Interim Madawaska fire chief to leave position at end of the month

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14 August 2012

UPDATED Wednesday, August 15 to reflect additional information the reporter received the day after the initial meeting. 

MADAWASKA - Interim Fire Chief Peter Parent, who has led the Madawaska Fire Department since the former Chief Norman Cyr retired, has apparently resigned the position, effective the end of August, after a meeting with the Madawaska Board of Selectpeople Tuesday evening.

Parent and the board made the decision during an executive session, leaving the exact details a bit of a mystery initially. During an interview the following day, however, Parent told Fiddlehead Focus, “I had a proposition for them and they did not accept it.”

Parent requested an executive session with the selectmen during the meeting to discuss a confidential personnel matter regarding a medical issue. Parent and the selectpeople met in a separate, private conference room for several minutes. Parent was absent upon their return. 

Parent said his proposition involved his compensation as fire chief. Rather than receiving a salary, Parent requested he receive compensation for the position through benefits.

Parent said, “What I asked for was not illegal. It had been done in the past. But they told me ‘No’.”

Madawaska Town Manager Christine Therrien said Wednesday morning, “There is nothing we would like more than to hire Peter Parent. We have offered him a fair financial amount for the position. He has refused that.”

Regarding compensation in benefits rather than salary, Therrien said, “It’s not in line with our personnel policy. If he would just accept [our amount,] then we would have a fire chief today.”

The request for voluntary withholding of salary was only the beginning. Parent said he also brought other suggestions for savings to the board’s attention.

Parent said, “I think I could have saved the town $30,000-$35,000 a year. They could have generated money out of the [fire chief] job.”

Several volunteer firefighters were present at the meeting and addressed the selectpeople regarding Parent’s leadership and competency as a fire chief.

One volunteer firefighter said, “You just let the best fire chief you could have walk out that door.”

Another fireman agreed, saying, “right now the town needs a chief, and we don’t have one.”

Yvette Deschaine, also a volunteer firefighter, said, "All of us here feel the same way.”

Town Manager Christine Therrien spoke on behalf of the board and said, “There were some legal ramifications that needed to be considered when making this decision.”

Therrien said that Parent was an “outstanding individual” and their decision was not a reflection of his ability to lead the fire department. On Wednesday, she clarified the board's actions saying, "We didn’t make a decision not to hire him, he made a decision not to accept."

Former Chief Norman Cyr said he received the same response from the board during his years as the fire chief.

Cyr said, “In total, I’ve given them three proposals to save money and they never accepted them.”

Therrien said there was more to the decision than what she could divulge, and that the board did what they felt was best.

"We all like Peter, and we like the job he’s doing, but there are other considerations that we aren’t at liberty to discuss," she said. 

Parent was the chief in charge during the recent fire that destroyed an apartment building on 11th Avenue in Madawaska and left several tenants homeless. Townspeople heralded the department for their successful effort in saving the nearby structures during that event, some of which were as close as three to four feet away to the burning building.

Cyr understands the rigors and requirements for being a capable fire chief.

“Everything’s going to remain the same [for the department,] depending on who is in charge," he said. 

Parent and Cyr shared primary concern for the future of the fire department involves their Hazmat team.

While each individual volunteer firefighter must complete Hazmat training, the certification of the team relies on an extensive education and training program performed by their leader.

The Hazmat team was formed in 1986. The team joined up with the state in 2001. This relationship with the state has generated numerous benefits for the department and taxpayers. Currently the state has invested in the Hazmat team by covering annual physicals for the team members. This physical also doubles as the annual physical required for volunteer firefighters, thus saving taxpayers from paying for it through contributions to the department.

Also, the state has provided two vehicles for the Hazmat team’s usage. The fire department is able to use these vehicles to serve their purposes as well.

Without proper internal certification, that relationship might suffer according to Cyr. Any loss of state investment in the Hazmat team could lead to increasing costs for taxpayers, as the fire department would have to resume the financial responsibility covered by the state.

Cyr and Parent are the only current holders of the proper certification.

Whoever fulfills the fire chief position will also need to have this level of certification for the department to maintain NIMS compliance.

Parent said he will continue through the end of the month. After that, the town will need to find a replacement. 

Therrien said, “We’ll have to advertise outside if there’s nobody interested.”

The board scheduled the next regular meeting for August 28 at 4:30 p.m.

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