Bethel fire chief steps down following firefighter’s controversial social media post

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, Bethel Fire Chief Dave Aldrighetti, center, talks with an excavator operator who filled a washed-out section of Camp Brook Road to allow a convoy of ATVs to pass on their way to Rochester, Vt., on Aug. 30, 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, Bethel Fire Chief Dave Aldrighetti, center, talks with an excavator operator who filled a washed-out section of Camp Brook Road to allow a convoy of ATVs to pass on their way to Rochester, Vt., on Aug. 30, 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News – James M. Patterson

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-02-2024 8:01 PM

BETHEL — A groundswell of support has emerged for the town’s former longtime fire chief, who quit in protest last week after he was not allowed to remove a volunteer firefighter who made a controversial social media post.

The firefighter said he was exercising his free speech rights — as offensive as some people might find his viewpoint — and wants to continue to serve his community as a way to redeem himself for his self-acknowledged troubled past.

Dave Aldrighetti, who has headed Bethel’s volunteer fire department for 35 years, submitted his resignation to the town on Friday after he was informed by town officials that the social media post about an injured Vermont state trooper was not grounds for dismissal. Aldrighetti contended the post — by firefighter Thomas Gauthier — incensed fellow firefighters and was creating tensions within the department.

“I’m too old school … it’s time for me to walk away,” Aldrighetti told a gathering of a couple dozen people outside the Bethel fire station on Monday afternoon as a row of firefighters stood behind him, according to a video recording shared with the Valley News.

Aldrighetti said he was prevented by the Selectboard from identifying the firefighter and providing details about the incident or even discussing it with board members because it involved an “employee matter.”

He accused the Selectboard of “burying a hatchet in my back.”

Aldrighetti urged the crowd to attend the Bethel’s Selectboard’s regular Monday meeting to register their displeasure.

The tripwire for the anger was a post that Gauthier wrote on his pseudonymous Facebook profile on March 9 in regard to an incident when the trooper allegedly stopped his truck for a non-working headlight in 2018.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Kenyon: Dartmouth alumni join union-busting effort
Hartford voters approve school budget and building repair bond
Businesses in Charlestown and Springfield, Vt., seek alternative to bridge closure
Starbucks store planned for Route 120 at Centerra
Local Roundup: Hanover pitcher throws a perfect game
Parker up for parole more than 2 decades after Dartmouth professor stabbing deaths

“Karma is a meal best served cold,” wrote Gauthier, who then went on to relate how he was treated at the hands of a Vermont state trooper, who allegedly “punched” Gauthier in the face twice, shot him twice with a stun gun and beat him to the point that he fell out of his truck and “pulled on my arms so hard that the long head of my bicep was severed from the shoulder of my right arm.”

“I pray that no one has to suffer what I had to suffer at the hands of that officer,” whom Gauthier did not identify.

Gauthier said the subsequent charge of DUI against him was dismissed and expunged.

The post appeared to be in reference to the Vermont state trooper who crashed his cruiser into the back end of a Bethel fire truck parked on Interstate 89 to warn oncoming traffic away from the scene of a motor vehicle accident on March 8.

The trooper, whose suffered massive bodily injuries, was airlifted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center where, as of the most recent information available March 27, remained in critical condition.

Gauthier confirmed to the Valley News on Tuesday that he is the individual at the center of the controversy.

Since taking offense to the social media posts, Aldrighetti also has made an issue of Gauthier’s criminal history.

Gauthier said he has never hidden his background, which includes serving time in prison for convictions of having sex with a minor and possessing dynamite when he was in his early 20s. He said his history was properly disclosed when he applied to become a volunteer firefighter, which he described as his way of making amends.

“When I was younger, I hung out with the wrong crowd and was a bit of a troublemaker and got into some scrapes. Once I finished out my time that I had to serve, I decided that I needed to repay the community for the trouble that I had caused” by training to become a volunteer firefighter, Gauthier said on Tuesday.

Public support of Aldrighetti gained momentum on Saturday when his son, Derek Aldrighetti, posted on his Facebook page that members of the department were resigning in protest of the town refusing to take action against an unidentified firefighter who was being blamed for “problems” and “tension” inside the department.

The younger Aldrighetti in his post said “the town is scared of a lawsuit ... they’re siding with this individual,” which has “forced many Bethel firemen to immediately withdraw and resign from the department because they don’t want to be associated with this individual.”

“The town officials have been muffling this situation for the past several weeks and hopes that it will get resolved but it has gotten far far worse,” Derek Aldrighetti wrote.

Aldrighetti’s Facebook post unleashed a flood of “I stand with Dave” replies affirming support for the fire chief, and led to the creation of an online petition “to demand the removal of this individual from our local department so that it may continue its mission without hindrance.”

“Our fire department is composed of volunteers who dedicate their time and risk their lives to keep us safe. It’s disheartening to see one individual tarnish the reputation of these selfless heroes. This behavior not only affects morale but also potentially jeopardizes the safety of our community. In a job where every second counts, we cannot afford such risks,” said the petition, whose creator remained anonymous.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the online petition had recorded 591 “signatures” toward a “goal” of 1,000.

The crash on the interstate remains under investigation. What led the trooper to ignore the signals and cones set up to direct oncoming traffic into the breakdown lane and plow into the fire truck is not known.

On Tuesday, Gauthier said he has not changed his sentiment expressed in the post, although he acknowledged that he might have phrased it less harshly.

“I would probably still say something but not in the same way because I know now it was insensitive,” Gauthier  said.

 Contac t  John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.