens its time for the leader to be removed. What are you waiting for OB selectmen/women? The similarities between Chief Rose and Commander and Chief Trump are truly unnerving and make me wonder just what the people and taxpayers of Oak Bluffs are thinking. Wake up folks, your Fire/EMS Department is in absolute shambles. If the MV Times had stuck with the decent investigative reporting that had taken place last summer instead of being intimidated or worrying about lawsuits maybe this soap opera would be over by now. Lots and lots of shame to go around on this one.

  2. First of all comparing John Rose to Trump is obscene and I honestly feel embarrassed for you that you are that misinformed, and that is all I will say about that. Not only has Chief Rose responded to hundreds of terrible calls in every Island town and dedicated his entire life to public safety, but he cares more about his job than anyone I know. It’s funny how in this society people are so quick to forget all the good you’ve done in your life, the second people throw some negative things in the newspaper about you, when of all us have made mistakes in our lives. I am not here to argue that Chief Rose is a perfect person or every decision he has ever made has been completely fair, but it genuinely infuriates me when people on the outside sit around and think they can do everything better than the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, the Selectman or any other position of power, when they have incredibly difficult jobs. Do you know how hard it is to be in charge and manage people with all different opinions and beliefs of how things “should” be done? Or how easy it is for employees who don’t get EVERYTHING they want to put you on blast? This job is incredibly stressful because it involves saving and protecting people’s lives and people need to have some humility. These guys who unionized have been at the department for what, 3 years tops maybe less for some and they think they can call the Chief out because they know and can solve every little problem that exists better than he can? Honestly what has created the divide in this department is the differences in opinions between off island paramedics who want to make broad changes to the department, and the people who want to carry on the legacy of the close-knit family orientated department with volunteer firefighters who are vital to the service. I actually think the Union is a great direction for the department, if they didn’t do such an embarrassing job of going about it and didn’t make it impossible for management to make changes and move forward, They’ve made it clear they want Chief Rose gone and have done everything they can to make that happen, including slandering him and spreading lies. Chief Rose has fought for raises for his employees consistently over the years and they are some of the highest paid medics and EMT’s I have heard of, he put his heart and soul into that new fire station, he makes sure his employees have the best equipment to protect the community, he always checks in on his employees after bad calls, he is always there for help and to respond to any emergency to help his employees, he makes himself available day and night for people to call him with questions or issues, he has helped educate other island paramedics and in my opinion gives his employees way to many chances. Everybody has a past, everybody goes through things in life that they can be judged by, fortunately ours aren’t put on blast for everyone to read about and that is yet another sacrifice Chief Rose has made. Maybe it’s time for Chief Rose to move on, and let someone new take his place and take on these incredibly complex and extremely stressful issues, but to attack his character and who he is as a person the way you have is DISGUSTING, and let me tell you not one person that works fulltime at that department is morally superior to him. We should also remember it’s really easy for people to turn on you, when there is something in it for them on the other side.

  3. Im not sure how you think I am misinformed. I can say with a lot of confidence that I am more informed than you might think. Everyone knows how long Chief Rose has been involved with the department and no one should doubt that he has helped many people over the years. That being said, it does not solely qualify him to lead a department that is in dire need of new leadership. Character and respect are just as important. If he is such a fantastic leader then please explain all the departures of people who left there. What would they say? If he’s doing such a great job then why isn’t there a line out the door trying to get these great high paying positions? Its not always about the money. Its about being part of a team. Its about being in a positive work environment. Its about so much more than saving lives and putting out fires. Its hard enough doing those things and then having to deal with a terrible work environment on top of that? Why not get all the opinions of the many full-time employees who left there to go to other towns for less money? Its kind of hard to work there when one of the selectman(Santoro) called a couple of ff/medics “cowards” and the town administrator said they were the “worst medics he had ever seen”. I would really like to know what Santoro and Whritenour have ever done that was so brave that they feel they can put down people who potentially put their lives on the line every time on shift. I appreciate the dialogue islander 64 but if you can’t see that there is a significant and possibly detrimental problem with the OB Fire/EMS Department then you are the one who is truly misinformed.

  4. And one more comment, islander64. You made a great point. you stated, “he cares more about his job than anyone you have ever known”, and there lies the underlying issue. He cares more about himself than the wellbeing of the department as a whole. A true leader will always put the department before themselves. That is not happening and its just a sad, sad thing that is taking place.

  5. We can agree to disagree. There’s two sides to every story and to every reason employees have left. The turnover rate has a lot to do with off island medics commuting over here and the schedule that makes it very difficult for them, due to the transport service. And the transport service in general… as much as people disagree with Chief Rose everyone knows how difficult that schedule is because of the transport service and everyone has ideas of how it should be changed to benefit them, but there’s really is no way that allows everyone to win. And the employees that were fired… It was so well deserved…also if it has nothing to do with the transport service and the mess it creates, why are there so many longstanding volunteers that have happily been there for years if the place was so bad before the union came in? The better future of the department comes from Chief Rose and the union working together. Chief Rose has great skill, talent and passion for his work and the union should be there to make things easier. I respect your opinions but we clearly disagree and this will go nowhere for either of us. We both offered good points behind our reasoning and let’s leave it at that.

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